Vote for the future we need

As the country goes to the polls, it's not enough to just look at tech policies: what's needed is a party that will reform the basic mechanisms of government
Written by Leader , Contributor

This is not an easy election to contemplate with joy. The three main parties are all some distance from sanity.

Labour cannot escape its legacy of waste and mismanagement in government IT, brought about through its characteristic fondness for the hierarchical, the bureaucratic and the well-dressed incompetent.

The Conservatives are terrifying, not because of their promises, but because of what they do not say. They have a solid IT manifesto, but they are coy about how they will make it happen. But we know — because they've said in the past — that the party is prepared to abdicate state oversight and responsibility and leave things to business. Only the blind, the mad or the corrupt could say that the country needs to hand more control over to vendors and consultants.

This leaves the Liberal Democrats. Of all the parties, they make the best showing of understanding technology — not just in terms of road maps and PowerPoint pitches, but in the context of society and governance. With a strong commitment to education and a willingness to absorb the lessons of Europe — where the debates about digital responsibilities and possibilities operate at far higher levels than our own — the party's instincts are sound. Whether they will have the courage and good sense to act on them if they achieve a measure of power is an open question. But of the three mainstream UK parties, they most deserve the chance to govern.

But that's not enough. The basic mechanisms of government IT design, procurement and management, and even the basic system of lawmaking need reform. Back-room deals, lobbying and hidden agendas are no way to create a 21st-century digital environment, when most innovation and efficiency come through open standards, transparent methods and honest competition. The way the Digital Economy Act was hijacked by the lobbyists and pushed through without debate — but with the agreement of the main parties — is a true affront to democracy and a terrible indicator of our future without radical reform.

Again, for all their faults, the Lib Dems are the only party to talk in terms of true and fundamental reform, albeit too cautiously by half. If they can create a better voting system that reduces the power of the party machines — one closer in spirit to the ideals of representational democracy — then the chances for further reform will be much increased. The same goes for our hopes for a modern, transparent, accountable government.

Whether the next general election comes in five years' or five months' time, we hope to be able to recommend a party with the vision and determination to change the stale and institutionally corrupt system of self-interest that lies behind so much systematic failure in government. Our best hope of getting that is to start by electing the most reform-minded party, and the one least tainted by power — the Liberal Democrats.

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