Election Mayhem 3: Green Issues

Tomorrow (if you haven’t already taken the postal vote option) you’ll hopefully be taking yourself down to your local polling station.

For many it feels like we could be at important a turning point politically. Personally, who to vote for in this election has been the easiest choice so far since I first got to officially mark down my X in 1992. My choice has been made on a number of different fronts: the economy and the current job situation, education and the potential school life my children will have, plans for national security and more.

However for me probably the biggest issue is how the different parties propose to deal with the climate change chaos that we are about to face.

The Ask the Climate Question coalition organised a debate between Ed Miliband, Greg Clark, Simon Hughes and Darren Johnson. The event also featured video blogs from the leaders Brown, Cameron and Clegg available in the Independent.

Last Monday was the election agenda’s ‘Climate Change Day’ and the three main parties published their green’ manifestos:

To sum up:

Liberal Democrats

  • Set target for a zero-carbon UK, but allow 10% of emissions to be offset overseas.
  • Spend £3.1bn in the first year on a green jobs stimulus which will lead to 100,000 jobs.
  • Tax planes, not passengers, to discourage empty flights, and tax short-haul flights more if trains or coaches are available.
  • A road-pricing scheme, making motorists pay for their use, offset by scrapping the vehicle excise duty tax disc.
  • Tax financial transactions and aviation and shipping emissions to help poorer countries moderate and adapt to climate change.
  • Rule out a new generation of nuclear power on the grounds of expense – a “big hole” in electricity generation, says Labour.
  • Scrap the new Infrastructure Planning Commission and return decision-making to local people – risks delays to renewable energy projects.
  • Commit the UK to a target of 40% emissions cut by 2020, breaking step with the EU.
  • Cut rail fares and make Network Rail refund one-third of ticket cost if rail replacement bus services are used.
  • £400 eco cashback scheme for new double glazing, boilers or solar panels.
  • Double woodland by 2005 and policies to “increase tranquillity” in the countryside.
  • Prevent “garden-grabbing” development by designating them as greenfield sites.


  • Introduce an Emissions Performance Standard to set a legal limit on the emissions from power stations.
  • Deliver a 10 per cent cut in central government carbon emissions within 12 months of coming to office.
  • Create four carbon capture and storage equipped power plants;
  • Deliver an offshore electricity grid and establish at least two Marine Energy Parks.
  • Allow communities that host renewable energy projects like wind farms to keep the additional business rates they generate for six years.
  • Provide incentives for smaller-scale energy generation.
  • Putt in place supply guarantees in the gas and electricity markets – ensuring that sufficient electricity generating capacity is maintained and setting an obligation on gas suppliers to ensure that supplies are in place throughout the year.
  • Reform the Climate Change Levy to provide a floor price for carbon, delivering the right climate for investment.
  • Transform electricity networks with ‘smart grid’ and ‘smart meter’ technology.
  • Clear the way for new nuclear power stations – provided they receive no public subsidy.
  • Create a ‘Green Deal’, giving every home up to £6,500 worth of energy improvement measures – paid for out of the savings made on fuel bills.
  • Ensure that every energy bill provides information on how to move to the cheapest tariff offered by their supplier and how their energy usage compares to similar households.
  • Reform the Post Office Card Account to give up to 4 million people access to lower tariffs.


  • Use industrial policy, which has seen wind turbine and electric car makers invest in the UK, to create 400,000 green jobs by 2015.
  • Use “active government” – ie intervention – in markets to deliver a low-carbon energy sector.
  • Up to £5,000 discount for electric cars and 100,000 charging points by 2015.
  • Reduce aviation emissions to 2005 levels by 2050.
  • Ban all recyclable and biodegradable waste from landfill.
  • Back a third runway at Heathrow, but rule out any other new runway until 2015.
  • Back new coal power stations without requiring that all their carbon emissions are captured and stored.
  • £100 extra towards energy bills for those over 75.
  • Prosecution for a car owner if litter is thrown from it, plus seizure of cars used for fly-tipping.
  • Treble the number of secure bicycle parking spaces at railway stations.
  • Ban wild animals in circuses and maintain the fox-hunting ban.

The Reality

The three main parties have much to say on climate issues. I haven’t mentioned other parties in these posts but it seems wrong to not mention the natural party of choice for many environmentalists, the Green Party, who have green policy at the heart of their manifesto.

Who you vote for, whether it be a strategic vote to keep another party out or a heart felt vote, potentially has the power to change the UK. Whatever you do use your vote wisely, but most of all use your vote.

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…

Election Mayhem 1: Flexible Working

Have you noticed that there’s an election looming? I’m not going to get all political on you but I thought a quick span of the major party’s attitudes to remote/flexible working and related technologies might make interesting reading.

I wanted to start off with the idea of flexible Working. All three main parties have been pretty vocal in this area and claim to see flexible employment as the way forward.

Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg offered support for flexible working as part of his policies affecting families. He has said that if he is successful in the upcoming general election, he would extend the right to request remote access working to all employees (i.e. grandparents etc. could also ask).

Families support each other in different ways, whether it’s with babysitting or picking the kids up from school – grandparents often play a particularly important role. We want to make it easier for everyone – not just parents – to change their working arrangements to fit in with the demands of family life. We will therefore extend the right to request flexible working to all employees.

The Liberal Democrats will also allow parents to share the allocation of maternity and paternity leave between them in whatever way suits them best, seek to extend the period of shared parental leave up to 18 months when resources and economic circumstances allow and scrap compulsory retirement ages, allowing those who wish to continue in work to do so.


Phil Hammond, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary is quoted as saying

The Conservative Party believes that flexible working practice is the future – for both public and private sectors. Flexible working practice is a key element in the delivery of economic competitiveness, social justice, affordability in public service delivery and an improvement in General Well Being.

However unlike the Liberal Democrats they believe that what is needed is education, not legislation. They hope that this will “allow all employers across the UK – in all sectors and of all sizes, can see, and take advantage of, the benefits of offering flexible employment“. The conservatives will also introduce a new system of flexible parental leave which lets parents share maternity leave between them, while ensuring that parents on leave can stay in touch with their employer. They will also look at how to abolish the default retirement age, though no commitment here.


While the other two parties can talk about what they will do Labour can shout about what they’ve already done. They’ve introduced the right to request flexible working and subsequently extended it, now allowing over 4.5 million parents and those with caring responsibilities are free to ask. Labour also claim that they will introduce a new Fathers’ Month, four weeks of paid leave rather than the current two. Like the other two parties Labour will also proceed to end default retirement at 65.

The Reality

Of course “free to ask” doesn’t always mean you get. We still have a way to go to bring working practices in to the 21st century. When you contrast the theory and practice it sometimes seems like the cultural shake up hasn’t even begun.

A blog reader recently drew my attention to this Daily Mail article about a mother who worked for the NHS and was on a £60,000 salary, she now works remotely from Canada. Remote working from another country is becoming increasingly popular and Amanda Hill wrote a great blog post for us on her experiences (Remoter remote working). There are obviously many benefits to employer (they get to keep the best person for the job) and employee (they get to continue working in a job they enjoy while having the flexible lifestyle they prefer). However the daily Mail article talks about the NHS employee as if she is some sort of criminal.

Last night Mike Penning MP, a Tory health spokesman, said: ‘This beggar’s belief. You couldn’t make this up if you tried.

‘It says an awful lot about the management of the NHS and the shambles in which our Health Service finds itself. This woman has, to all intents and purposes, emigrated and yet still finds herself on this staggering salary.

‘That is not what taxpayers’ money should be used for and I urge a full and prompt investigation into what has gone wrong.’

Legally there are no issues with such a practice, the woman obviously continues to pay her National Insurance contributions. However it’s clear from the comments that many (MPs and others) are still failing to understand our changing work culture and the role remote working can potentially play.

Lets hope flexible working becomes more than just an election buzz word.

I’ll take a look at the party policies on technology areas such as ‘super-fast broadband’ next time.

Further Reading

The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) Election briefing paper