CONFERENCE SPEECH: Jo Stevens, Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Speech by Jo Stevens MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
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Jo Stevens, Cardiff Central CLP, and after 25 conferences, first time speaker!
The Tories don’t take digital, culture, media and sport seriously. But we do. When we reflect on the past 18 months, whilst our wonderful front-line workers looked after us and kept the country going, the brilliant, talented people who work in digital, culture, media and sport also helped us survive. Sportsmen and women competed in empty stadiums, musicians rehearsed in their bedrooms and streamed performances online. Technology kept us in touch with family and friends around the corner and across the globe and writers and broadcasters tried to decipher and explain to the country what on earth Boris Johnson and his ministers were saying in those press conferences.
You may have heard that I was hospitalised because of Covid at the start of the year so I’m not going to miss this opportunity to say a heartfelt and personal thank you to everyone working in our NHS. You got me through a very frightening experience. To everyone who sent me good wishes, thank you too. It meant a lot.
I know I was one of the lucky ones and I know I’m not alone in wanting to prioritise health, wellbeing and happiness for people across the country. As Keir set out in his leadership platform, the happiness of the British people is just as important as economic growth.
Labour’s Healthy Living Index would ensure that every government decision would have to improve wellbeing, just as the Office for Budget Responsibility tracks government spending. A healthy and happy life is a right that Labour will fight for. Everyone should have the opportunity of both good quality work and good quality leisure.
Central to that is our tech sector. The UK is a digital powerhouse with entrepreneurs and innovators attracting investment and creating good jobs. But too many people are not seeing the benefits of these developments, because the Tories have let the country down on the roll-out of superfast broadband and they’ve left the public at risk online by failing to deliver the “world leading” legislation they promised to tackle online harms.
Four years on, all we’ve got is a weak and watered-down Online Safety Bill that doesn’t even satisfy the basic duty of government – to keep its citizens safe. They’ve left big social media companies unchecked and unregulated, while those platforms host growing levels of child abuse, self-harm and suicide content, anti-vax misinformation, discrimination, hate speech and more. Those companies make a lot of money out of it.
The Tories want to leave them to self-regulate, to mark their own homework. But self-regulation doesn’t work. We know that already.
The epidemic of online fraud and scams continues. More than £2.3bn lost by victims in England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year. But the Government refuses to include protection for people in the Bill. Financial campaigner Martin Lewis has called for it, victims, City of London Police and the FCA have too, but the Conservatives say no.
Well Labour will do what the Tory Government won’t. We’ll fight inside and outside Parliament for better legislation that protects the public against the fraudsters and scammers, that forces a proper duty of care on social media companies about what they host on their platforms and unlike the Government, we’ll fight for criminal penalties for senior tech executives who repeatedly breach the new law.
Many good, responsible tech businesses agree with us that we need clear regulation. So we’ll continue to work with them to make our lives safer online. Especially for children.
Conference, we have a proud record in Government. It was a Labour Government that made galleries and museums free to visit, a Labour Government that created our cities of Culture.
Contrast that with the Tories – eleven years of austerity and then excluding hundreds of thousands of creative industry workers from financial help during the pandemic, dismissing their jobs as “not viable.”
Our ballet dancers don’t need to retrain in cyber – because Britain excels at both. Our brilliant British creative industries were the fastest growing sector in our economy before the pandemic and Labour believes they can be again.
The Tories have erected barriers for British business and talent and they can’t even be bothered to get a new agreement with the EU for our musicians, performers and crews to tour across Europe. Tory red tape is holding our country’s talent back. So if they won’t go and fix their problem – Labour will.
Conference, as I said, the Tories don’t take digital, culture, media and sport seriously. In fact, they’re on their 11th Secretary of State in as many years. They just see it as a stepping-stone to higher office. What sort of message does that send to the sector – to the people who work in it? DCMS is my absolute dream job but I want to do it in government not in opposition.
Because conference, we know that it’s only by winning power that we get that precious opportunity to change peoples’ lives for the better. So, if we want to see a happier and healthier future for our country, we know what we have to do. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get on with it.