Tories and Lib Dems form coalition government

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have much common ground in their opposition to ID cards and enthusiasm for open source, but could diverge on copyright and rural fibre
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, both of which opposed ID cards and favour open source, have formed a coalition government.

Late on Tuesday night, David Cameron became the new British Prime Minister, with Nick Clegg as his deputy and Lib Dems filling other key posts in a mainly Tory government. The coalition brings together parties that have much in common in terms of IT policy.

Perhaps the strongest common ground between the two parties is that of civil liberties, particularly with regard to large government databases and the surveillance society. Both parties said in their manifestos that they would scrap the ID cards scheme and the ContactPoint database.

The Intercept Modernisation Programme, a Labour plan to intercept and record people's communications data, is also now on shaky ground — the Tories have said they will review the scheme, and the Lib Dems have explicitly said they would scrap it.

Both parties are keen on open-source software. The Tories have backed the use of open standards in major government IT projects, which they say will create a "level playing field" for open source, and the Lib Dems have sung the praises of open source's cost benefits.

The Conservatives have promised to put all major government spending details online, and have said they will create a new "right to government data". The Liberal Democrats do not have strong policies in this regard, although they have expressed enthusiasm for online public services.

The two parties have diverging views on the funding mechanism for rolling out super-fast broadband to rural areas. The Lib Dems supported the 50p copper line levy proposed by Labour, but the Tories strongly opposed that surcharge, calling instead for money to be diverted from the BBC licence fee.

The Digital Economy Act could be another source of contention. The Conservatives backed the bill's passage into law, on the basis of protecting the UK's creative industries, but said in debate that they would change the act if parts were shown not to work. The Lib Dems have expressed concerns over the act's provisions for imposing technical measures on people suspected of unlawful file-sharing and have outright opposed the act's website-blocking provisions.

The healthcare IT industry will be cautiously waiting for word from the Tories on their plans for the National Programme for IT (NPfIT), as the party has previously threatened to "dismantle" the scheme. The Conservatives have plainly expressed their disdain for monolithic IT projects, and the party intends to institute a moratorium on all government IT projects worth more than £100m.

The Conservatives did not answer questions put to them by ZDNet UK about the possible contracting-out of patient data to third parties. The Lib Dems have not had much to say on the subject of healthcare IT.

On the security front, the Conservatives have said they would establish a new Cyber Threat and Assessment Centre to counter anti-UK attacks over the internet. They also want the Information Commissioner to "carry out a consultation with the private sector, with a view to establishing guidance on data security, including examining the viability of introducing an industry-wide kitemark system of best practice".

The Conservatives have strongly criticised the previous government's stance on deporting 'Nasa hacker' Gary McKinnon to the US, but stopped short of saying they would halt the extradition if in power. The Lib Dems pledged to fight the extradition no matter what the result of the election.

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