The Christmas election just keeps on giving. Speaking at the University of Lancashire, Jeremy Corbyn metamorphosed into a father Christmas figure, announcing that his party would provide free fibre optic broadband for every home and business in the country. The Labour party kicked off their electioneering this morning by announcing new plans to nationalise British broadband provider, Openreach, which is currently operated privately by British Telecoms.Corbyn said that this process would be managed by a British Broadband Service and would be financed by £20 billion of investment levied from big tech companies such as Google and Facebook. Corbyn promised that “when our manifesto arrives next weeks, it’s going to knock your socks off”, and that this was only the first “sneak preview” of much more to come. Labour have hinted that they could also nationalise Virgin Media, Sky, and TalkTalk.
One reason why Labour has unveiled this policy today is in order to combat the view that socialism is a dead ideology from the past. They are trying to hit back against the accusations that Labour are not offering new solutions for the modern economy, but only a tired model from the twentieth century. They are trying to counter the association of nationalisation with Cuban caudillos and crusty commissars. Good luck with that…
Ironically, the aesthetics of the presentation today at the party press conference were remarkably reminiscent of the New Labour PR operation. There were smart suits, red ties and white shirts, and and crisp, clean backdrop. Rebecca Long-Bailey was particularly sharply dressed, looking like a city worker while reinforcing the Corbyn message.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, speaking after Corbyn in Lancaster today, said that this policy was not about going back to the 1970s – instead, nationalising broadband would herald the “public ownership of the future”. He expressed concerns that Britain would be lagging behind in what he called a “technology revolution” and the “fourth industrial revolution”. He also announced that Labour would introduce a comprehensive “charter of digital rights” to establish greater data protections.
McDonnell urged viewers to see a recent Ken Loach film, Sorry We Missed You, to see what is going on in the “gig economy”. He concluded by saying that that the “gig economy” being pursued by the Tories has led to “a torn social fabric” and a “climate emergency”.