You might have noticed there’s an election on. Polling day is now 21 days away and the main manifestos have finally been launched.
But what are the parties promising when it comes to the world of technology?
We’ve looked at the manifestos for the main parties: Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, and UKIP. Here’s what we’ve found.
Mentions of the word “internet”: 3
Mentions of the word “digital”: 7
Total words on digital-related issues: 333
- Nationwide “affordable, high speed broadband by the end of the Parliament [ie 2020].”
- Extend mobile coverage and reduce “not spots” by maximising private sector investment.
- “Support community-based campaigns” to reduce the digital divide.
- More digital government: “We will use digital technology to create a more responsive, devolved, and less costly system of government . . . [we] will use digital technology in reforming our public services. People will be able to feed back on services quickly and simply . . . We will further develop digital government to enable better communication, more collaboration, and sharing of data between services.”
- “Labour’s longer-term approach will drive innovation and build on our strengths as a leader in digital technology.”
Verdict: Many sensible words, most of them very hard to disagree with. But there is a shortage of specifics, especially on potentially radical areas like digital government. And the promise of nationwide high-speed broadband isn’t new (it was in Labour’s 2010 manifesto too); it just never seems to turn into reality.
Mentions of the word “internet”: 6
Mentions of the word “digital”: 8
Total words on digital-related issues: 534
- “Backing the financial technology revolution.”
- Investment in science and technological institutions in the north of England.
- Nationwide “superfast broadband . . . to 95 per cent of the UK by the end of 2017” and nationwide mobile coverage.
- “Release more spectrum from public sector use to allow greater private sector access.”
- “Ensure that Britain seizes the chance to be a world leader in the development of 5G, playing a key role in defining industry standards.”
- “Create more” catapult centres.
- “Direct further resources towards the Eight Great Technologies – among them robotics and nanotechnology – where Britain is set to be a global leader.”
- “We will stop children’s exposure to harmful sexualised content online, by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material and age-rating for all music videos.”
- Increasing digital government by moving more services online.
- “Help teachers to make Britain the best country in the world for developing maths, engineering, science and computing skills.”
- Support the digital single market.
Verdict: As is normal with incumbent parties, the Conservatives’ manifesto contains some more specific policy proposals than the opposition manifestos. But there isn’t anything particularly radical in here. The thrust of the manifesto is to continue pursuing policies that were widely welcomed over the past five years (including the Lib Dem idea of catapult centres).
Mentions of the word “digital”: 0 in the mini-manifesto, full manifesto not PDF-searchable
Total words on digital-related issues: 382
None that relate specifically to technology in the mini-manifesto. However in the full manifesto the following are listed:
- “We would consider . . . a comprehensive Digital Bill of Rights.”
- “We would . . . oppose any case for secret unaccountable mass surveillance of the type exposed by Edward Snowden”.
- “Support and protect internet freedom.”
- “Support the EU’s proposals to strengthen data protection laws against opposition from large US data-driven companies.”
- “Limit the censoring or takedown of content or activity to exceptional circumstances”.
- “Oppose the privatisation of data held by the government” and “oppose the sale of personal data, such as health or tax records, for commercial or other ends”.
- “Support open standards in IT.”
Verdict: None of these policies get mentioned in the Green Party’s “mini-manifesto”; they’re only in the longer “full manifesto”. That’s a shame but it underlines the reality of tech’s position within all the parties’ manifestos: it’s way down the list of priorities when the economy, NHS, immigration, Europe and constitutional issues dominate. Having said that, the Greens actually give more detail on digital issues than almost any other party (maybe only rivalled by the Lib Dems). Some of the Greens’ key policies – tackling climate change, creating a fairer economy – could rely on or have big implications for technology; they just don’t go into details on these areas.
Mentions of the word “internet”: 7
Mentions of the word “digital”: 21
Total words on digital-related issues: 1,087
- “Complete the rollout of high-speed broadband.”
- Support tech clusters.
- Support “scale-ups”.
- “Promote the take up of STEM subjects in schools, retain coding on the National Curriculum and encourage entrepreneurship at all levels.”
- “Maintain and develop the award-winning Government Digital Service, and the principle of Digital by Default in public services, pressing ahead with plans to extend this to local government. Continue to release government data sets that can facilitate economic growth in an open and accessible format, including on standards in public services.”
- “Protect your privacy by updating data laws for the internet age with a Digital Bill of Rights”.
- “Safeguard the essential freedom of the internet and back net neutrality”.
- “Oppose the introduction of the so-called Snooper’s Charter.”
- “Continue to support free media and a free and open Internet around the world, championing the free flow of information.”
- “Work to ensure the shift to Digital by Default for public services does not leave people behind”.
- “Make it clear that online services have a duty to provide age-appropriate policies, guidance and support to the children and young people who use their services.”
- “Ensure that privacy policies and terms and conditions of online services, including smartphone apps, must be clear, concise and easy for the user to understand.”
- “Uphold the right of individuals, businesses and public bodies to use strong encryption to protect their privacy and security online.”
- “Ensure privacy is protected to the same extent in telecoms and online as in the offline world.”
- “Enshrine the principle that everyone has the right to control their own personal data, and that everyone should be able to view, correct, and (where appropriate and proportionate) delete their personal data, wherever it is held.”
- “Forbid any public body from collecting, storing or processing personal data without statutory authority, and require any such legislation to be regularly reviewed.”
- Support the EU digital single market.
Verdict: The Lib Dems have the most detailed manifesto on technology of any of the main parties and dedicate more space to it than anyone else. Like the Greens, they outline a proposed digital bill of rights to protect privacy. And like the Conservatives, they spell out more policies to promote new digital businesses through tech clusters and scale-ups.
Mentions of the word “internet”: 2
Mentions of the word “digital”: 0
Total words on digital-related issues: 217
- “Waive tuition fees for students taking a degree in science; technology; engineering; maths or medicine.”
Verdict: Technology gets very little attention in the UKIP manifesto. The only two mentions of the word “internet” in the document relate to the dangers of online crime and the need to update sentencing processes to reflect the internet’s impact.
What this means
Given the likelihood of a hung parliament and another coalition government, every manifesto at this election is a negotiating tool, not a list of promises. Technology isn’t a critical area of policy debate (even if you think it should be) but it’s still likely that the parties will have to come to a consensus on their tech plans as they will with their health or economic policies.
In that case, we can see a consensus emerging around four or five core policies:
- Delivering national superfast broadband (although that seems to be easier said than done);
- Pushing for more digital government and digital-first or digital-only services;
- Supporting start-up clusters;
- Encouraging more STEM skills;
- (And possibly) implementing a digital bill of rights to enshrine the right to online privacy.
But like everyone else we’ll have to wait until after 7th May to know exactly what the fall-out will be from this highly unpredictable election.