Tom Watson wants to end “surveillance capitalism” and take back control of our data. Labour’s deputy leader and culture and media spokesman is set to give a wide-ranging speech today that lays out a long list of policies aimed at tackling monopolies and imbalances of power in the digital market. From a new statutory regulator that could break up monopolies and a legal duty of care forcing companies to protect users, particularly young people, to challenging “digital disinformation” (fake news, etc) via new rules, this is a major presentation of ideas. Watson’s attack on “clickbait over credibility” follows Jeremy Corbyn’s lecture last summer in which the Labour leader backed radical reform of the BBC and called for a ‘British Digital Corporation’ that could rival Facebook. The speech today is an interesting insight into the work of the shadow DCMS team, and shows Labour is thinking seriously about how to shape our media in the long-term.
That’s not the only significant speech by a Labour frontbencher today. Speaking at the Institute for Government this morning, Emily Thornberry laid out her vision for the Foreign Office under a Labour government. Moving away from the New Labour approach, the Shadow Foreign Secretary explained her antipathy towards intervening in the Middle East and desire to stop relying on the UK-US special relationship. (She is answering very interesting questions on interventionism as I write now.) What will catch the headlines, however, are her comments on Venezuela.
Thornberry is thought to take a harder line against Nicolás Maduro than some of her colleagues on the left. “Under a Labour Foreign Office, I can guarantee there will be no indulgence of human rights abuses because they are committed… by governments who call themselves ‘socialist’ but who, by their actions, betray every socialist ideal,” Thornberry said in her speech. During the Q&A just now, she praised the American use of “targeted sanctions against individuals”. “Until now, our sanctions policy has been in line with the EU,” she pointed out, before suggesting a post-Brexit UK could look at more “creative” sanctions.
As Theresa May is still in Northern Ireland, Thornberry will take PMQs this afternoon and face the PM’s de facto deputy David Lidington. She could be tempted to gift us with a non-Brexit session, but there is Tory disunity to exploit now that the Prime Minister has irritated her right flank by reassuring Irish business leaders and voters. (She won’t seek to replace the backstop, but merely amend it.) Either way, it’s always worth catching the dulcet-toned Thornberry at the despatch box, not least because many expect her to stand as leader when there is next a vacancy. Any hints at how she would position herself in such a contest (still a long way off, of course) are enthusiastically welcomed by the Westminster press, often accompanied by praise for her debating style.