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The Digital Debate

Rory Cellan-Jones | 09:23 UK time, Thursday, 29 April 2010

Why did the Digital Economy Bill get debated by just 20 people in the Commons before being rushed into law? Why did politicians take more notice of tabloid headlines about mephedrone than scientific advice? And what rights do householders have to defend themselves if someone breaks in?

Digital DebateThree issues have that haven't been raised much in the campaign so far, but which were key concerns for the people who submitted questions for the digital debate mounted by YouTube and Facebook, which you can catch up on in video or using the transcripts [73.5Kb PDF].

If a certain event hadn't happened yesterday, this online encounter with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg might have made bigger news today. All three have recorded video answers to 10 questions submitted by YouTube and Facebook users. There's an interesting contrast in styles with Gordon Brown speaking outdoors but wearing a suit and tie, while both David Cameron and Nick Clegg go tieless.

The questions were chosen in a popular vote and what really excited the online crowd was the Digital Economy Act, with its controversial measures against illegal file-sharers. The question chosen from many on this issue was about the lack of debate - the prime minister appears to concede that the bill was rushed through, saying:

"When we are re-elected, we will make sure that there is proper debate on all these issues to ensure that people's voices are heard."

David Cameron, whose party voted with the government on the bill, says it was rushed through too quickly but defends the measure:

"There were important things in that bill for a really important industry in Britain, which is music and film, and television, radio, and so we thought it was important to let the good bits of that bill through."

But Nick Clegg is scathing about the bill, which his party voted against when it went through in the wash-up process right at the end of the Parliament:

"It wasn't a wash-up; it was a stitch-up. A stitch-up between Labour and Conservative MPs who decided that you didn't deserve to have your representatives in Parliament properly looking at a bill which might have very, very serious impact on the way that you use the internet, the way that you have freedom to work on the internet."

On another issue, the tabloid stories about mephedrone, Mr Clegg again takes a different line from his counterparts. While Gordon Brown and David Cameron are united in their worries about the dangers of the substance and think it was right to act on those concerns, the Liberal Democrat says:

"We're losing the battle on drugs and one of the reasons is because drugs policy has been hijacked by scare-mongering."

On the right to tackle intruders, though, it's David Cameron who has the most arresting line, warning:

"If the burglar crosses your threshold, they leave their human rights at the door."

Nick Clegg takes a more personal line, admitting that if if his wife and children were at risk he couldn't predict how he'd react. Gordon Brown insists that the law is now being interpreted in a fairer way to the householder.

Digital Debate

What happens next is an online vote to decide which leader has the best answer to each question. I'm fairly confident that I can predict who will win most votes for their answer on the Digital Economy Act. Last month, online campaigners against the measure warned that its Labour and Conservative supporters would pay an electoral price. Now we'll find out just how many people are really exercised about this issue.


  • Comment number 1.

    Sadly, in this cradle of modern democracy, the only relevant question is how many people in marginal consituencies are really exercised about this issue.

    I'll be voting for the party that voted against this stitch-up, but my vote will count for nothing. And worse yet, two-bit analysts and journalists up and down the country will think I did it because Nick Clegg is a nice, handsome chap with a winning smile.

  • Comment number 2.

    Gotta say I agree with Clegg on all of his points there. I don't see any of them as a leader though, but he does seem to have the best ideas.

  • Comment number 3.

    Where were the conservatives when the bill was being debated? I give credit to the govt which introduced the bill in the first place, only to be abandoned by the Conservatives who think things can get better by deserting the Commons debate.

    By the way, what does dress have to do with it?

  • Comment number 4.

    Watched the results, as so far, of the digital debate. You should make it clear, as did the announcer introducing with a small reference, that this only represents what Facebook / You Tube users think, it is not like a normal poll that takes a representative cross section of the population to give an indication of what the country thinks.
    I would guess the majority of voters on the digital debate are young adults, from my experience seem to be pro LibD, heavily swayed towards LibD by the increased tax thresholds for singles and couples promised by Clegg, but, frequently don't bother to vote. If they all vote this time .........a LibD Government a possible reality !
    It would be interesting to see if you have real figures on who the digital debate voters are and historic voting inclinations. It would make the digital debate much more valid and interesting.

  • Comment number 5.

    I think this shows the most frustrating aspect of the way our democracy currently works - you vote for a party which best reflects the views you hold, but there are always going to be policies which you don't agree with. The only way round this is to have constant referendums on these sorts of things together with more open debates on the pros and cons of new laws being introduced. Only when this becomes commonplace will we be in a true democracy.
    If Clegg gets a prominent say in a hung parliament coallition then I think this can only be good for the UK.

  • Comment number 6.

    "If the burglar crosses your threshold, they leave their human rights at the door"

    Well said - not a Cameron fan myself (infact really don't like him) but he's hit the nail on the head with this quote!!

  • Comment number 7.

    Everything Clegg says is aimed at buttering up students and the young electorate as he knows that is a vote earner. And it is working, as they all seem to be eating out of his hand. I would rather focus on issues like illegal immigrant amnsesty, their crazy idea of regional immigration and 50% corporation tax. These are issues that will fundamentally effect everyone, and whilst it is all very nice to pander to the young electorate and offer them tuition fee breaks and liberal drugs policies, people need to look at the bigger picture. You are only a young student for a few years, the rest of your life you would have to deal with the rest of the Lib Dems severely floored policies. Please read their WHOLE manifesto.

  • Comment number 8.

    “The only way round this is to have constant referendums on these sorts of things together with more open debates on the pros and cons of new laws being introduced. Only when this becomes commonplace will we be in a true democracy.” #5

    There is such a system; it’s called Direct Democracy and is the political system operated in Switzerland.
    Under the Swiss system the electorate has a veto-right on any law being passed by its parliament: If 50,000 citizens sign a petition demanding a referendum on it within 3 months, a referendum must be held on the issue.
    Equally the electorate can initiate a change to the law or constitution by attracting enough signatures to trigger a process leading to a referendum.
    There are some checks and balances, one ethic group (Switzerland contains a number) cannot discriminate against another for example.

  • Comment number 9.

    No ties? How scruffy.

  • Comment number 10.

    Rather frivolous to mention it I realise, but I notice that Brown’s light comes from the left, Cameron's from the right and Clegg’s from the centre / nowhere at all. Just like the old days…

  • Comment number 11.


  • Comment number 12.

    We must remember that it was the Liberal Democrats in the Lords who put forward the blocking of web sites to go WITH possible disconnections. They were able to get that in with the help of the Conservatives.

    Let us not just accept their answers when they want our vote, a man should be judged on what he does not what he says and the Lib Dems are very much behind the DEB.

  • Comment number 13.

    My guess is the Torries all but abandoned the Commons debate because they wanted to "take it outside", to the media.

    #10 @Paul Robins


  • Comment number 14.

    Is this now the way of debates? A load of questions voted on issues whipped up by the papers? And after all of this 'personal' interest from candidates as they all are now what happens next week if voted in? Well who ever gets back in the personal interest in what is written will go back to being ignored......
    Mainly because there is not enough time in the day to react to online discussions real or otherwise.
    We might all have the ear at the moment but don't really believe it makes any difference in the slightest .......

    But I do have an undecided vote which I will use next week...

  • Comment number 15.

    Cameron's response clearly shows he is the media's lap dog but then at least some people get to hear their party's response unlike me who apparently doesn't have a party even though OFCOM says i do

  • Comment number 16.

    Dear Mr. Theotherside, i think you fail to understand the concept of an election.
    The main premise being that, you elect the candidate that best represents your ideals or political aims. Now the joy of our current system means that parties have to stand for re-election every 4 or so years, meaning that as ones situation in life changes and thus potentially political alignment you get the chance to vote again. Therefore why not vote lib dems as a student if there policies are better suited to your needs because those "few years" you are a student will also be the "few" years they are in power.

    Unfortunately the majority of the voting public are bigots when it comes to political parties with very few self respecting Tories ever voting labor and vice versa, even though they are forever become more alike.

    If more people looked at what a party really offered and voted in the party that actually suited their needs the most instead of sticking with the same party year in year out then we might actually stand a chance of changing the status quo.

  • Comment number 17.

    It's a little late and I haven't seen their videos myself, but David Cameron's answer on the household (and #6 DT1984's response) scares the hell out of me. Not because I'm a burglar, but because we could have a party in government that believes people throw their human rights away when they commit a crime.

    The whole point of human rights is they belong to all humans, no matter if they're criminals or commit a criminal act.

    If someone breaks into your house and you bash them with a baseball bat and they go to hospital and die 9 days later, that's one thing. But Cameron's line, and the line of most or all Tories I'm sure, encourages vigilantism and the keeping of lethal weapons at home which are more designed for injury than defence.

  • Comment number 18.

    The issue with Cameron's viewpoint on intruders is that we run the risk of having a situation where someone lures another person to their house and then attacks them.

    Whilst I absolutely agree there should be no punishment for defending yourself in your house, we must be careful not to say that simply if you enter someone's house they're free to attack you and claim you broke in.

    It's better then to focus rather than on intrusion, on self-defence. This is largely how things work now, albeit it a little too far swayed towards the offender. The reason human rights law is still applied to someone breaking into your house, is because of the above- the potential for people to be lured into a situation where they're set up, coupled with the fact that with no human rights protection, said person could be tortured, or horribly maimed by the person claiming defence.

    Sometimes, the sensationalist view sounds right, but when you examine the practicalities of it, it's much less so. So congratulations Cameron on a great soundbyte, but an abysmal policy play. Let's hope in this case at least that his policies don't match his soundbytes, else I suspect we'll have many stories of innocent people being lured into situations where the law allows them to be violently tortured, or maimed.

  • Comment number 19.

    #12 yes, the LibDems did originally add the clause about blocking websites and then later tried to get it removed (to the amusement of the other parties).

    The clause was added because it was thought that 1/3 of online copyright infringement was committed through websites (the other 2/3 being through P2P). After further consultation and debate they later opposed the amendment.

    For the most relevant discussion on the issue in the House of Commons, see

    Start near the bottom at the paragraph beginning "Mr. Foster: I want to make progress and deal with the issue of site blocking."

    The matter is also raised several more times later in the same debate.

  • Comment number 20.

    Due diligence and duty of care around Bill’s that heavily impact consumers is always very positive and must be considered before that Bill is passed. The Digital Economy Bill seems to be a generic ‘catch-all’ and does not align with the way that citizens use digital data and therefore cannot be a fair control mechanism. If the issue is around too much data/information being downloaded and shared then appropriate measures on the information itself needs to be used. Nobody has put the consumer first in any of this….

  • Comment number 21.

    iwinter, spot on; a simple adjustment to the self-defence test in case of a person in their own home - such as an allowance for force that goes a touch beyond 'strictly necessary' would be amply sufficient;

    In essence that sounds as though it is what Nick Clegg is saying; the trouble is that even he is a sound-bite politician - in an era of sound-bite politics the people are given the politicians they deserve :-) so won't be particularly specific how he intends to manage his 'instinctive' reaction that at least sounds right

    My feeling is that people, particularly as a large group when voting, notice most of the flaws in the empty promises, hence one good reason for the current popularity of the real voice of reason - long may it persist

  • Comment number 22.

    Disappointed that only 10 questions were answered; much more should have been and it's not like it has to be the leaders of the political parties that provide the answers.

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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