UK election: the parties' tech policies examined

Election 2010
What have the various parties got up their sleeves for Election 2010?

With just a day to go before Election 2010, the hustings have become high-tech. It seems that you can't call yourself a modern politician if you're not spamming social networks and launching your own iPhone app.

That's all style, though. What about the substance? What are the big parties' plans for technology once they're elected?

Can we take them seriously, or should we just vote for the Pirate Party instead? Let's find out.

Better the devil you know?

It isn't hard to work out what Labour's all about: it's rammed the Digital Economy Act down our collective throats, with all the file sharing-related fun that implies.

However, Labour also has some positive technological plans: it wants everyone to have at least 2Mbps broadband by 2012 and 90% of us to have "superfast" 100Mbps broadband by 2017, and it's willing to risk a potentially unpopular telephone line tax to help pay for it. [The phone line tax has since been shelved.]

Another tax move is designed to help the games industry: announced in this week's budget, the government intends to introduce film industry-style tax breaks to keep game development talent - and profits - in the UK.

Labour is also publishing lots of previously private government data at, something it promises to continue doing, and it promises to use more open source software. The government also intends to build G-Cloud, a cloud computing platform for government IT, as part of a new IT strategy designed to save £3.2 billion per year.

There's good news for ID thieves too. Gordon Brown has described his plans for MyGov, a digital dashboard that will ultimately replace the website. A kind of Boring MySpace, MyGov will be a one-stop shop for all government services from disabled badges to managing pensions, with a single login "making interaction with government as easy as internet banking or online shopping."

Will MyGov be linked to the National Identity Scheme, creating a potential nightmare for anyone whose data gets compromised? The government isn't saying. That's reassuring, isn't it?

Tory tech

The Conservatives have made a lot of noise about their technology policies, and unlike Labour they've put all their tech-related ideas in one place.

The Tories want to take Labour's publication of government data even further and give us all a Right To Data, so for example the Tories pledge to publish monthly crime statistics on a street-by-street basis together with details of the energy consumption of government buildings, details of government contracts and tenders, salaries paid to quango bosses, council spending and, inevitably, MPs' expenses.

To prevent high-profile IT disasters costing billions, they also promise to cap government IT projects at £100m apiece.

Like Labour, the Tories promise superfast 100Mbps broadband for lots of people, but while Labour promises 90% coverage by 2017 - or rather, while Labour says it has "an ambition for access for 90 per cent" by 2017 - the Tories say that only they can ensure the UK "will be the first country in Europe to extend superfast 100Mbps broadband across most of the population."

That won't be paid for by a telephone tax - the Tories plan to scrap that - and it won't reach remote areas: the Tories' approach is to have superfast broadband appear first as a premium service in cities, which will make so much money for ISPs that they'll be able to offer the same thing cheaply in Auchtermuchty. We're paraphrasing, but that's the gist of it.

As an incentive the Tories will relax planning controls, get BT to share its infrastructure - ducts and telephone poles - with rivals in much the same way Local Loop Unbundling enabled ISPs to stick their kit in BT exchanges, and from 2012 they may also divert some of the BBC licence fee currently earmarked for promoting the digital switchover.

The Conservatives are likely to keep Labour's tax breaks for the games industry too: shadow culture minister Ed Vaizey has previously claimed to be "sympathetic" to the need for tax relief, so he's unlikely to scrap it if he gets into power. The party has also promised to retain the R&D tax credits that many technology businesses benefit from.

There's one thing you won't find anywhere in the manifesto: the Tories' support for some of the Digital Economy Bill's more worrying bits, such as disconnection for file sharers. As Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group told the BBC: "it is totally contradictory to propose building a future dependent on the internet and support plans to disconnect families as a punishment."

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.