After voting for Jeremy Corybyn in the Labour Party leadership election, I’ve been watching with interest and no small amount of anxiety to see how he has fared in his first week as leader.
Jeremy’s first week has been significant in many ways but for me the most significant thing has been the way his leadership has revealed the continued influence of deference in our political system and wider society. For evidence of this, take a look at the media reaction to Corbyn choosing not to sing the national anthem at the memorial service for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain or querying the necessity of ‘kneeling to the Queen’ as a member of the Privy Council.
Whatever your views on the monarchy, this week’s developments highlight how at a foundational level Britain’s political system is far from neutral. As a result of its traditions and customs, it favours established political actors over those who would challenge the status quo. Within such a system, politicians who are comfortable singing God Save The Queen and kneeling before the Queen are conferred with respect while those who take issue with deferential customs come across as peculiar at best or, at worst, a threat to the system and thus deemed not fit to exercise political power.
The biases exposed by Corbyn’s leadership confirm to me the importance of maintaining the internet as an open and neutral platform upon which innovation can flourish. Unlike politicians under the British political system, innovators are not required to ‘kneel to the Queen’ in order to effect change on the Internet. At its best, the internet provides a commons which everyone has equal access rights over and where innovators can try out new ideas without having to ask anyone’s permission before hand.
Sadly, there are signs that the internet is changing and becoming a less open and neutral platform. While the FCC’s Open Internet Order may protect the foundational principle of net neutrality in the short term at least, the move towards a ‘mobile first’ presents a serious challenge to the open internet.
Instead of freely building web services, developers are increasingly focused on building apps for iOS and Android. Both iOS and Android are, to differing degrees, closed platforms. As such, developers need approval from platform owners before they can innovate, in contrast to the open internet, where no such ‘permission to innovate’ is required. Given the plethora of apps available on both iOS and Android, it would be easy to dismiss the issue of permission as being nothing but a dry, theoretical concern. However, if you look carefully, you can see the detrimental effect permission culture is having on innovation.
Permission culture is evident in the area of adblocking technology. With iOS 9, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, Apple announced it would allow for the first time the development of extensions for its Safari web browser which are capable of blocking content. Up until this point, users were free to install extensions on their desktop computers but not their smartphones. Similarly, earlier this month, Adblock Plus announced it has received permission from Google for the popular adblocking software to be me made available via the Play Store, having previously been banned.
While I am no great fan of adblocking technology, I am concerned that the developers behind the innovation had to seek permission from platform owners in order to reach a mass audience. Just as the biases of the the British political system make it more difficult for unconventional politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn to effect change, the move away from a neutral and open internet towards closed mobile platforms may make it harder for new innovations to emerge which threaten to disrupt the interests of established players. Whatever your views on Jeremy Corbyn and Britain’s constitutional settlement, I hope his brushes with the political establishment encourage others to continue to fight for an open and neutral internet where people are not required to seek permission to innovate.