Europe and digital rights MEP hustings report – part three

Closing speeches round off our coverage.

Afzal Khan – Labour

Afzal stated off by saying that we are in Manchester, a city that invented the computer, and that the pace of change is massive. We have phones that are more powerful than the computers used for the Apollo missions, and lenses that can see 500 miles away.

He finished off by stating that technology is positive, but that oversight is needed.

Laura Bannister – Green

Laura stated that what was occurring was simple – a fight for the commons, a fight for people over corporations, stating that the Green party is for people over profit. She went on to say that the Green party lost out on a seat by 0.3% last election, and that every vote really counts.

Jack Allnutt – Pirate Party

Jack stated that the Pirate Party stand for Liberty, and that digital rights are a part of that. He stated that he was there to ask and answer questions, and that the EU needs strong activists – and that the Pirate Party was there to be the technical arm of that, and to help guide the less technical parties.

Lee Slaughter – UKIP

Lee started off by saying that groups like the Open Rights Group are important, as we need to look over all the legislation together.

He also stated that Labour, Liberal Democrat and the Conservative Party are all the same.

Chris Whiteside – Conservative

Chris stated that the conservatives had been giving back rights taken away by the Labour government, and stated that he wanted to work to improve the infrastructure.

Robert Skelton – Socialist Equality Party

Robert stated that not only are we heading towards war, but towards dictatorships, and stated that democratic rights are only defended by the socialists. He reminded us that the 2001 Terrorism Act was used only a few weeks ago against anti-fracking protesters locally, at Barton Moss, and stated that the SEP had organised demonstrations in 91 countries.

My feelings and summing up

Robert Skelton – Socialist Equality Party

Robert seemed to have little understanding further than what he had read in the book about Snowden he was clutching. His rhetoric always returned to calling for the fall of capitalism, but could never give a decent point in the debate beyond a hollow sound bite. He boiled everything down to ‘Us VS Capitalism’, and promoted the SEP as the One True Way. It was disappointing to say the least, and somewhat embarrassing as someone who is fairly radically leaning, to see a performance that was closer to Robert parroting hollow propaganda than him actually answering questions and debating on a subject that he purports to be knowledgeable about.

Lee Slaughter – UKIP

Lee was well chosen by UKIP, as he was actually someone with an IT background, and for a moment, I was hopeful. He seemed, before the debate began, to be knowledgeable and intelligent, and I hoped, for a moment, that we might actually get some real debate out of him beyond ‘EU bad’.

Alas, I was disappointed. Almost every answer referenced back to blaming the EU, even electronic surveillance – forgetting entirely that it was the UK and the US who have been ousted as the biggest spies, not the EU. While he showed some understanding (especially around data mining and selling), he frequently missed the point entirely, and answered with either bad party rhetoric or a bad hack of a Winston Churchill quote.

Afzal Khan – Labour

Afzal seemed out of his depth. He frequently mumbled, and gave politicians answers, skirting the point, when he had little of substance to say. Even on areas such as the Police National Computer database, an area which, as an ex-police officer, he should have a solid understanding of, he was lacklustre to say the least.

Chris Whiteside – Conservative

Chris was confident, intelligent, and he understood the technical issues well. He spoke strongly around personal data rights, and the issues surrounding large databases, and while he isn’t someone I could vote for due to some of his stances, he was most certainly one of the most technically and issue literate people on the panel. He understood ours and the EU political system in depth, and understood that nothing is black and white, arguing for the need for oversight, and for debate rather than total control or bans. My one big negative, bar the standard conservative stances, is the fact that rather than have an informed understanding over the surveillance issues, he has swallowed his party’s line entirely, trotting out terrorism and lines like “our right not to be bombed”, pulling out emotive language and imagery rather than putting forward a real point.

That being said, he was highly evidence driven, and out of all of the Conservative candidates I have met, read about or talked to, he is the one that I would be most likely to vote for.

Jack Allnutt – Pirate Party

Jack was confident, strong, and knew his subject. He could see the points of debate, and the shades of grey. He understood the need for rights, oversight and some level of state surveillance, and was willing to work to understand and balance these.

My problem was that Jack, however great he was, couldn’t differentiate himself from the Green Party candidate, Laura, for me, and as soon as we got outside the arena of technology, into areas such as secondary legislation and the way that the political system functions, he couldn’t really answer. While I want (desperately) to be able to vote for the Pirate Party in so many ways, their focus is still too narrow for me to be able to throw my full weight behind them, and this showed.

Laura Bannister – Green

Laura spoke confidently and passionately, and spoke not only about shades of grey and more academic questions, but was able to back it up with personal experience and knowledge, such as her experiences at the Barton Moss anti-fracking camp, and her experiences of surveillance, the police national computer and terrorism laws. She was also quick to state if she didn’t know something, and was the only one to admit that, and say that she would go away and learn about it – which is something I commend, as it shows a willingness to learn that I feel is needed in all areas of life, but maybe political circles needs it the most.

Her down point was a lack of technical understanding at some points, a weakness that could be glaring against the Conservative and Pirate candidates, and her lack of research and understanding around important issues such as the Regulation of Investigative Powers Act (RIPA), which she knew nothing about. Considering this was a debate around technology, with a focus on state surveillance, this was a glaring error – however, it was one that she rapidly admitted, and was happy to say that she would correct it with study.

All in all, it was a fantastic event, which helped me decide who I want to vote for – I hope this write-up helps you to do the same, or at least makes you a bit more informed about the candidates and parties.

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