In case you hadn’t heard, there are less than three weeks to go until the closest run UK General Election in living memory and the best computational algorithms can’t predict the makeup of the next government. The parties have all now launched their manifestos, but which party promises the most for the UK’s tech industry?
Labour are making all the right noises with big statements on high speed broadband for all by 2020, mobile infrastructure investment, extension of Government Digital Services and creation of a ‘Small Business Administration’. Almost every major section of the manifesto makes mention of the importance of digital technology. It all sounds great and there are plenty of eye-catching terms (3D printing, robotics and big data!). But I just don’t see enough concrete proposals with any depth. Essentially, it lacks confidence.
For citizens, despite having led the charge against phone hacking, Labour pays lip service to data privacy and makes only a fleeting reference to ‘safeguards that protect people’s privacy’.
Verdict: Neutral. Makes the right sounds but lacks confidence and depth.
The Conservatives have boldly vowed to make the UK the ‘technology centre of Europe’. In total, their manifesto features the word ‘technology’ or ‘tech’ a bumper 46 times. There’s certainly encouraging detail in key areas including superfast broadband and mobile infrastructure, tech-oriented education, open government, SME and start-up support. This points to a future where government policy is underpinned and enabled by technology.
Naturally, the Conservatives have made much of their existing support for entrepreneurs and small businesses and the fact that as a Coalition member they have presided over the recent ‘ rise of UK tech startups’. They aim to continue to bolster this growth by ‘backing the financial technology revolution’, rolling out their innovative Help to Grow scheme and tripling availability of start-up loans, including to tech entrepreneurs.
Verdict: Positive. Concrete policies that portray a party that not only understands the benefits of tech but also supports industry.
The Liberal Democrats’ manifesto is packed with technology content aplenty, continuing to build on existing policy areas such as superfast broadband roll-out, doubling innovation and research spending, rolling out a UK network of incubators for technology startups and opening up procurement. But they go beyond current ideas to suggest a Digital Bill of Rights, cluster networks, scale ups, Technology Impact Assessments and bolstering of digital based challenger banks, which are all uniquely Lib Dem offerings.
But the key difference is substantive, with the Lib Dems diving deeper into digital detail than either Labour or the Conservatives. For example, they are the only party who to have a section dedicated to ‘Securing Global Leadership in Technology’, rather than spread their commitments across the manifesto.
Verdict: Strong. Progressive and ambitious, providing comfort to both citizens and business.
Ukip, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru
To say that the smaller parties haven’t yet embraced tech is an understatement. There’s not a single reference from Ukip or Plaid Cymru on ‘digital’ or ‘technology’. The SNP manifesto is equally light. The Greens have definite tech policies but they’re largely about promoting personal privacy, not about supporting tech and its growth.
Verdict: N/A. After May 7th we won’t be looking to any of these parties for leadership on tech policies.
The best result for the UK tech industry?
Overall, the Lib Dems have the best policies, but if they are to be in power at all they will be a minor coalition party thus reducing their effectiveness. As a partner to Labour, they could provide the policy detail that Labour is lacking. As a partner to the Conservatives, they could continue the achievements of the current Coalition.
But a Conservative-backed EU referendum could jeopardise the UK’s standing as the digital leader of Europe. And given that a coalition may be formed not with the the Lib Dems but with other minor parties, it’s especially disappointing that the smaller parties haven’t better embraced tech, particularly when it could be a Labour-led not Conservative-led government.
It’s fair to say that the UK tech industry has serious momentum up and down the country and will hopefully continue to thrive in the short-term, regardless of the outcome on 7 May. What the next government must do, however, is enable the UK to continue to thrive in the long-term. Let’s hope a strong digital future for the UK doesn’t get lost in the horse-trading of coalition party politics.
By Luc Delany,.
This blog post was featured on and written for the Huffington Post’s blog section: General Election: What Have the Manifestos Ever Done for UK Tech?
Beyond The Ballot is The Huffington Post UK’s alternative take on the General Election, taking on the issues too awkward for Westminster. It focuses on the unanswered questions around internet freedom, mental health and housing. Election news, blogs, polls and predictions are combined with in-depth coverage of our three issues including roundtable debates, MP interviews and analysis.
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