Like it or not, necessary or not, we have another General Election, and while nobody will decide their vote based on a party’s digital policies, the imminent poll will raise important questions that affect the tech community.
It’s unlikely we will see many digital surprises in the Conservative manifesto. Only this year, we’ve seen publication of the industrial strategy – which outlines policy on the IT industry, digital skills and telecoms infrastructure – and the transformation strategy, which covers digital issues within government. They will most likely continue as the core of Tory plans.
In 2015, Labour was the most vocal party on technology and had the most thought-through digital strategy. Under then policy chief Jon Cruddas and shadow digital minister Chi Onwurah, they reached out to the tech community and ran an extensive consultation process to produce some comprehensive proposals.
Sadly, the upheavals in the Labour party since have seen digital on something of a backburner. Onwurah has been somewhat sidelined, although remains the spokesperson for industrial strategy. Louise Haigh has proved a capable and knowledgeable shadow to digital economy minister Matt Hancock. But Labour’s digital interventions have seemed mostly reactive, with little overarching strategy other than an acknowledgement that digital is a critical economic issue.
The Liberal Democrats were equally keen to talk digital in 2015, but since their spokesman at the time, Julian Huppert, lost his seat the party has barely had the resources to extend their reach into tech.
Computer Weekly published a detailed guide to the digital manifestos of the main political parties in 2015, which you can read here.
The new context of Brexit will be a factor, of course – steering a path that allows the success story of the UK digital economy to continue, when much of the growth has been down to our membership of the European Union.
But Theresa May has effectively signalled that the details of Brexit are not on the table for this election – regardless of how many people in the UK tech community might like to see the vote as an opportunity to rethink our departure from the EU.
The timing of the election could be good for the Government Digital Service (GDS). As it stands, GDS had three years to prove itself and deliver the targets in the transformation strategy for 2020. A Tory victory in June will probably secure GDS’s future for the duration of the next parliamentary cycle – but it won’t ease the scrutiny as digital government will be expected to deliver significant and measurable improvements for citizens.
We await the parties’ digital plans with interest.