The Giz UK Tech Policy Guide to the 2015 General Election

By Liam Butler on at

By now you’re probably sick of the 24/7 general election coverage. You might even be considering being put under a medically induced coma until May 8th. Couldn’t blame you.

But if tech issues are important to you and you’re still undecided about who to vote for, then look no further. I’ve gone through the major parties’ manifestos and dug out their technology pledges.

By “major parties”, I mean each of the seven parties that took part in the ITV leaders’ debate. By “gone through all the manifestos”, I mean exactly that: I’ve read over four hundred pages of electioneering gumph. Kill me.

Here’s the tl;dr version. Along the way you’ll find broadband speeds, online privacy, 5G, battery technology, and killer robots:

Conservatives

Speed’s the name of the game for the Tories. They want 95 per cent of the country to have access to superfast internet by 2017, with the other 5 per cent being given subsidised access to satellite broadband. They intend to fund this by using a chunk of the TV licence fee, so you might be waiting a bit longer for the next series of Coming of Age.

A government led by David Cameron would seek to make Britain “a world leader in the development of 5G, playing a key role in defining industry standards”. I hope you have a good data bundle.

Ever get tired of comment wars between Android and iOS users about which is the more secure operating system? The Conservatives are promising “to publish standards, performance data and a ranking system for the security of smartphones and tablets”. That should settle the fanboy debate once and for all, though it probably won’t.

They also aim to stop the young’uns from accessing inappropriate content, and will be “requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material and age-rating for all music videos”. I’m sure it will be super effective. Here, I’ve done a mockup:

Labour

Ed Miliband’s merry band are also offering better broadband:

"Labour will ensure that all parts of the country benefit from affordable, high speed broadband by the end of the Parliament."

Incidentally, here’s what Labour’s homepage looked like in 1997:

Imagine how quick it’d load on a fibre optic connection.

Renewable technologies are also a big focus for them. Labour is promising to make Britain a world leader in green tech over the next decade, with over a million green jobs being created.

And finally, they’ve committed to giving us more privacy and less privacy:

“We will need to update our investigative laws to keep up with changing technology, strengthening both the powers available, and the safeguards that protect people’s privacy.”

Glad that’s settled.

Liberal Democrats

For a party whose main message seems to be ‘we will be the water to dilute the Labour/Conservative Ribena’, the Lib Dem manifesto is surprisingly vocal. (And long: 158 pages, to be precise.)

If you happen to live in a village twinned with Craggy Island, fear not: the Liberal Democrats have also committed to getting shit-off-a-stick-fast broadband to your parts, promising 99.9 per cent coverage. They would like GPs to start offering appointments over Skype, too. I’m awfully glad they went with Skype as opposed to ChatRoulette.

They’re the only one of the three traditional parties to propose a ‘Digital Bill of Rights’, enshrining our online privacy in law:

"Online, people will no longer be worried that the government is monitoring their every keystroke.”

People would be given the right to “view, correct, and (where appropriate and proportionate) delete their personal data, wherever it is held”. Perhaps then I’d finally stop getting PPI calls.

They want to increase research & development funding for carbon capture and storage, energy storage, ultra-low emission vehicles, and tidal power. Bet they’re gutted that the name ‘Tidal’ is already taken.

Finally, they have promised to "review the best way to keep our regulatory framework updated to permit use of driverless and personal electric vehicles." Nick Clegg must be a Knight Rider fan.

The Green Party

Guess what? The Greens are pushing for green tech, stressing the need to rapidly become zero carbon. They want to phase out traditional fossil fuel generation by 2023. Bet you didn’t see that coming!

If killer robots are your thing though, The Green Party isn’t for you. The Greens specifically call out killer robots in their manifesto:

“[We will] initiate and/or join negotiations on new international treaties and laws to prohibit the development, deployment and use of autonomous weapons (such as ‘killer robots’).”

Let’s hope they can get a blanket ban in place before Terminator: Genisys comes out. That last trailer was dreadful.

They are committed to ending mass surveillance, and to changing the laws that currently penalise people for “so-called” (their words) malicious comments on social media. They also want to scrap software patents.

Research and development would get a boost, too. The Greens are proposing a gradual increase in public spend on scientific research from 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent of GDP. They would divert research funds from military technology, putting it into renewables and “storage technology”. If you’re not already growing tired of weekly articles about researchers discovering some new type of battery tech, then a Green government would have you inundated with them.

UKIP

Considering that UKIP’s Twitter policy for members boils down to ‘just stay off of it’, it’s unsurprising that the purple patriots don’t dedicate many words to technology. In fact, they’re the only party that are not promising faster broadband.

UKIP do have a section dedicated to green technologies, inasmuch as Farage thinks they’re rubbish. They will only support green technologies where it is currently commercially competitive with fossil fuels. Barring hydro, that leaves none. No more subsidies for wind farms or solar arrays. Sorry, polar bears.

Of course the big policy for UKIP is to facilitate Britain’s exit from the EU. They refer to this as ‘Brexit’, which to me sounds like some kind of cereal.

UKIP isn’t the only party proposing an in/out referendum, but if they get a lot of seats it’s a good indicator of the public’s attitude towards Europe. The EU has had a big impact on technology. It has pushed for a universal standard for mobile charging cables, it is (slowly) bringing an end to mobile roaming charges, and it recently committed to the principle of net neutrality. Leaving Europe would have implications for Britain, though anyone who says they fully understand the consequences is either a liar or in possession of a DeLorean.

SNP

If recent media coverage is to be believed, Nicola Sturgeon is the biggest threat that Britain has ever faced. If the SNP get into coalition with Labour, that’s it. Christmas will be cancelled. Carlisle will be annexed. Every year, twenty English virgins will be sacrificed on a shortbread pyre. No wonder the Conservatives won’t shut up about it.

After all the scaremongering, the SNP’s manifesto is (disappointingly) normal. They want 95 per cent superfast broadband coverage and more 4G areas. They stand with the Greens and Lib Dems in opposing the snoopers’ charter. They want to spend £1.5 million on provisioning free Wi-Fi in public buildings. They also intend to support their creative sector by taking a greater cut of the licence fee for BBC Scotland, and will provide continued tax relief for video game studios.

Fairly standard stuff. Hardly killer robots, is it?

Plaid Cymru

Last, but by no means least, is the party which I’m still not sure if I’m pronouncing their name correctly: it’s Plaid Cymru!

They’re promising to make university tuition free for Welsh students who wish to study at a Welsh university, provided they study a science, engineering or technology subject.

Those computer science graduates will come in handy, seeing as cyber-defence is also big on Plaid Cymru’s agenda:

"Increasing reliance upon technology leaves countries open to attack by foreign powers without the need for conventional weapons. We will bolster cyber-security defence capabilities to increase security and prevent cyber-attacks."

They don’t say how they’re going to achieve this so I’ve just been imagining the plot of Hackers, but set in Swansea.

Oh, and they are promising fast broadband and better mobile signals too. Vive la différence.

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So there you have it. There’s a lot of uncertainty around the 2015 election, but at least you know you’ll almost definitely be getting faster internet.

Now get out there and vote! Or use the comments section to smugly tell everyone how you came to the conclusion that voting’s a waste of time. Either or.