Why Labour’s ‘free broadband’ is a terrible idea

Putting authoritarians in control of the means of communication? Don’t even think about it.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill

I can’t have been the only person who experienced a little shiver down the spine at the thought of a Jeremy Corbyn government nationalising broadband.

Corbynistas are notoriously illiberal and censorious. They loathe the tabloid press. They cheered the Leveson showtrial of redtop journalists and editors. They support Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, which would cajole all publications to sign up to state-approved regulation – something we haven’t had in this country for 350 years.

And the footsoldiers of the Corbyn movement, that army of woke middle-class agitators and Fisher-Price revolutionaries, are forever engaging in Twitch-hunts against women who question transgenderism, people who are sceptical about climate change, and basically anyone who doesn’t 100 per cent agree with their PC ideology.

Entrusting the key means of communication to such people would be insane. Imagine the terms and conditions. Thinking of going online to say something really outrageous like ‘People with penises are men’ or ‘Diane Abbott just said something daft on Question Time’? Think again!

This is the news that one of Labour’s big ideas in this election is to provide every home and business in the country with free full-fibre broadband by 2030. This would involve nationalising part of BT – namely, its digital wing OpenReach. The aim would be to provide a nationwide internet connection owned by the government.

Labour says the plan would cost £20 billion. BT, apparently taken aback by Labour’s proposal, says it would cost £100 billion. Boris Johnson says it’s a ‘crackpot scheme’.

Leaving aside the sums and the viability of the initiative, the bigger questions are why Labour is making this proposal and what likely impact a government-owned internet service would have on the nation and its citizens.

The ‘why’ is fascinating. This looks a lot like Labour throwing free gifts at people to try to distract our attention from the fact that one of its key promises in this election is to make null and void the votes that millions of people cast in the referendum in 2016.

There is an undeniably patrician streak in this broadband proposal. Labour is effectively saying, ‘Never mind that we plan to overthrow those votes from the 2016 referendum and force through a second referendum – just look at this shiny gift we are offering you!’

It smacks of when bosses of old would offer workers perks and presents if they promised to vote in the ‘correct’ way. It confirms the extent to which Corbyn’s Labour, for all its pretence of radicalism, views the masses more as consumers than as active democrats.

So it presumes we will be happy with a freebie (which won’t actually be free, given it will be funded by our own taxes), so much so that we might actually forget that Labour and its bourgeois agitators in the Momentum movement are trouncing the most important vote people have cast for a very long time: the vote for Brexit.

It diminishes citizens to treat them like children who should be content with a few crumbs from the government’s table. People want to be treated as serious, active players in society – and that’s something the current patrician, anti-democratic Labour Party cannot offer us.

And then there’s the issue of the impact this policy would have. To put it bluntly, putting Corbyn and his crew in charge of the technology that facilitates the sharing of ideas, beliefs and conversations is like asking a wolf to herd your sheep.

Of course, telecommunications in this country have been nationalised in the past. BT was only privatised in 1984. But we live in a very different climate now, one in which we aren’t only talking about the government providing the machinery that allows people to natter on the phone, but about a Corbyn-led government aspiring to oversee the connections that facilitate political debate, social sharing, argumentation, and much, much more.

It would be wild to grant control over broadband to a political organisation that has amply demonstrated its hostility to open debate and internet freedom.

This isn’t about being anti-nationalisation. It makes sense for certain areas of life to be nationalised, to be elevated out of the arena of the profit motive and injected with a bigger sense of social purpose and mission. Education, health, maybe the railways too.

But broadband? Communications? Nope. Not today. Not when we live under bureaucracies that care very little for freedom of speech. And certainly not under a Labour Party that can’t even spell the word liberty.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Mick Sputnik

17th November 2019 at 4:04 pm

Predictably Comrade O’Neill has leapt into auto-contrarian mode (something I suggested on Instagram once and got censoriously blocked by him!). I have a Labour-run council, should I be worried about the way they run the local library based on the above article? Do none of the people scoffing at the idea of British Broadband recognise the potentially transformative effect it would have on the lives of the 2 million older people who live alone in the UK, many of whom are isolated and rarely see other people?

Marvin Jones

18th November 2019 at 12:09 pm

AND! the half a million immigrants that stroll into all inclusive England every year. Still think that this is sustainable?

Mick Sputnik

18th November 2019 at 5:26 pm

If they’re tax payers, yeah…

Evan Millner

17th November 2019 at 9:16 am

One thing omitted in the analysis is the effect on prices for the consumer: There is no free lunch. If Amazon, Facebook, Netflix etc etc are taxed with special internet taxes, these costs will simply be passed on to the consumer, either directly in increased subscription costs (Netflix), or indirectly, via increased advertising rates and (for Paypal etc) increased transaction costs, which in turn will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. So, it will be paid for by the end user, but in a way that is no longer transparent. Companies such as Ocado and other online delivery companies will also, presumably, be taxed with an internet tax, and these costs will also have to be passed on. The end result will be loss of transparency, with no way to directly compare pricing structures; inevitably, the consumer will end up paying more, as there is no way a state-run enterprise can be more efficient than lean companies in competition with each other. State Internet will suffer from institutional bloat, and we will all end up paying through the nose for it.

A second strong argument against, is that technology is constantly advancing, and accelerating in its advance exponentially. The state is always reactive in this area, not proactive. The lack of competition will turn the resulting service into a state owned dinosaur in short order. This of course, could have the advantage of driving innovation, for example, via a distributed internet that works wirelessly peer-to-peer from mobile device to mobile device – an idea that has been mapped out already in theory, but is not quite yet technologically possible. And any number of other technological ideas that have not been thought of yet. With technology advancing so rapidly, attempting to freeze one iteration of it, an iteration that will inevitably become as cutting-edge as a dial-up modem, in state control, is sheer lunacy.

Mike Ellwood

16th November 2019 at 7:15 pm

“Fisher-Price revolutionaries” – Love it. 🙂

Agree that this is a terrible idea, for the reasons stated and others. I don’t see how this can be a priority, for all Jezza’s sanctimonium about it leading to greater equality or whatever.

There are more important priorities, like trying to make sure that everyone has the opportunity for secure, satisfying, decently-paid employment (Job Guarantee Scheme, anyone?), that state education is fully provisioned (enough to make private education irrelevant, except for the snob value), and that social care, as well as health care is fully provisioned.

Labour will have its work cut out with that little lot without this gimmick.

Forlorn Dream

16th November 2019 at 1:24 pm

I wouldn’t worry about it too much as it’ll never happen. It’s just another election lie to sway the permanently baffled, like the last time when Commie Corbyn offered to wipe away all student debt.

Neil McCaughan

16th November 2019 at 12:00 pm

It’s the sort of nightmare idea not even Mr Blair would have thought of.

Eric, rather than Tony, you understand.

Skeptic 1972

16th November 2019 at 6:26 am

As usual, Socialism’s “free X” is free neither socially nor economically, and actually means “no more X for you, peasant”.

Danny Rees

16th November 2019 at 1:27 am

Well the Tories aren’t promising free broadband but Brendan would obviously not have it if it means a few bigots cannot be as bigoted as they wanna be online.

Neil McCaughan

16th November 2019 at 12:03 pm

It isn’t free. It costs money that could otherwise be spent on the health service.
So why do these crackpots want to own and operate the digital network? The answer should be obvious, even to someone as gormless as yourself.

H McLean

17th November 2019 at 10:25 am

Good grief, Danny, how undergraduate. The cringe is real.

Thor Halland

18th November 2019 at 6:45 pm

‘ A few bigots’ and who decides what is ‘bigoted?

Hersch Schneider

15th November 2019 at 10:53 pm

Corbyn’s fat-left lunatics. A deeply, deeply unpleasant and sinister cult

Danny Rees

16th November 2019 at 1:29 am

Yeah the Tories who drive people into poverty and onto the streets are far saner.

Matt Ryan

16th November 2019 at 9:52 am

And what percentage of the population are literally “on the streets”? Is it less than 0.01%? A tragedy for the people involved, but at those levels the state is totally incapable of preventing it as they can only pull macro levers.

Jerry Owen

16th November 2019 at 11:02 am

Danny Rees
Can you clarify your post with some examples ?

steve moxon

16th November 2019 at 12:43 pm

And Liebore Momentard Corbyistas wonder why they aren’t more popular and aren’t trusted when they come out with such transparently ludicrous counter-factual rabidity like that.
The Left still hasn’t sussed that people can easily spot when those preaching extreme egalitarianism actually are the very opposite: elitist-separatists desperately bidding for status for themselves as holier-than-thou types denying that status-seeking should exist!
Nobody hasn’t sussed that freebies come out of not just their taxes but the impoverishment of their kids and grandkids, as governments have to hyper-inflate their way out of mammoth debt.
Nobody hasn’t sussed that Liebore just hand the debt to future governments, as they did last time.
Liebore is running out of stuff to offer. How about unlimited free cosmetic surgery to all female voters and free nookie to all male voters? Yet Liebore’s majority female candidature couldn’t get elected even if they did promise free nookie!

Joseph Brown

16th November 2019 at 2:55 pm

Some facts and figures to back that up please, Danny. Or is this just more of the same hysterical ravings that’s common place with you lot?

Hate to break it to you Dan, but Corbyn’s utopia of rainbow unicorns and magical money trees is a myth. About time you Corbynites started waking up to that fact.

H McLean

17th November 2019 at 10:34 am

@Jerry – Examples? Don’t be silly. Danny gets so triggered by the Tories I’m beginning to think he grew up in Scotland. Some of my old friends – who are SNP supporters – are incapable of having any kind of political conversation without inevitably resorting to ‘but the Tories…’ before changing the subject and moaning and moaning. You want to talk about principles and they’re stuck in the Thatcher years.

Little Black Sambo

17th November 2019 at 12:19 pm

“Yeah” – the authentic voice of the people.

Michael Lynch

15th November 2019 at 8:34 pm

It’s a terrifying thought. These self righteous clowns couldn’t run a corner shop let alone a Nationalized State. Free stuff will only appeal to youngsters and the permanently unemployed. Who else have they got left to target?

Skeptic 1972

16th November 2019 at 6:31 am

In other words, labor’s voting base.

Joseph Brown

15th November 2019 at 7:55 pm

What has happened to Labour? Who are these bunch of university pie-in-the-sky, unicorn riding buffoons?

K Tojo

15th November 2019 at 9:38 pm

Be afraid. Labour are probably seeking to appeal to their own kind. University pie-in-the-sky, unicorn riding buffoons below the age of 30 are plentiful and their numbers are growing.

I’m sure there are plenty of fresh-faced youths who see Corbyn as a Robin Hood figure. In their world free broadband, free university education are just brilliant! Corbyn and McDonnell are using a cynical ploy to appeal to voters who will not bother to question their plans. What mature voters see as nonsense young voters will welcome as good news.

Marvin Jones

15th November 2019 at 5:36 pm

There must be an election in the air. Deceit, lies, blackmail, bribery and the splinters on that fence all rubbed down smooth and shiny by the sanding it has got of the arses of labours cowardly leaders, who need the decision of the plebs and peasants they believe are much too ignorant and stupid to have been given this impossible choice to decide. It seems that every minute of the day is spent on finding new ways to bribe and blackmail the real stupid, ignorant and the Jew haters with promises for the distant future of 2030. We would have to digest another note by then?

Joseph Brown

15th November 2019 at 8:03 pm

Last time our politicians believed we were too stupid and ignorant to vote in a way they didn’t like it blew up in their face…and they’ve been trying every underhanded trick in the book to turn back the clock ever since, even if it means dismantling our democracy.

Northern 1312

15th November 2019 at 5:31 pm

Not sure where to start on this one.

As someone else pointed out, this would fall foul of the EU’s market competition and spending rules, much like half of the Labour manifesto, so it’ll be interesting to see how they square that particular circle (maybe Jezza’s playing a longer, smarter game than we give him credit for – is the aim to use a popular left leaning Labour manifesto as a vehicle for Lexit?). I appreciate the concern for Momentum’s evident censorious streak, but I feel this is more than easily outweighed by the ABSOLUTE UNMITIGATED FAILURE of private finance to advance the interests of ordinary people in any way.

Gareth Hart

15th November 2019 at 4:55 pm

I foresee two problems. Come 2030, we may be looking at the prospect of the end of broadcast digital TV, even radio, toward internet protocol based media delivery. The thing is, broadcasters will only pay millions for spectrum while mobile phone operators will easily pay billions for. Some kind of system will need to be put in place for the elderly and the poor to receive media content they do now free-to-air via the broadcast spectrum. Otherwise a whole sector of the population will quickly become information deficient. Telling people to go to the library won’t be a solution when they close at night, if they don’t get axed in spending cuts by then. We are already seeing the consequences with the demise of teletext services where those who cannot afford Internet access because they face a choice of heat or eat are told ‘tough’.

The other problem creates a dilemma for the Labour Party. Any nationalisation will be barred by EU legislation on unfair competition and state aid. Labour can either nationalise services or be a member of the EU, it appears they can not have both.

Lord Anubis

15th November 2019 at 4:32 pm

No doubt this will come with “Always On” Skype. You can turn the sound down but you cannot turn it off!

Ven Oods

16th November 2019 at 8:04 am

Always-on Skype.

Wouldn’t that require an app that couldn’t be uninstalled?

Lord Anubis

16th November 2019 at 11:53 am

And of course the dedicated hardware built into your “Smart TV” that also cannot be disabled (Other than by physical interference, which, of course, can be detected and the presence of which passed back to Miniluv.)

I have always felt that this is why we are going to see the TV license continue far into the future. Viewscreens will not be compulsory, but the absence of a TV licence registered to a property will be evidence of households that are not “With the Program” and which therefore will need to be paid particular attention to by the thought Police. :/

Jim Lawrie

15th November 2019 at 2:32 pm

Labour once again show that they regard the electorate as children seeking gratification rather than adults interested in politics.

a watson

17th November 2019 at 10:22 am

Agree. An arrogant and exclusive bunch of snobs patronising the rest of us mere fools. They dislike democracy – especially in London.

antoni orgill

15th November 2019 at 2:22 pm

Indeed, there are many, many pig-ignorant morons working for the Labour Party who’ll scream “Tory Scum” at you at the merest hint that you’re not part of their particular machine. They’re bitter fucking losers with sod all intelligence, no future, so fuck ’em … let’s see what happens next …

Danny Rees

16th November 2019 at 1:28 am

The Tories aren’t scum at all.

Scum don’t destroy our national health service, drive millions into poverty and to food banks, lower wages for the poorest people and leave war veterans on the streets whilst the cosy up to the richest in the world.

Matt Ryan

16th November 2019 at 9:55 am

The country can’t afford the whole welfare state (including the NHS) but we can’t have a sensible conversation about what to do instead. So we’re stuck with shit provision and increasing costs.

Lord Anubis

16th November 2019 at 11:55 am

The NHS is treating more people for more complex conditions and with a greater success rate than ever before.

It is one of the words biggest corporations and employers.

How exactly have the Tories destroyed it??

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