Last week saw the passage of the Digital Economy Bill, now the Digital Economy Act. As parliament was winding down before dissolution the government forced through the bill, which had had no proper debate in the commons, during what’s known as it’s wash up period. Though 236 MPs voted at the third reading only around 5% actually turned up for the debate. As it was put on twitter at the time this was a bill “proposed by the unelected, debated by the ignorant and voted on by the absent”. If you wanted a good example of what’s wrong with our political system, you could hardly ask for anything better. This was a bill proposed by an unelected second chamber, which had only the briefest of debate by an anyone with any sort of democratic mandate, forced through at a time when few people who didn’t already know about it would be interested. A bill that totally fails to understand the importance of internet access or the nature file-sharing. A bill that capitulated entirely to corporate interests and faced no series opposition within parliament.

Now, I don’t want to denigrate the good work done by those MPs who turned up to oppose the bill but they were, unfortunately, few and far between. Only 5% of Tory MPs even turned up to the vote, and half of them voted in favour, including shadow minister Adam Afriyie. The Lib dems, to their partial credit, did universally oppose the bill at third reading, but fewer than 30% of them bothered to turn up to cast a vote, Huhne, Clegg, Cable – all missing. The majority of the opposition actually came from within the Labour back benches, with special mention going to Tom Watson. But when bills going through parliament are facing their strongest opposition from the government’s own back benches there’s clearly something wrong with the quality of the opposition.

So what next? Well I, for one, will be looking to support candidates who unambiguously back repeal and reform. Who understand the problems with our current copyright and patent law and would act to redress the balance of power between corporations and people. If your MP was one of the 47 who voted against the bill and you haven’t already done so write to them and let them know you’re grateful for their support, and if they weren’t let them know you’re disappointed. Find out where the PPCs for the other parties stand on the issue and make they know this’ll be an issue that sways a lot of voters minds. If there are Green or Pirate candidates in your constituency – and in many there’ll be Greens, I can’t say I know for sure how many candidates the Pirate Party will be standing – why not donate your time or money to supporting them; parties with a track record of defending digital rights both here and in Europe.

If you’re looking for a more direct approach, there are a number of campaigns you can join too. There’s already a movement to boycott the BPI (British Phonographic Industry) and support independent artists and labels. BPI radar can tell you which are safe if you want to take part in that. And stars of the IT crowd the Open Rights Group and avalanche enthusiasts 38 degrees have also been doing some great work mobilising people in the campaign to oppose the bill. Myself, I’ll be cancelling my subscription to spotify and donating the savings to the ORG. I hope some of will do likewise.

About Alasdair Thompson

Alasdair co-founded Bright Green Scotland in 2009.