When IT Meets politics at the Party Conferences

Much of the UK, including public services, would grind to a halt if we lost access to the Internet for any length of time. The Digital Britain implementation plan includes an exercise later this year to assess preparedness for a major network failure. It is unclear whether Industry or Politicians fully appreciate the other consequences of our growing technology dependency.   


EURIM, the Information Society Alliance, is therefore convening Dragons Dens at each of the main Party Conferences, for parliamentary candidates to grill industry players on the importance of ICT issues to their target voters.


Those without good access are already becoming a new socially excluded underclass as public services are moved on-line. At the same time there are issues of child protection, fraud and other abuse because of the known insecurty of current systems.


Meanwhile politicians are under pressure to deliver better public services a less cost by reducing waste. Can more practical approaches to online systems help achieve this goal?


Will the UK share the economic benefit of the information society?


What determines whether the jobs of the future will be created in the UK, when so many knowledge jobs can be located anywhere in the world and moved at short notice?


The Dragon’s Dens will be in the Bournemouth Conference Centre, 13.00 – 14.-00 on 21st September, Meeting Room 3 of the Hilton Hotel, Brighton 12.30 – 14.30 on 30th September and the Mezzanine Room of Manchester Central on 13.00 – 14.00 on 7th October.


The objectives are:


·         To identify those “Information Society” issues that will feature in the election campaign and those likely to speak on them, so that the Alliance can plan accordingly   


·         To give a publicity platform for industry members to say why they think issues are of potential political interest    


·         To give candidates a publicity platform to give their own views on the issues they will be taking up, and why


We already know, from their advance questions, that candidates have concerns over access, from geographic availability and affordability, to ease of use, especially for the 30% of the population unable to use a conventional screen, keyboard or telephone response system.


With an ageing population the latter may soon account for the majority of public sector transactions, if they do not do so already. Cost-saving programmes which do not put their needs at the centre, as opposed to the periphery as an add-on, will therefore fail.


Attendance is unfortunately limited to those with conference passes because the venues are inside the security rings. EURIM intends, however, to summarise and report the results as well as to use them to plan its briefing programmes for the largest intake of MPs since 1945.


That “Alliance” programme is now supported by over a dozen major ICT employers, professional bodies and trade assocations. Over fifty candidates are already signed up for one or more events. This exercise looks set to be fun, including because the industry supporters appear to have appreciated the need to bring both their minds and their wallets to the table.


Candidates are under even more time pressure than sitting MPs. Most have day jobs to sustain as well as campaigns to run. The messages need to be taken to them. That entails thought as well as cost. It also means that the quality of the webcast of discussion is more important than that of the hospitality at the main venue.


Some candidates are better informed on current technologies and the realities of system delivery than those seeking to lobby them. They do not have time to suffer fools gladly. That entails thought about the messages. It also means supporting good presenters with genuine experts – able to handle the questions of those whose previous job may have been to help deliver what they knew were the wrong answers. 


That combination of pressures, plus the effect of recession on industry budgets, adds value to co-operation between players in organising a shared and balanced programme – in which candidates can get all sides of the case at one event. The ideal is when they can also meet local employers with whom they can follow up later. That means out-of-London events as well.


The Dragons’ Den events at the Party Conferences are the lead in to a very ambitious programme. 


Will it peter out in good intentions?


Will it go up like rocket and come down like a stick?.


Or will it, as I hope, gather pace over time and help transform the nature of relations between IT and Politics?  


Your support, or otherwise, will help determine the answer.