Student social media campaign steals May's majority from Tory tortoise

Kainos is the undisputed winner

There are many pages of post mortem in the press today but the list of seats that the Conservatives lost to Labour shows clearly that it was the success of Momentum in registering, capturing and getting out the student vote that enabled Labour to win most of them.  New voter registration peaked at over 450,000 aged under 34 (out of 600,000) on deadline day. Lord Ashcroft’s exit poll analysis shows that they overwhelmingly voted labour . The undisputed winner was therefore Kainos.  Not only did their on-line voter registration service cope with the peak but their constituency MPs now hold the government in their hand.

DUP Policies

I did not cover the DUP policies in my canter through the manifestos (neither did anyone else!) but perhaps the most significant today was a comment in their leaders speech at the launch. She accused Sinn Fein of being “the only party that actually wants to talk up the prospect of a hard border than no-one actually wants“.   In other words, if the EU wants to exclude the UK from a tariff free zone, the DUP will ensure that the Commission has to organise and pay for enforcement, on the other side of the border.

Among the other snippets from DUP policies that give a flavour for what else we can expect them to want from Westminster are:

  • an on-line Civil Justice system similar to those in the Netherlands and Canada
  • “A Department FOR Agriculture and Rural Development, not an EU Police Force” (this attitude helps explain why British farmers as a whole tended to support Brexit)
  • “a cross border tax force of NCA, PSNI and Tax Authorities to ensure no safe havens” (a thinly veiled comment on the many variations on the Double Irish tax loophole)

Competition between Conservatives and a rainbow coalition  

While the Conservatives rebuild their party for an election that may come at any time we should look at what they need to do in they are to stand any hope of recapturing part of the student vote. In parallel we should look at what their competitors need to do to assemble a continental style “rainbow coalition”  capable of actually taking power from the Tories. Finally, for this column, we should look at the implications for the IT community, users as well as suppliers.

So far the evidence of what really motivated the student vote, in addition to the socialist idealism of youth, gives three driving forces behind Momentum’s ability to harness the University vote – in order of priority:

  1. Student Fees, and the prospect of a lifetime of debt (see my blog on this)
  2. The fear that Brexit would mean an end to student exchange programmes like Erasmus 
  3. The fear that Brexit would mean an end to the opportunity for their University to participate in pan-EU research programmes

Leading to a publicly negotiated Brexit?

We can reasonably expect rapid action to address these areas. This may include another “U-turn” by Theresa. This time it would involve a decision to conduct negotiations in public – so that she can demonstrate issue by issue support. Reserving the UK position, “so as to be in a better negotiating position” clearly lost hundreds of thousands of votes on the part of those who were worried about what that position was, if it existed at all.

Playing the democratic card against the unelected Commission has the effect of forcing the back-door lobbyists, across Europe, not just in London and Brussels, into the open. They, like the Commission and the Civil Servants, will fight this approach tooth and nail. But it may, now, be the best way of assembling a winning hand – “in the national interest”.  It may also be the only way of avoiding a second (losable) referendum – with the UK position on changes and non-changes agreed topic by topic – in parallel with an otherwise status quo Brexit. Then would come the rapid implementation of what is agreed followed by long drawn out process of negotiating over what is not.

The Digital  Charter   

The electorate as a whole appears to have been unimpressed by the “Home Office” war against terror spin linked to the potentially popular Conservative Digital Charter. But the majority of students are now female. The debate on Internet privacy and security has so far been almost entirely male-dominated, save for a couple of lobbyists for large ISPs which have just realised they are going to have to change their business models anyway.

I suspect this is an area where the climate of debate could change if the student vote was mobilised after discovering they too were being targeted and victimised in much the same way as the over 65s (for their savings) and under 16s (for sexual exploition). An alliance between them and the care groups (from Citizens Advice and Age UK through Mumsnet to the Childrens Charities) could very easily lead to proposals for draconian legislation – to allow MPs of left and right to posture while they prepare for another General Election in a few months time.

This area needs much better informed debate led by those who want to preserve the Internet as a safe place – with the UK at its beating heart – to ensure that any legislation, assuming the government lasts long enough for it to be passed, is not counter-productive.

The Gig Economy and “Death of  Lobbying”

Significant numbers of students and youngster now work in the “gig” economy. It will be important to find out whether they do indeed value the flexibility or lament the insecurity of income which affects their ability to acquire a permanent home. Either way, as soon as there is serious evidence of support, we can expect a bidding war between government and opposition, regardless of the lobbying of tech employers.

A hung parliament and impending election could lead to a dramatic change in the nature of lobbying in Westminster. Only those MPs with large majorities and no local University will feel safe to take up topics which are not of direct interest to their voters. Meanwhile officials will be unable to progress departmental programmes which do not have widespread electoral support. Few “big” IT-related projects have such support.

Thus we can expect, for example, the smart meter programme to falter and die. Yesterday I was with an elderly friend whose combined smart meter had cost her four call-outs after it had cut her gas supply for no apparent reason. After the last call out it was removed, “on a temporary basis” because the fitters could not find out what was wrong. She does not want it replaced. No amount of lobbying will salvage the smart meter programme until such quality problems are resolved and there are clear user benefits.

Meanwhile the students of the University of Suffolk decapitated the Government Digital strategy as a whole. They voted out the Minister. Suffolk is one of the few Unis to give pride of place on its website for its new Higher and Degree Apprenticeship Programmes. This was not mentioned at all in the Conservative Manifesto as a way of giving would-be students a choice  between a debt and a career. Given that Ben Gummer (supposedly) had joint responsibility for the Conservative Manifesto there is a more than a little irony in their actions.

No new technology initiatives for the foreseeable future

Given the Government’s slender majority we can expect no major technology initiatives requiring a vote in Parliament on anything likely to seriously offend either Conservative backbenchers or the DUP unless they have serious support from Labour and/or the SNP. That will mean a long overdue focus on incremental change.

This also means that existing policies, such as a market led broadband strategy, will roll on. Verify will have to sink or swim, on its merits

Unfortunately parliament has lost a couple of its most IT literate members, Calum Kerr (SNP) and Craig Williams (Conservative).  That makes the role of survivors and elder statesmen, like Matt Hancock (Conservative), Matt Warman (Conservative), Chi Onwurah (Labour) and Stephen Timms (Labour) all the more important – while some very impressive newcomers get their feet.