Free broadband? No thanks!
Jan 10, 2020 by Martin Sims


Tagsbroadband, BT, Openreach, renationalisation, spectrum liberalisation, UK

Telecoms renationalisation has skulked back to the political margins in the UK after the Labour party suffered its worst electoral defeat since 1935.

About half of PolicyTracker‘s staff are based in London but our readers are international so we try not to give UK events an undue prominence. People in other countries have no need to follow UK politics as closely as we do, so I thought I should offer an update to this blog, which was published in the run-up to our recent general election.

Like many, I was shocked by the Labour party’s proposal for free broadband and a part-renationalisation of BT. Its rejection by the voters was decisive. The party suffered its worst election result in over 80 years.

There seem to be several likely causes, including the unpopularity of the departing party leader, Jeremy Corbyn; confusion over Brexit; and unfocused messaging.

But what surprised me was the negative doorstep reaction to the broadband offer –  a few quotes are below.

  • Lisa Nandy, Labour MP and leadership contender: “I’ve got a lot of constituents here who have a pound left in their pocket at the end of the week. And actually, free bus travel would go a lot further than free broadband.”
  • Jess Phillips, Labour MP and leadership contender: “We lost them on some of the basics. My son does not go to school five days a week. Lots of people in the country can give you their own example. While that was the case, offering free broadband was just not believable.”
  • Margaret Hodge, Labour MP: “The real rejection was of a party that didn’t have credible economics.” While no one would say no to free broadband, “nobody believed that we could deliver it without paying”.
  • Pamela Smith, health worker: “Free broadband for everyone, that’s a great policy. But how will they pay for it?”
  • Labour source: “The free broadband was really unpopular. We hadn’t spent two years making the case for it […] so people thought ‘this is a weird luxury, why on earth are we being offered this?”

The former Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair said of his party’s manifesto: “Any fool can promise everything for free. But the people weren’t fooled… And the loading in of ‘free broadband’ run by the government was the final confirmation of incredibility.”

Telecoms renationalisation seems to be off the UK agenda for at least the next five years. A purported box office smash turned out to be a turkey and a re-run is looking unlikely.•