Ice sculptures may be the fashionable metaphor in British political life right now, but assiduous voters who have taken the time to study the manifestos will be hoping that these policy pledges are carved in stone, rather than chiselled from ice.
Watching colleagues from our Energy and Environment and Healthcare teams conduct their side-by-side policy analysis this week, our technology team has been quietly waiting in the wings. Let’s take a look at the technology related policies across a few different areas.
Madano Analysis – By far the most aggressive move was Labour’s pre-announced plan to nationalise parts of BT to deliver high-speed broadband to the nation. The move caused discussion about whether the Internet is, in fact, a public utility and how crucial access is to equality. While not nationalisation, the Tory plan to invest £5 billion to connect premises deemed not commercially viable to connect via the open market represents significant state intervention. The Lib Dem proposal is sensible but does not define clear plans to accelerate bringing high-speed internet to existing properties.
Big Tech and Tech for Good
Madano Analysis – The Tories and Labour promise to get tough on big tech, with Labour pledging to tax the titans in part to pay for the National Broadband Service. The Conservatives say less than the other two parties about how they will produce a safer, fairer tech ecosystem, but they borrow language from the Online Harms review which has been conducted on their watch, building to legislation. The Lib Dems seem to have the best understanding of some of the future challenges we will face as a society thanks to technology advances in AI and automation, and their thinking around a code of ethics and skills anticipate the potentially massive disruption we face.
Skills and Innovation
Madano Analysis – Well, we may well need a lot of investment in skills if, as expected, the open labour market for tech firms shrinks significantly on January 31st. Labour has gone all in on clean tech and the Tories focus heavily on a visa scheme to mitigate Brexit, but all three recognise the vital importance of lifelong learning, pre-empting a period where technology makes skills obsolete ever more quickly. The Lib Dems perhaps have the proposals with potentially the broadest impact (a rising tide raises all boats approach), whereas the Conservatives are more targeted with policies designed to help the best talent and/or drive commercialisation. It’s a “comprehensives” vs. “grammar schools” debate for the 21st century!
Madano Analysis – Singing from the same sheet, the main parties all agree on the need to accelerate the roll-out of electric vehicle charging infrastructure and passing legislation to set air quality targets. Labour’s pledges seem to think beyond EVs in a broader “future mobility” vein, with the mention of car clubs. Labour is stripping a decade of the CCCs recommendation for the end of ICE vehicles. Given the Committee on Climate Change prevaricated and then demurred on bringing forward the ban to 2035, Labour’s ten-year acceleration seems quixotic. Both the Lib Dems and the Tories think beyond simply the automobile, with the Conservatives pledging to build on investment in electric flight and Lib Dems looking to boost innovation in zero-emission technology like hydrogen fuel cells.
Madano Analysis – With a focus on frontline technology, the Conservatives continue to lean towards digital health services that can improve efficiency within the NHS or reduce the strain on it. Labour also wants to invest in frontline services but are more vocal on the need to spend more on advanced, emerging technology like AI for diagnostics and also on traditional machinery like more MRI and CT scan equipment.
Madano Analysis – To maintain the UK’s competitiveness as a knowledge-based economy, significant R&D will be a prerequisite, and all three parties make ambitious commitments to expand total R&D spending. Labour and the Liberal Democrats both commit to a 3% of GDP target, while the Conservatives back the more immediately deliverable target of 2.4%. But the most significant difference might be the Conservatives’ proposal to create an ARPA-style agency to fund high-risk, high-reward research.