Jason Hesse is flabbergasted at the incompetence of the ruling elites when it comes to digital technology. Surely we need more switched-on rulers to legislate for the internet age?
Loath though The Kernel is to contemplate the seriousness of any Liberal Democrat policy, take a look at this video, which has been circulating for some time on the internet and which sprang up again at the end of last week after being reposted on a few influential technology blogs.
In his eleven-minute speech, Lord James of Blackheath attempts to expose a $15 trillion fraud. Instead, he exposes his colossal ignorance of the internet and technology in general. On the face of it, the clip would appear to be a powerful argument for reform of Parliament’s upper chamber, whose unelected portion reformers often criticise for being out of touch with ordinary people.
According to Lord James, Yohannes Riyadi, “the richest man in the world, who owns $36 trillion dollars in a bank”, is said to have had 750,000 tons of gold, worth $15 trillion, taken from him by the US Government to prop up the dollar.
He says: “I have this quite frightening piece of paper, which is my justification for bringing it into this meeting. It is available on the internet and I am astonished that it has not already been unearthed by the Treasury, because every alarm bell in the land should be ringing if it has.”
No, Lord James, alarm bells shouldn’t be ringing. Your allegations are absurd. As powerful and immensely-wealthy American corporations continue to muscle in on our professional and private lives, surely we need a legislature that’s a bit more switched on to the new challenges society is grappling with than this batty old booby?
Never mind that the world’s actual richest man, Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim, is worth “just” $63.3 billion – certainly nothing like $36 trillion.
And let’s also ignore the fact that the World Gold Council estimates that “only” 165,000 tons of gold have been mined in the entire history of the world – a sum not even close to 750,000 tons that Riyadi is purported to own.
No. Most worrying of all is the fact that Lord James’s claims can so easily be thrown out by simply Googling “Yohannes Riyadi”. The very first result shows that his name is attached to a well-known internet scam.
On the one hand, let’s be honest, it’s mildly amusing to watch a bumbling life peer make a fool out of himself in the upper house. But on the other, again, this video raises serious questions about the competence of Britain’s lawmakers.
How could Lord James fall so hard for what is so obviously a Nigerian 419 scam? And why on earth didn’t his staff see it coming and stop him from speaking on the subject?
It is borderline criminal that the House of Lords should accommodate such idiocy: these are the people responsible for signing off new laws proposed by the Government and keeping an eye on the supposedly more rash House of Commons.
It is worth asking, too, how much taxpayers’ money has been spent investigating this “mystery”. After all, Lord James seems to invoke an awful lot of names in his “very remarkable” story. How much low-level civil servant time, not to mention that of other Lords and senior officials elsewhere in Government, has been spent on this silliness?
Britain is right to be proud of its fine traditions, and the House of Lords performs its function surprisingly well (usually). But it is worrying – no, worse: it is shameful – that this country does not have a legislature that fully understands the rudiments of email and the internet, and absurdities like the one above only serve to strengthen the case of constitutional reform activists pushing for change in the Lords.
In other words, if we agree that this country’s leaders must be better educated about technology in order to legislate and rule effectively, something must be done about the aloof eccentrics in Parliament – both in the Lords and the Commons – who can barely boil a kettle unassisted.
We are living through a period of rapid social change, much of it fuelled by new social technologies that promise extraordinary benefits but which also come with risks attached. With Facebook now cited in as many as a third of UK divorces and Twitter radically changing public discourse, it is time Britain’s leaders took the internet seriously.
While it would be absurd to suggest ripping up the constitution on the basis of one nutty old peer, Lord James is by no means the only person in the Palace of Westminster who could do worse than take an Internet 101 course from the Open University.
Let there be no doubt: few in the Commons are much more technologically savvy than poor old Lord James. They’re simply a bit younger (and a lot closer to lobbyists). Certainly their technical and economic expertise when it comes to digital technology leaves a lot to be desired: the House hardly covered itself in glory while passing the Digital Economy Act.
There can be no space in the Parliament of a digital Britain for unedifying episodes like that of Lord James’s most recent embarrassment. We are on the cusp of exciting economic and social developments brought about by technology that is changing much more quickly than our leaders’ abilities to understand and legislate for it.
If Parliament is not to be completely rebooted, it must at least be fundamentally – and quickly – re-educated. There is not a moment to lose.