Google: The Future We Build Together - Ed Miliband

22 May 2013

Ed_LOUGoogle: The Future We Build Together
Speech by Ed Miliband

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Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party, said in a speech to Google's Big Tent:

It is great to be here inside the Google Big Tent.

My sons Daniel and Sam think I do a very boring job, so they will be excited when I tell them I appeared along with the “Killer Robots” and the “Captain of the Moonshots” at your sessions.

I’d like to start by showing you four pictures and asking you to decide which is the odd one out, because it’s reveals the theme of my talk: what kind of future we want to build.

The first is my dad. His name was Ralph Miliband. He was a Marxist Professor.

The second is Willy Wonka, the genius who owns the factory in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and eventually gives it all away to Charlie’s family.

The third is Margaret Hodge, Labour chair of the Public Accounts Committee, who, as you know, has been very critical of Google in the last few days.

And the fourth is Google, along with your founding slogan: “Don’t be evil”.

So, as they say on “Have I Got News for You?”, I’d like people to tell me who is the odd one out.

Well, I’ll tell you my answer.

My answer is that it is my dad.

Because he’s the only one who thought that the route to a fair society was not through capitalism but through socialism based on public ownership.

It wasn’t just my dad who thought it, of course.

Until 1995 this view was enshrined on the membership card of the party I now lead.

Tony Blair got rid of it and rightly so, because nationalising the major industries is not the route to a fair society.

Nowadays, there are some people who will tell you that because capitalism is here to stay there aren’t really any choices any more about what kind of society we need.

But I don’t believe that either.

So here’s another four people that might tell us why.

First, here’s Richard O’Neill, he’s a small businessman who runs a small company called School Office Services in London and despite it being a highly competitive industry, he prides himself on paying all of his workers a living wage.

The second is Muhammad Yunus, the micro-finance genius, who won the Nobel Peace Prize.

The third is Charlie Mayfield, who is head of Britain’s major employee-owned retail chain, John Lewis, sharing its profits with its workforce.

And, the fourth is Montgomery Burns, who runs the nuclear power plant in The Simpsons.

Now, the odd one out is obvious this time.

It is Mr Burns.

He’s not such a good guy.

He leaves radioactive nuggets lying around.

Of course, he is a cartoon character, but I could have substituted him with RBS or some of the other big banks before the financial crash.

He illustrates my case today because there is a choice to make.

A choice between an “irresponsible capitalism” which sees huge gaps between the richest and the poorest, power concentrated in a few hands, and people are just in it for the fast buck whatever the consequences.

And a “responsible capitalism”, and this is an agenda being led by business, where companies pursues profit but we also have an equal society, power is in the hands of the many and where we recognise our responsibilities to each other.

And my case is a “responsible capitalism” isn’t only fairer but we’re more likely to succeed as a country with it.

Now, this is an argument I have made for the last two years, as Leader of the Labour party.

And today I want to apply it to the internet and the digital age.

The Possibilities of the internet

On the face of it, we have many reasons to believe that digital technology is taking us to a more “responsible capitalism”.

Digital technology has opened up markets to people who used to have no access to them, from the African farmer to the small business people in my constituency.

From politics to media, it helps break down old hierarchies.

And by making the world more inter-connected, the internet creates communities that are more likely to see their responsibilities to each other.

And of course, Google is at forefront of this.

People all over the world rely on you.

And from your search engine, to Gmail, to Google Glass, you have been at the cutting edge of all this revolution.

And I applaud you for your innovation.

Big Choices Remain

Of course, you are used to politicians coming and saying this sort of thing.

But if that’s all there was to it, there weren’t any big questions that we need to resolve, then frankly I am not sure I should be here.

But there are choices we need to make.

The internet opens up opportunities for millions, but countries and people can be left behind.

The internet breaks down old hierarchies but it can also create new powerful vested interests.

And the internet connects people across the globe, but it can also enable footloose global companies to shirk their responsibilities.

The rules that we set, the behaviour we encourage, and the cultures we reward will all help to determine which future we end up in.

Whether our economy has more Mr Burns or more Charlie Mayfields.

Creative People

Let me start with how we give every individual an opportunity to benefit from the internet and how we avoid being left behind as a country.

There are still 2.6 million households in Britain without access to basic broadband.

And there are millions of people in Britain who have never used the internet.

That digital divide excludes the potential designers, innovators, entrepreneurs of the future.

We’ve got to turn it around.

It’s bad for them and it is wrong for our country.

But taking advantage of the internet goes far beyond access.

It is about putting creativity at the heart of our education system.

Google has recognised this by distributing Raspberry Pi computers to schools across the country.

But we need to take that insight and use it to transform the way our whole national education system works.

Unfortunately, our education system is going in the opposite direction.

Schools are spending 15% less time on art, design and technology in England, compared to only three years ago.

There are over a third fewer teachers being trained in these subjects.

And it is no wonder.

The government’s favoured EBacc simply doesn’t include creative and vocational subjects.

Art, design, technology and creativity have been rendered second class.

But this is precisely the wrong message to be sending out to schools.

Just think about Sir Jony Ive.

As a kid his Christmas present every year was a day in the classroom with his parents who were design teachers.

Sir Jony went on to change the world by designing the iMac and iPad.

We need to make sure the next generation aren’t just good at using Google, Facebook, and YouTube, but are also designing and creating the next phase of the digital world.

That’s why we have to put art, design and technology back at the heart of our education system.

An Economy Made by the Many

The second part of our task is to harness the ability of the internet to transform our economy.

In particular making sure that power isn’t concentrated in a few hands, but we allow the smallest firms to flourish.

Enabling individual creators to work hand-in-hand both with the public sector and with global companies as they design the next generation of technology.

That will only happen if the big firms don’t squeeze out their smaller rivals.

Sometimes markets themselves see off this danger.

Like Google did when it gave Android to the world, open source.

It prevented the smartphone market being monopolised.

But we can’t rely on the private sector alone.

In the public sector the principle should be create more open access.

Think of our great public institutions, like the BBC and the British Library, there is more we can do to open them up, through digital public space.

Think of the old world where you had to go to the British Library, where you had to go and have a membership card to get in.

Then imagine a world where you don’t need to go to the British Library with an exclusive membership card to access to the amazing archives they have.

Helping a whole new generation of small businesses in this country.

We also need to make sure there are proper financial returns to creativity.

So Labour is working with the present government, starting with the Bill currently going through Parliament, to resolve the problems over copyrighting, piracy and intellectual property.

And finally, there needs to be regulation that responds to the complexity of the internet.

Preventing monopolies arising while being careful not to stifle creativity and we should work with the industry to make sure that doesn’t happen.

The case has been made, including in our Small Business Taskforce, that Britain needs a digital ombudsman to track anti-competitive practices as they emerge, and provide information to government as they work with regulation at a European level.

We welcome people’s views about whether this is a sensible way forward.

Above all, if we’re to have a responsible capitalism we need to make sure that the opportunity offered by the internet is spread to a large number of small businesses not restricted to a small number of large ones.

Responsible Companies

To create a more responsible capitalism, we also need responsible companies.

It is great that the Google Big Tent encourages debate on every issue.

And I want to engage with you on the issue of tax that has been so prominent in the last few days: with Google, Apple and Amazon all in the spotlight.

The first and primary responsibility of government is to get the law right.

I welcome Google’s call for international tax reform.

The government should be putting forward proposals now to make this happen at the G8.

Those proposals should guarantee country by country reporting transparency to show how much profit firms are making and tax they’re paying.

Reform of the rules on transfer pricing to stop companies from shifting profits unfairly.

A crackdown on tax havens as well.

I hope Google will support us in our endeavours.

And, let me say, if we cannot get international agreement, a Labour government will act here at home.

But does the responsible company need to do more than obey the letter of the law?

My answer is yes.

In Google’s 2004 IPO prospectus, it said:

“Don’t be evil. We will be stronger in the long term, we will be better served – as shareholders and in all other ways – by a company that does good things for the world, even if we forego some short-term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared in the company.”

So you were saying:

Your employees want a culture where they feel they are doing the right thing.

Your customers want it too.

Our society depends on the right messages being sent out from the top.

And the reputation of business depends on the most prominent businesses doing the right thing.

That’s why I spoke out after the Select Committee hearings last week.

I can’t be the only person here who feels disappointed that such a great company as Google, with such great founding principles, will be reduced to arguing that when it employs thousands of people in Britain, makes billions of pounds of revenue in Britain, it’s fair that it should pay just a fraction of one per cent of that in tax.

So when Google does great things for the world, I applaud you.

But when Eric Schmidt says, its current approach to tax is just “capitalism”, I disagree.

And it's a shame Eric Schmidt isn't here to hear me say this direct:

When Google goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying its taxes, I say it’s wrong.

And it’s not just me that thinks it.

It is crystal clear from your own founding principles.

Conclusion

So these are some of the ways we create a more responsible capitalism.

A society that is more equal not less.

Where power is spread to the many, not concentrated in the hands of the few.

And where we show our responsibilities to each other.

I started with my dad and I will end with him.

He was wrong about public ownership.

But he was right about something else.

He was a refugee here in Britain.

Who came here at the age of 16 in 1940.

And he joined the Royal Navy.

He used to talk about those days in the Navy, where people of all backgrounds, all walks of life, came together for a common purpose.

That’s how Great Britain succeeds.

That’s how great companies succeed.

That’s what responsible capitalism is about.

That’s what I call One Nation.

That’s the future we must build together.