E-commerce remains Brown's budgetary blind spot

Everyone else is doing it, so why can't we?

Finance ministers love money. Lacking any of their own, they particularly love ours — and do their best to make sure we've got lots of it so they can have some too. It's only prudent.

One of the best ways of making money these days is e-commerce. Not only does it tap into a rare patch of economic growth, it encourages skills and knowledge in one of the few industries likely to continue on the up for years to come.

So why doesn't Gordon care? This year as every year, he's singularly failed to put legislation in place to put the UK on the map of places that are truly friendly to e-commerce. The best we seem able to do is the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act: while this admittedly gave the Egg Marketing Board access to our sensitive data, they don't seem to have used those powers to bestride the commercial world like a double-yolked colossus.

Great Britain Ltd may not be bothered, but others are more clued in. In the 90s, the Isle of Man found its income from kettle controls off the boil and Airbus landing gear not taking off. When manufacturing falters, ecommerce is an obvious option. The ability of the dependency to forge its own laws, together with its small size, put it in a perfect position.

It didn't hesitate. New laws were created and the new economy started arriving. Not that the transition was trouble-free: many of the online gaming sites that disembarked in 2001 had left by 2003, citing difficulties caused by anti-money-laundering laws. The Tynwald tried again, and its persistence seems to be paying off. Some online gambling sites are ready to bet on the island once more.

Today, technology and R&D featured as high in Gordon Brown's speech as the penniless did in Tony Blair's letters of recommendation for peerages. Hidden away was mention of plans to expand R&D support for mid-size companies, but without any details or enthusiasm. It doesn't exactly speak of any great intention to pick up the baton.

Brown did mention the four million graduates emerging each year from universities in India and China, and the threat they pose to the UK's economy in the long term. But while responding to this threat with more support for education, he seems to have abandoned all enthusiasm for giving those future waves of clued-in graduates anything to do. In the words of another progressive leader, "it's the e-conomy, stupid": perhaps the next chancellor will get it.