The three main national political parties have all published their manifestos for the 2017 general election on 8 June, but how do they compare on digital issues?
By purely counting mentions of the word “digital” in the manifestos, the Conservatives come out on top with 66 mentions, with nine by Labour and eight by the Liberal Democrats.
Looking at the word “tech”, the Conservatives again registered 66 mentions, while Labour managed nine and the Lib Dems 23.
The Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats all make promises on broadband, skills and education, data protection and privacy, and research and innovation. Computer Weekly compares the three parties’ pledges in each of these areas.
All three parties are committed to the roll-out of superfast broadband across the UK, continuing plans originally devised by the last Labour government in 2009 and subsequently made official by the coalition government in 2010. However, the speed of the connectivity, as well as the how and when, differs slightly in each manifesto, with the Lib Dems blowing the others out of the water by promising astonishing , albeit very different speeds.
- Conservatives: The manifesto reiterates plans to give every household and business access to superfast broadband – defined by the government as 24Mbps – by 2020. The party also pledges a full fibre connection voucher for companies by 2018 and “major fibre spines” in more than 100 towns and cities by 2022, with 100 million premises connected to full fibre and plans for national coverage over the next decade.
- Labour: Having previously criticised the Tories’ 10Mbps minimum speed, Labour promises to deliver 30Mbps to all households by 2022. It will also call on the National Infrastructure Commission to report on how to roll our “ultrafast” 300Mbps broadband over the next decade.
- Liberal Democrats: In one paragraph, the Lib Dems pledge to ensure that "broadband connections and services to be provided before 2020 have a speed of 2Gbps or more, with fibre to the premises (FTTP ) as standard and unlimited usage by 2020 across the whole of the UK". However, a bit further down in the manifesto, the party states that by 2022, every property in the UK will be provided with " a superfast broadband connection with a download speed of 30Mbps, an upload speed of 6Mbps, and an unlimited usage cap”. There is a massive difference between 2Gbps and 30Mbps- and the manifesto doesn't make it very clear what exactly the party's stance on this is. Whether it's superfast of hyperfast- the Lib Dems do indeed promise we will all get broadband.
Data protection, privacy and security
After last week’s large-scale cyber attack, and the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation coming into force in a year’s time, data protection is a very topical issue. Both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems outline specific plans for data protection and privacy, and while Labour does want data protection rules, it makes no concrete promises of what that would entail.
- Conservatives: The party wants to create an ethical framework for how data is used and will launch a data use and ethics commission that will advise government and regulators on the nature of data use. The Tories will also bring forward a new data protection law, aiming to ensure there are standards in place for the “safe, flexible and dynamic” use of data. It also promises “unprecedented investment in cyber security and stronger cyber standards for government and public services”.
- Labour: Jeremy Corbyn’s party promises to maintain data protection rules to “protect personal privacy”, but offers no further explanation as to how it would do this. The party also pledges to introduce a cyber security charter for companies working with the Ministry of Defence, and provide “effective policing services” to deal with cyber crime.
- Liberal Democrats: Just as in the Lib Dems’ 2015 manifesto, the party wants to introduce a digital bill of rights to help the public protect their own information, civil liberties and personal data. It wants to end mass collection of communications data and roll back state surveillance. It also promises to invest in security and intelligence services to combat cyber attacks.
Skills and education
The UK faces an unprecedented digital skills gap, which is costing the UK economy an estimated £63bn a year, and the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems all have plans to tackle this.
- Conservatives: The Tories want to establish new institutes of technology that will provide Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) courses and apprenticeships, and will be run in partnership with industry. However, the party also wants to double the cost of Tier 2 skills visas from £1,000 to £2,000.
- Labour: There is no specific commitment to digital skills and education in Labour’s manifesto, but it highlights the need to develop skills fit for a digital world, and promises to maintain the apprenticeship levy.
- Liberal Democrats: The party promises to ensure coding continues to be part of the National Curriculum and to reinstate post-study work visas for Stem graduates. It also commits to growing the number of apprenticeships and building digital skills.
Research and innovation
All three parties want to support UK universities, research and innovation. While most of the Conservatives’ commitments have previously been announced, their plans are probably the most concrete. However, Labour and the Lib Dems also make firm investment pledges.
- Conservatives: Having already promised to increase the government’s investment in research and development (R&D) in the last autumn statement and Theresa May earlier this year promising to pump an extra £2bn a year into the area, the Conservative manifesto says it will support universities to lead the expansion of R&D. It will also invest in innovations such as driverless cars and reduce the administrative burden around claiming tax credits for R&D.
- Labour: Labour promises that by 2030, the UK will meet its 3% R&D spending target. The investment in R&D will be covered by a national investment bank, which will provide “patient, long-term finance” to R&D investment, the party says.
- Liberal Democrats: Promising to increase investment in R&D, the Lib Dems want to double the current spend across the country. The party will also campaign to ensure universities can still attract funding for research post-Brexit, as well as creating a number of research and innovation centres.
Other tech pledges
All three parties’ manifestos also feature mobile phone signal and 5G, healthcare technology, and supporting digital developments across other industries.
- Conservatives: The Tories promise that by 2027, most of the UK population will have access to a new 5G network, and Wi-Fi will be available on all train services. The NHS will undergo a review of its internal market and will see an ambitious tech investment programme. The Tories also promise to help the creative industries get the infrastructure and technology they need to prosper.
- Labour: Labour says technology and innovation will be used to champion sustainable farming, food and fishing, and it intends to launch a £1bn cultural capital fund that aims to upgrade the cultural and creative industries to “be ready for the digital age”.
- Liberal Democrats: The Lib Dems want to support innovative industries such as the space industry and use innovation funding to “promote GP-led multidisciplinary health and care hubs”.