The Digital Economy Bill passed last night. As thousands watched on the BBC, most MPs skipped the debate, which was over in two hours. And despite 20,000 letters being sent and nearly 25,000 tweets encouraging MPs to submit this bill to rigorous debate, only 227 of the 647 MPs voted (see a great stats mashup here). The bill was washed into the House of Lords this afternoon.
This situation exposes the rift between politics and politicians. The bill was broadly debated and discussed by internet researchers, lawyers, advocates – even the British Library had a consultation on proposals to make providers of free WiFi networks liable for copyright infringements undertaken on their networks. Deliberative democracy was in full force. But the politicians fell down on the job – with, perhaps, the exception of MP Tom Watson, who has become a minor Internet celebrity for consulting his constituents’ remarks on his Twitter feed during the debate.
This could well be the political crisis that pushes for democratic reform in the UK. At the very least, as several commentators point out, it demonstrates that social media is transforming politics, and also that digital rights issue impact more people than just the tech community: poorly thought out legislation on disconnection could impact public institutions like the British Library, as well as small businesses. As the election campaign starts again, let’s hope that politicians can get back in touch with politics.