Election Mayhem 2: Technology

Technology is a tricky area for the politicians. On one hand it could save us, the inventor of the Web is British after all and if we innovate and take the lead when it comes to the Web it could be our route out of the recession. On the other hand government IT systems cost a fortune and don’t seem to work that well! So what do the 3 main parties have to say?

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats would use public money to support the rollout of superfast broadband across the UK however their manifesto does not detail the speed of the broadband network, how it would be delivered and by when. They do say that it would be “targeted first at those areas which are least likely to be provided for by the market“, i.e. rural areas. The money for this would come from axing a number of the many of the flagship IT projects of the previous Labour government (ID cards, ContactPoint, the introduction of second-generation biometric passports and the Intercept Modernisation Programme (IMP) to log all telecoms traffic in the UK) which would save billions of pounds of public money. The party also supports the principle of the £6 annual tax on fixed landlines to fund the rollout of superfast broadband, which was proposed by the previous Labour government however pensioners and the least well-off members of society will be exempt from having to pay the tax.

Other IT pledges include:

  • Removing the DNA profiles of people arrested for, but not convicted of, a crime from the National DNA Database.
  • Reducing IT spending across Whitehall and encouraging the use of open source software.
  • Money for research would also be allocated to projects that were felt to be important by the scientific community and not Whitehall.
  • Extending Freedom of Information legislation so private companies delivering public services would have to release information.
  • Increasing the powers of the Data Protection Act and the privacy watchdog.
  • Soft measures for online piracy such as sending letters. Note that the party opposed the recent Digital Economy Bill when it was being considered by Parliament.


The Conservatives plan to create a 100Mbps broadband network for the UK with costs met largely by the private sector. They propose relaxing regulation to make it easier for companies to get permission to lay network infrastructure and see fibre as having an important role but are also open to alternatives such as WiMax and other mobile technology.

Their manifesto also proposes overhauling whilehall IT use by allowing smaller companies to bid for government IT contracts. Shadow minister for the cabinet office Francis Maude has stated “We want to make the British government the most tech-friendly in the world and to make sure that the next generation of Googles and Microsofts will be British companies.” They propose the creation of a government application store, a central store of common software applications enabling apps to be reused across government departments rather than having each department buying its own software.

Other IT pledges include:

  • More sharing of data from quango contracts, crime data, councillors’ expenses online, energy consumption etc.
  • The public will be consulted online about every new bill that passes through Parliament.
  • Copyright pirates will still face the ultimate threat of being disconnected from the internet but usually through a court order.


Many of Labour’s proposals have already been heard in the last year or so. Their broadband pledges are taken from the Digital Britain report published last year. Labour say every household in the country will have a service of at least two megabits per second by 2012 (an improvement on the previous bid of “up to” 2Mbps). They will roll out a superfast broadband network to 90 per cent of Britons over the next seven years through a mixture of private investment and a £1bn subsidy from government. This subsidy will come from a “modest levy” probably the £6 annual tax on fixed landlines. The remaining 10 per cent of the population, mostly living in remote areas where it is not profitable to build a high-speed fibre optic broadband network, will receive broadband through satellites and mobile broadband.

Other IT pledges include:

  • An update to the “intellectual property framework that is crucial to the creative industries” and more support for the Digital Economy Act.
  • Like the conservatives they are keen to clear up after the expenses scandal so support more open data and publication of all non-personal data.
  • Many services would be only available over the internet and the number of places where the public can access the internet for free, such as libraries, would be increased.
  • A network of technology and innovation centres will be created to complement the recent announcement of the creation of the Institute of Web Science, a centre focusing on developing semantic web technologies.
  • At Whitehall IT will be targeted as an area where spending will be cut as part of a drive to reduce inefficiency.
  • ID cards will be issued to “an increasing number of British citizens” and possible available to the general population in 2012.

The Reality

Many of us working in public sector IT have watched the Digital Economy Bill saga with interest. The bill, which requires Internet connections to be temporarily suspended upon allegations of their persistent use to infringe copyright, could potentially have a big impact on organisations like libraries and universities. The way in which it was rushed through parliament despite the online community’s loud (but inaudible it seems) protests was incredibly worrying. And that’s before we even get on to the subject of broadband….There still seems to be a gap in understanding between those using the Internet in earnest and those seeing it as just one of their many tools.

Recently there have been quite a few posts pointing out the the Internet has failed to meet expectations when it comes to general election debate (This was meant to be the internet election. So what happened?). Technology may be where it’s at, but it’s not quite where the politicians are at…