What do the Election 2017 manifestos say about technology?
It’s election season but, between the buzzwords and Theresa May’s “strong and stable” soundbite, you might not have noticed all the tech promises being made.
From ‘startup allowances’ to ‘digital charters’, and every party’s insistence that 5G mobile internet is just right around the corner (spoiler: it’s not).
The general election on 8 June is the closest we’ve come in recent history to a one-issue election, dominated by Brexit.
But looking beyond Brexit, here’s what Britain’s three largest political parties are promising in their manifestos when it comes to innovation, technology and our digital lives:
Note: this list is not exhaustive.
THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY
Forward, Together: Our Plan for a Stronger Britain and a Prosperous Future.
Theresa May is clear from the outset; technology is one of the ‘five giant challenges’ that her manifesto offers a vision for.
“For the sake of our economy and our society, we need to harness the power of fast-changing technology, while ensuring that our security and personal privacy — and the welfare of children and younger people — are protected.”
Their full manifesto is here, so what is she promising when it comes to technology?
A new digital charter. Everyone loves a new charter. May’s charter will “establish a new framework that balances freedom with protection for users, and offers opportunities alongside obligations for businesses and platforms.” (p.77)
It apparently has two aims, to make Britain the best place to start and run a digital business, and to make Britain the safest place in the world to be online… and thus entirely missing the point of the ‘world’ in world wide web.
This also ties into May’s previous promise for more protections for under-18s on social media, letting them wipe their profiles and giving everyone more control over what happens to their data.
Regulating the internet. In a pitch taken straight out of May’s playbook as home secretary, the Conservatives will look to enshrine their digital charter into law (p.82).
“We will introduce a sanctions regime to ensure compliance, giving regulators the ability to ability to fine or prosecute those companies that fail in their legal duties, and to order the removal of content where it clearly breaches UK law.”
The Conservatives will also look to work with global companies and other countries to develop an “international legal framework” to marry with what they’ll do domestically (p.83).
Skills & investment. Along with “at least one new institute of technology” dedicated to digital skills, May also promises to place repatriate funds from the European Investment Fund into the British Business Bank. (p.78)
There’s also be new institutes of technology opened “in every major city in England”, these will provide university-level courses specialised in STEM subjects (p.52).
Online retail. It gets a little vague here, but the Conservatives pledge for “all digital companies to provide digital receipts, clearer terms and conditions when selling goods and services online and support new digital proofs of identification.”
Essentially this is about giving “consumers the same protections in online markets as they have on the high street.” (p.78)
Connectivity. Lots of promises about better broadband and helping people to switch, but next generation 5G mobile internet is where it gets interesting because May promises to “have the majority of the population covered by a 5G signal by 2027.” (p.79)
A rather optimistic promise, especially for a technology that doesn’t even exist yet, but they’ve got a decade to deliver.
Greener travel. Either a terribly ambitious or painfully sluggish promise, depending on your viewpoint, to get almost every car and van to be zero-emission by 2050, with £600m by 2020 to help get things started (p.24).
The gig economy. A pledge to “properly” protect those working in the gig economy, but nothing concrete, probably because everyone’s still waiting for the outcome of Matthew Taylor’s report on the rights of gig economy workers (p.16)
Digital government & land. More data, more often is the Conservative’s mantra. But a key promise is to create “the largest repository of open land data in the world” by combining parts of HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, Valuation Office Agency, the Hydrographic Office and Geological Survey.
The ultimate goal isn’t to help ramblers however, but to unlock “massive value” from land that is not realised because property developers are unable to ‘see’ its value.
THE LABOUR PARTY
For the many, not the few.
Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t appear to be the most tech-savvy politician, and indeed his whopping 128-page manifesto certainly comes across a little tech-light.
Labour’s primary message is about “building a fairer Britain”, which Corbyn says technology plays a part in, but he seems far more focused on larger promises like nationalisation.
Anyway, their full manifesto is online, and here’s what Labour’s planning:
Protecting against online abuse. Taking a page out of Theresa May’s playbook, Corbyn promises to help under 18s remove any content they shared online as a child.
The Labour Party will also ensure tech companies are “obliged” to take measures that further protect children and tackle online abuse (p.96)
A Digital Ambassador. A new role that will work with tech companies to promote Britain as an attractive place for investment, and help support companies as they grow (p.15)
Whether there’ll be any cash to help them do this, we just don’t know.
Even more connectivity. Another party that seems not to understand just how undeveloped 5G currently is, regardless Labour will “ensure all urban areas… have uninterrupted 5G coverage.”
Seriously, 5G is still in the research phase, even optimistic predictions peg 2020 as the very earliest we’ll start seeing 5G rolled out for consumers.
Labour also promises improvements to broadband and a plan to roll out ultrafast fibre (p.12).
Uber & gig economy. Labour also recognises the vast issues around non-traditional working taking place on the likes of Uber and Deliveroo, so the party promises to “set up a dedicated commission to modernise the law around employment status” (p.51).
At the same time, in a move to resolve the disputes between traditional taxis and Uber, Labour will reform the rules on taxis and private hire vehicles to “keep pace with technological change and ensuring a level playing eld between operators.”
Wifi in libraries. Does what it says on the tin, can’t argue with that (p.88).
THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS
Change Britain’s Future.
Given Tim Farron’s hardline promises for a ‘second Brexit referendum’ and to keep Britain in Europe at all costs, the Lib Dem’s tech policies have mostly gone under the radar.
Which is a shame, as the Liberal party actually has a few fascinating ideas when it comes to tech, from a new ‘startup allowance’ to plans for driverless cars.
Their full manifesto is here, and this is what the Liberal Democrats are planning:
Surveillance & encryption. While Labour and the Conservatives both make mention to state surveillance, Farron’s is the only party that promises to “roll back state surveillance powers” (p.77).
While Conservative home secretary Amber Rudd has repeatedly called for encryption to be removed from apps like WhatsApp and backdoors to be given to the security services, the Lib Dems say they will “oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption”.
‘Startup allowance’. Here’s where things get interesting, the Lib Dems promise to create a ‘start-up allowance’ to help founders “with their living costs in the crucial first weeks of their business” (p.40).
How much money this would be and how long the funding would last is unknown, but the idea of giving people financial support to start a business is an interesting way to encourage entrepreneurialism.
A digital bill of rights. Sounding very similar to the Conservative’s pledge for a digital charter, the Lib Dems go one step further though promising their bill of rights will “preserve the neutrality of the internet” (p.72).
Driverless cars & innovation centres. The only party to mention driverless cars (a topic that was a political buzzword in 2016), the Lib Dems pledge to “encourage the swift take-up” of driverless vehicles (p.64).
Building on the success of Tech City, Tech North and the tech cluster in Cambridge Farron’s party will roll out a “network across the UK acting as incubators for technology companies” (p.42).
It’ll also launch new ‘Catapult’ innovation and tech centres around the country.
Gig economy. Yes, every party is keen to sort out the employment chaos created by services like Uber and Deliveroo.
The Lib Dems promise to “modernise employment rights” to help those working in the gig economy but lacking employment protections (p.42).
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