One silver lining for British libertarians following the U.K. general election, which saw Labour’s hard left leader Jeremy Corbyn come within spitting distance of Downing Street, is that Prime Minister Theresa May’s plans for internet censorship might now be harder to achieve.
May announced her plans prior to the election, following the latest massacre of civilians by Muslim terrorists in London, the third major attack to be carried out in the country this year. Before the bodies at London Bridge were cold, May was announcing that she would strike international agreements to ensure terrorists have no “safe spaces” online.
Using terrorist attacks to curb civil liberties and extend government control of the web is a favorite tactic of globalist politicians. Before Theresa May there was Tony Blair, whose Labour government introduced 90-day pre-trial detentions and gave security agencies the power to monitor private internet communications and hack into smartphones. Even before 9/11 and the War on Terror, Blair’s government wanted to give more powers to the police to snoop on private data.
There are powerful agendas behind the seemingly neverending push for government oversight of the net – not least the global corporations that pushed for SOPA & PIPA in 2012 before massive public outrage caused a hasty retreat by mainstream politicians, who overwhelmingly supported it.
Populists of the left and right, previously considered “fringe candidates” and “crackpots” (until they started winning national elections and referenda), have always been more sceptical of attempts to seize power in cyberspace, whether they come from corporations or the state. In the U.S., libertarian right-wingers like Ron and Rand Paul as well as leftists like Dennis Kucinich consistently oppose government attempts to wrest control of the internet in the name of counter-terrorism.
In the U.K., opinions on the issue also cut across party lines. Jeremy Corbyn was a perpetual thorn in the side of Tony Blair’s Labour government, constantly leading revolts against his own party’s attempts to curb civil liberties. But similarly opposed to the assault on liberty in the name of fighting terror is David Davis, the Conservative Brexit Minister who previously languished on the backbenches after defying the party establishment once too often.
On both sides of the Atlantic, therefore, a politician’s stance on civil liberties and a free internet is best determined by whether they are establishment or populist, not whether they are on the left or the right.
The argument from the establishment is that we must be willing to sacrifice a little internet freedom in order to detect and prevent terrorist attacks. But no amount of internet regulation can stop terrorist attacks, particularly the knife-and-van attacks currently in vogue among supporter of the Islamic State, which require little in the way of planning or electronic communication. A terrorist can be radicalized in a Mosque, buy a knife at a department store, and rent a van to mow down civilians without ever touching a computer or a cellphone.
But only way to end Muslim terrorist attacks completely is to take away the ideology that drives them. That means, as a first step, ending Islamist hate-preaching in British mosques, something the government is apparently either unable or unwilling to do (although they will ban right-wing radio host Michael Savage from the country, as well as rappers who offend progressives).
An alternative, favoured by terrorist-free countries like Poland and Hungary, is to simply not have Muslims. But that option is no longer available to the U.K.
Theresa May, more than any other British Prime Minister, is insistent that more internet regulation is the answer. Even before she became leader of the Conservative party, when she was Home Secretary in the Coalition Government of 2010-2015, she pushed relentlessly for a bill that became known as the “snooper’s charter,” which was only blocked due to opposition from the Conservatives’ coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. As Prime Minister, it formed one of her first major pieces of legislation.
Had May not lost her Conservative majority in the House of Commons last week, she would have received a mandate to enact her vast internet regulation plan. The Conservative manifesto turned web tyranny into a boast, proclaiming the party’s intention to make Britain “the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet.” Prime Minister May even refused to rule out Chinese-style censorship of the internet in Britain.
Unlike the United States, Britain has no First Amendment to stop her. Even before she got the keys to Downing St, her predecessor David Cameron was busy exploiting British parents’ fears over online trolling and internet pornography to push for greater ISP-led regulation of the web.
Libertarians of both the left and the right have reason to be cheerful, then, about last week’s blow to May’s authority.
It has empowered Jeremy Corbyn who, despite his unwillingness to tackle the real root of modern terrorism (Islam), is also a consistent opponent of government-led assaults on liberties, privacy, and internet freedom. Indeed, he spent much of Tony Blair’s government rebelling against his own party on these issues. With the enduring support of his party’s base, he is likely to remain Labour leader for the foreseeable future.
Just as Corbyn is empowered, so are his many opponents in the party weakened. Overwhelmingly Blairite, globalist, and pro-internet regulation, these MPs had been hoping to supplant the leader after a disappointing election – but the crushing defeat that pollsters predicted turned into a modest increase in seats and a boost for Corbyn’s leadership.
After the celebrations have faded, these politicians will now face the accusation that if they had spent the last year attacking Theresa May instead of undermining their own leader, Labour may have won the election outright. Never popular with their party’s base in the first place, the Blairites and their authoritarian tendencies may finally be left in the rear-view mirror of British politics.
In the Conservative party, meanwhile, there are questions about Theresa May’s continued leadership. Disillusioned Tories are already discussing potential replacements, and high on the list is David Davis, the Brexit Secretary. He has been described by Robert Peston as one of the only two “credible candidates” to replace May.
Unapologetically right-wing, popular with the base, and a consistent Brexiteer, Davis is also known for his firm opposition to the use of terrorism as an excuse to roll back freedoms. In 2008 he even resigned and re-contested his Parliamentary constituency as a protest against government-led attacks on civil liberties.
More than any other politician in his party, Davis can be relied upon to resist the idea that freedom must continue to be eroded in the name of security. Should Theresa May’s weakening grip on authority weaken any further, he could quickly find himself with the keys to Number 10.
As Brexit already reminded us, the sun is setting on the British globalist establishment. It seems to be setting on their plans for internet regulation too.