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 Lib Dem 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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