I left Manchester and travelled home on Tuesday Morning, i.e. 23rd I reckoned I could catch up on Ed’s speech and the only fringe of any interest was the @LabourDigital policy launch planned for 4:00 p.m. I checked it out on the web, but it didn’t really come to my notice as anything other than a minority interest until it was reported in the Register on Sept 28th by Andrew Orlowski, not to be confused with Aleksandr Orlov , who seems to have picked up the territory. The @LabourDigital’s policy statement is here. It contains 82 recommendations, which they summarise with four headlines and seven additional teaser policies.
The headlines focus on government, so its a bit bureaucratic and structural. Is it so important that a Digital Board report to the PM rather than the Department for Business although a BIS led board will prioritise short-term macro-economics over long term skills and citizenship, but the reality is so will No. 10. Can a board make that much difference? Otherwise the focus on connectivity and speed, a national fund for digital creativity and a Royal Commission to propose a publicly owned data infrastructure and internet identity system. This report itself is a detailed commentary on the critical policy domains: connectivity & inclusion, growth, skills, government & services, and citizenship & privacy.
A key proposal is a Digital Innovation Fund, but there’s no mention of the EU’s FP7 programme or how to help British companies and research institutions get more from this, nor removing the current long term inhibitors in getting involved and thus getting the money. The digital innovation fund may be met by Labour’s plans for a new National Investment Bank.
I am unclear where they got the idea that the Government Digital Service is such a beacon of good practice and success such that it needs to be replicated everywhere. It recommends the creation of a digital magna carta based on wepromise.eu’s charter, which I suggest comes from me, so hooray! They have quite a bit to say about government projects, but not so much on how to make them successful. They propose the opening up the APIs, in fact arguing to design systems from scratch to be open, in the sense of usable; the report makes little mention of open source licences or distribution. Again where we get the idea that banking software solutions are so great they should be emulated, I don’t know. I believe that the innovation of the platform is happening in academia and the Datenkraken, and I suspect that Government I.T. would benefit from architectural deconstruction, publishing the APIs and crowdsourcing the client functionality.
Somewhere or other the principal of pubic money money buys open source should be in there. Further proposals are made on data protection, the personal ownership of data, the right to be forgotten, all of which is admirable.
On the negative side, they propose a federated national id scheme, (but not a card), online voting for public election which I have commented on adversely in this article, pictfor: Democracy 2.0, where I argue that e-voting is unacceptable, can’t be both transparent and protect the secret ballot, has challenges of scale in the UK, is more expensive, and doesn’t encourage participation even amongst the so called digital natives. I am fascinated (and a bit appalled) with the idea that 20% of the votes of the House of Lords should be cast using online voting. When Mrs. L first heard of the idea of using our mobile phones to vote on public issues, she compared it with X-Factor, a show that too many Labour MPs seem overly interested in; this is more America’s Next Top Model.
The report talks of Estonia’s world leading efforts in e-voting, and references the external auditors report. Oddly, this states that the Estonian system was unsafe and should be discontinued. Either not read, or honesty. I am not sure which. (This is the first time I have read the audit report; it’s not a marginal failure.)
Orlowsky’s report, although it has a pretty shitty headline and a snide first paragraph fails to land any punches. It’s clearly not written by a friend of the Labour Party. But if you work at it you discover while he fails to name check the review leadership, and wrongly alleges it is Labour Party policy he does name its influencers, picking up the influence of Google by implication, Policy Exchange and Osborne’s ex-adviser Guy Levin via COADEC. I agree with him that UK policy makers need to be careful not to sell the pass to the US based Datenkraken, nor our own home grown bottom feeders but I am not sure where he gets that from when reading the text of the report, perhaps he didn’t. The issues he raises of tax evasion, identity ownership, and the self serving consultariat are all pit falls to be avoided and in the case of tax avoidance, an issue to be embraced, but perhaps not by a digital policy manifesto. Again I am not sure where the vitriol about serving the interests of the systems integrators comes from and where the evidence to make it stand up sits, but Orlowsky’s language is not to my mind appropriate when measured against the report. If we want evidence based policy we need expertise to be applied. A lot of the input to the report is based on the experience of (local) government, small business and the Party’s membership and supporters.
However it’s when he turns to what he calls a permanent Hargreaves that the voice of his copyright paymasters come through. He opposes an annual review on intellectual property laws which he characterises as a permanent Hargreaves; actually I think the proposals are weak on copyright and piracy, just as it’s weak on its advocacy for open source. Orlowsky takes the opportunity to join in with the dog whistle anti-immigration politics of the right by highlighting the proposal for a “Programmer’s Passport”, which in the report is seen as a long term proposal and when considered in detail with the current work permit scheme, doesn’t change things as much as one would think.
Actually, I think the proposals while being a bit old Labour, which is a surprise given McTiernan’s role in it’s production has some good ideas. I have made it clear where I think the problems are but in terms of specific proposals, ambition and weaknesses, but I congratulate the authors on a solid piece of work which sets out the parameters for a debate. Now we need to wait for Chi Onawaruh’s review for the second piece of the jigsaw.
Orlowsky accuses Martha Lane Fox of being a Tory, I don’t think that’s so, she sits as a cross bencher in the House of Lords; she’s Cameron’s version of a GOAT and by god this government need it, and she finished the job unlike several other of Cameron’s trophy appointments.
I contributed to the crowd sourcing stage of the report’s construction.
This was written over the last week in October and backdated to the day after Orlowsky’s article.
See also Data, Democracy and Power
The featured picture comes from PragRad, I used it to decorate this article, the supercomputer picture was found by using google search with a reuse allowed filter, it’s here, and the pigs are @flickr, by “Sweet lil’ bunny” CC BY-NC 2004