Liberal Democrats back campaign to free our postcodes

Welcome news from the blog of Lynne Featherstone (who, apart from being a LibDem MP, is also chair of the party’s Technology Advisory Board):

We need postcodes to be owned by the public – not sold to the public. Postcodes are the basic pre-requisite for allowing services to be developed that support democratic accountability.

It’s an important issue because the Royal Mail’s decision to take a hard line in enforcing its legal rights means a range of useful public services – including ones to help unemployed people find jobs and to help residents hear about planning applications near them – have been shut down. It’s a topic Labour MP Tom Watson blogged about on this site last month:

The recent decision by Royal Mail to close down the Ernestmarples.com web site shows us how our public institutions are woefully unprepared to seize the new opportunities created by the internet.

Lynne’s views are concurred with by John Thurso, the party’s Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovations and Skills, making this a welcome development of party policy in this area.

Overall the shape of the party’s general election manifesto in terms of issues raised by the internet and digital developments is still very much up in the air. News such as this, and scepticism in the party towards Peter Mandelson’s proposals to cut off people’s internet connections without proper process and with the assumption of guilt by default, are positive.

However, other noises are less positive – such as the summary of policy on the main party website, which is heavy on cracking down on illegal file sharing and silent on issues such as encouraging the music industry to be more imaginative in its business models and to learn from the successes of others in meeting the challenges of the digital age. Lots of stick and no carrot.

One problem is that the party doesn’t have one person in overall charge (whether formally or informally) of policy in this area. It is in effect split up between Lynne Featherstone, John Thurso and Don Foster at the Parliamentary level and at the FPC and Manifesto Group level there is a distinct shortage of people with particular interest or expertise in these areas. There are plenty of people who listen politely and intelligently, but very few who are actually pushing the party to adopt a modern set of policies in this area.

This news is then a very welcome step in the right direction – but should be followed by several more.

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This entry was posted in News and Party policy and internal matters.
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10 Comments

  • The question is, how does one get to influence party policy in this regard? I’ve put myself down on the party’s manifesto site as being interested in these issues, but nobody’s ever tried to discuss them with me as a result of that.

  • Well, let’s hope this comes along with robust policies to secure the future of postal services, then.

    Royal Mail is in a bind because it is expected to operate as a business, with due regard to its bottom line, while simultaneously acting under the constraints of being a public enterprise. If the party advocates limiting its business activities, such as selling postcode data, then let’s hope the party also has plans for robust funding to support the social side of its business.

    While do I have sympathy for the point you are making, Mark, I have to ask myself: what is more important to me? The largely undefined ‘useful public services’ you mention, or a very concretely useful affordable postal service that I can rely on and a local post office with services I can access?

    The social capital for communities from keeping post offices open seems to be something my local party is, rightly in my view, rather keen on if its Focus leaflets are anything to go by.

    And, rightly or wrongly, selling postcode data funds postal services. Take away that revenue and it will either have to come from somewhere else or we will have to consider the notion that postal services should be entirely the preserve of the free market.

    While that will undoubtedly have its advocates, I’m not sure that’s party policy, or that I would support it if it was.

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