During the last European election, one of the major stories to hit the press was the widespread lurch to the right, and the rise of the Europhobe vote. Very few outlets noticed a significant development for those interested in digital rights, and it was the poor showing of pirate parties across Europe. The German Pirate Party picked up a new MEP when Julia Reda got elected with 1.4% of the vote, but that is where the good news stop. In the UK, the pirates managed less than 0.05% of the total votes, and Peter Sunde failed to get elected in Finland, gaining only 0.1% of the vote. But the biggest shock to many of us was the Swedish Pirate Party, which lost the two representatives that it had gained with its amazing showing in previous elections. This was quite a shock because they had been excellent parliament members, and in my biased opinion Amelia Andersotter was one of the most clued-in and engaging politicians in the European scene.
The unfortunate pirate showing across Europe has re-opened a question in my mind about the need to have some sort of geek political wing that can fight for openness, transparency, and digital rights in general. Some of us had hoped that the Pirate Party would be the logical candidate to draw the votes of those who believe in an open Internet, but unfortunately something is just not clicking with the electorate.
In my opinion, there are many reasons why the Pirate Party has done poorly recently. One important reason might be that the logical constituency is digitally-aware younger people, but more than 50% of voters are over 55, and less than a third of voters are under 30. This level of apathy is a real stumbling block for the Pirate Party, and unless things change, they will have a difficult time drawing voters from a smaller percentage of the electorate.
But the main problem in my view with Pirate Parties is that people do not consider copyright and piracy issues to be important enough at the moment. Large numbers of consumers are now getting their content legally through streaming with services like Netlfix, YouTube and Spotify, and therefore piracy has become a much less vital issue for the mainstream electorate. The Pirate Party flag is mostly identifiable as making a stand in favour of filesharing, and in my experience this is not enough to draw voters. The copyright wars are just not that sexy any more.
The Pirate Party stands for many other digital causes, such as privacy, mass surveillance, open Internet, net neutrality, trade agreements, and software patents, just to name a few. But people do not see that, they notice the skull and bones, and think mostly of the Pirate Bay. This may not be enough to get people to go out and cast their ballot.
Similarly, there has been a shift in what is of vital importance to voters. When you are struggling with unemployment and economic inequality, the Pirate flag does not seem to represent the most pressing issues of the day. A vote for the Greens is at the moment a more logical home for those worried about important issues like the environment.
So what should the Pirate Party do? A re-brand should really be on the cards. We need politicians who fight for the right things in the digital arena, but at the moment getting those elected under the skull and bones might be a bit of a tough task.