Microsoft threatened MPs over open-standards policy, claims advisor

Microsoft told MPs it would cut investment if they supported plans for open standards, says former Cameron advisor

Microsoft told Conservative MPs it would cut its investment in their constituencies if a Tory government went ahead with plans for open standards and open-source software, according to a former advisor to the prime minister.

Rohan Silva, who was a senior advisor to David Cameron on digital policy from May 2010 to June 2013, and a former economic advisor to George Osborne, revealed the threats made by Microsoft during a speech at an event in London.

Silva said he helped write a speech in 2007 while the Tories were still in opposition, on open source and politics in the digital age that seemed to worry the software giant.

“A day or two before we were going to give the speech, a couple of backbench MPs called the office – they said Microsoft had called them saying if we went ahead with the speech on open standards, open architecture and open source, they would cut spending or maybe close research and development centres in the constituencies of the MPs they had called,” he told delegates at the Chief Digital Officer Summit.

“I was pretty worried about this to be honest. I went to see George [Osborne] and he said if Microsoft have a problem with the speech they should call us directly. I relayed that back to the MPs and we never got a call from Microsoft, so we went ahead with the speech. But for the public affairs department, the relationship was never quite the same,” he added.

Microsoft declined to comment on Silva’s claim, however the company has since lobbied the coalition government heavily over its policies on open standards for IT across several years. 

A 2012 consultation on the definition of open standards was delayed after it transpired an independent facilitator in the process was being paid by Microsoft

Even before that consultation, the supplier had been pressuring the Cabinet Office for changes to its open-standards policy, backed up by industry group the Business Software Alliance, which represents the interests of many proprietary software providers.

In February 2014, Microsoft rallied its network of partners to try to overturn plans to adopt Open Document Format (ODF) as the government standard for document sharing, in favour of the default format used by its Office products. 

That attempt proved unsuccessful, and Microsoft was openly critical of the move, telling Computer Weekly at the time it was “unproven and unclear how UK citizens will benefit from the government’s decision”.

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