election
Technology Planning and Analysis

So many elections, so little tech

While some politicians know how to use emerging technologies to get their message across – President Donald Trump’s Tweets or Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s use of holograms to appear at multiple rallies at the same time – technology policy never seems to be a strong suit or priority.

There’s been no shortage of political upheaval in recent times: in order to boost her Brexit mandate, UK Prime Minister has called for a snap UK election in June; France took to the polls this weekend to pick between a far right candidate easily described as a fascist and a completely new party; while last year’s US election was difficult to ignore. One thing they all have in common? A chronic lack of technology policy and focus.

 

UK

It will be a surprise if technology policy gets mentioned at all above the Brexit hysteria. The last UK election – which was only two years ago don’t forget – featured little focus on technology. Given the short amount of time since the last election and the suddenness of this one, it will be impressive if any of the major parties release any kind of technology manifesto.

All the parties’ previous ones promised largely similar polices: more broadband, more jobs, and innovation funding. The only real differentiator between the major parties on technology is visas for high skilled immigrants and the amount of power and reach granted to agencies such as GCHQ.  Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn released an updated technology manifesto late last year – admittedly one that had some nice ideas but was largely dismissed as being stuck in the past.

But that shouldn’t be a surprise. Aside from George Osbourne’s funding for driverless car research last year, the major government-related technology headlines from the last year have essentially been BT separating from OpenReach, the usual moaning about encrypted technologies such as WhatsApp, Brexit having something to do with GDPR, and the Snooper’s Charter being passed into law.

 

France

In France, En Marche!’s Emmanuel Macron has taken the usual anti-encryption line, while the National Front has taken a strongly anti-Bitcoin stance. Any other technology-based policy has been hard to come by amid niggling details between nationalism and patriotism.

“Tech start-ups need to have a much greater voice on the French political scene,” says Paris-based Anne de Kerckhove, CEO of Iron Group. “Start-ups are the engine of tomorrow’s growth, and yet, in countries like France, they are virtually ignored in the political debate. They are paraded by politicians to appear ‘cool’ to the electorate, but there is no real engagement with them on a practical level.”

 

US

Last year the US elections acknowledged technology existed. But didn’t get much further than insisting on building iPhones in the US and arguments about emails servers. Fears about automation of jobs was ignored in lieu of promises of bringing long gone jobs back from Asia.  Trump’s first 100-odd days in office have resulted in little else on the technology front.

 

We live in interesting times. The habits of Google, Facebook, Apple et al shouldn’t be the number one priority of politicians looking to lead their countries. Not every politician has to be able to talk Quantum Computing. However, with almost every device and person becoming increasingly tethered to the internet, driverless cars looking to take over the roads, and automation to potentially completely upend how humanity works and lives, some acknowledgement that it exists and needs addressing wouldn’t ago amiss.

 

Also read:
UK Elections: UK’s tech scene responds
Pirate Party UK Leader on the UK Election Results
2015 UK Tech Manifestos
Trump vs. Clinton: Who has the tech chops?
UK tech luminaries embrace France’s Digital Republic Bill
Grenoble vs. Paris: The home of French high tech
Brexit means GDPR and unhindered data flows
Corbyn launches digital democracy manifesto but fails to inspire

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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