When Computer Weekly set out to compare and analyse the tech and digital policies in the major political parties’ manifestos for the 2019 General Election, the article extended comfortably to nearly 5000 words, and could easily have been a lot longer.
Even as recently as the 2017 election, we would have struggled to find as many as 5000 words about technology in all the manifestos put together. This year, when the Labour Party announced its proposals for free full-fibre broadband and nationalising of BT’s network, it dominated the national news cycle for an entire weekend.
Nobody is going to decide who to vote for based on digital policies alone, but there’s no doubt that tech has finally become fundamental to the plans of whoever forms the new government. “At last,” we should all say.
One outstanding question remains, though: do the parties actually understand what their tech commitments mean?
For example, it’s easy to say, as the Conservatives have, that they will roll out full-fibre broadband for everyone by 2025. Talk to the industry and they say it’s almost impossible – there simply aren’t enough telecoms engineers in the country to complete installation in that timescale.
Every party talks about introducing new measures to tackle online harms, but we’ve been talking about that for years already, teasing the big internet firms with threats of regulation, but nobody has worked out what to do yet. Making a manifesto commitment doesn’t come with a Damascene revelation about how to make online regulation work.
Similarly, skills shortages and the problems in IT education have been discussed for more than a decade. Another manifesto promise isn’t going to solve them overnight.
Still, we shouldn’t grumble too much. Better the proposals are there, than not.
But what this does mean, is that the digital and tech community will need to step up and guide, assist, cajole, encourage, berate and educate the next government about what to prioritise and how to go about it.
The first test should be to gauge how serious the political promises are – let’s see some concrete plans, some leadership, and the resources needed. And then the UK’s tech leaders need to put aside their competitive differences and come together to hold the government to account – suppliers, CIOs, small businesses, investors, startups, IT professionals, and all their representative bodies share the responsibility for ensuring the government delivers. We at Computer Weekly will do what we can to help.
The challenge for all of us is to cut through the politics and deliver the growing digital economy upon which the whole of the UK will rely in the years to come.