The UK will have hung Parliament following yesterday's election, with neither Labour nor Conservative gaining a majority. But the election result brings little comfort for Internet users or the Internet industry. Key political actors in respect of the Digital Economy Bill have been returned. The Liberal Democrats, who opposed the Digital Economy Bill, have not made any gains, and it is unclear what power they may have to influence policy with either of the big two parties.
The biggest scalp from the Internet perspective is Charles Clarke, former Home Secretary, who drove the Data Retention Directive through the European Parliament. Clarke has lost his seat in the UK Parliament to a Liberal Democrat candidate.
Charles Clarke was Home Secretary in 2005, and in that role he was the Minister representing the UK Presidency on Justice and Home Affairs matters. Thus, he was responsible for the Data Retention Directive* which mandates phone and Internet companies to store records of people's phone calls and email transmissions for a period of up to two years. The Directive was criticised for threatening privacy. The Internet industry said it was unimplementable.
The UK Presidency approach was deemed at the time by MEPs to be overly aggressive and
'bullying'. The legitimate processes in the European Parliament were overridden, in order get the Presidency's text into law in the record time of 3 months.
His departure from politics may be cold comfort for those MEPs involved, and indeed for those who now have to face the consequences of the Data Retention directive. Of course, as high profile politician, he may yet come back with a seat in the House of Lords and for those who care about the Internet and privacy, this would not be good news.
Regarding the Digital Economy Bill, the two Ministers involved, Ben Bradshaw and Stephen Timms, have been returned. Their Conservative Shadows, who colluded in ramming the Bill through in disrespect of the democratic process - Jeremy Hunt and Adam Afryie, have also been returned.
Jeremy Hunt stood against the BPI lobbyist Richard Mollett - but Mollett, standing for Labour in a long-standing Conservative area, did not really have a chance of winning.
Tom Watson, Labour, who led the opposition to the Digital Economy Bill (now Act) is also returned, as is Fiona McTaggart, Labour, who also opposed it.
The Liberal Democrats have not made any of the hoped-for gains. It is unclear what their role may be in the new Parliament, and whether they will have any chance to influence the other two big parties. The LibDems altered policy on copyright and downloading and the Digital Economy Bill after listening to internal pressure from members, who are involved with high-tech industries.
Of great concern, however, is a report in the Daily Telegraph that Lord Peter Mandelson may try to cling on to power by dumping Labour and getting in with the Conservatives. Mandelson is most likely to have been the man behind the ramming through of the Digital Economy Bill without scrutiny and ignoring the usual democratic processes.
Presumably, he stands to lose his Minister's salary and without other sources of wealth, he will need a job. Or perhaps, his friends in the entertainment industries will help him out. Then we would see his true colours.
*The Data Retention directive was the subject of my Masters dissertation - my findings are to date unpublished.
This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2010) UK election: Data retention Minister Charles Clarke voted out http://www.iptegrity.com 7 May 2010