It’s general election time and the chance for the UK’s main political parties to convince the general public that they’re worth voting for.
One of the key battle grounds for the Conservatives, Labour and the rest of the main players will be the economy and in particular, the digital economy. With Britain’s political parties launching their general election manifestos this week, we’ve highlighted some of the key points below.
The Conservatives, led by Prime Minister David Cameron, are hoping to convince voters with their manifesto that they can continue to reduce the national deficit and that austerity is working.
As well as pledging to run a surplus by the end of the next Parliament, the manifesto also stipulates that a Tory government will legislate to keep people working 30 hours on minimum wage exempt from tax and offer the UK a referendum on EU membership.
Crucially, the Conservatives also promise an additional £8 billion above inflation for the NHS by 2020, a policy surely aimed at dispelling Labour reports that the Conservatives are looking to privatise the NHS.
In technology terms, the Conservative manifesto is keen to stress that further investment in science and technology will be to the benefit of the entire country.
“Great science is worthwhile in its own right and yields enormous practical benefits too – curing diseases, driving technological innovation, promoting business investment and informing public policy for the better,” the manifesto reads. “We ringfenced the science budget by making difficult choices to reduce spending in other areas. Now we will invest new capital on a record scale – £6.9 billion in the UK’s research infrastructure up to 2021 – which will mean new equipment, new laboratories and new research institutes.”
There are also promises to invest in the “Eight Great Technologies,” including robotics and nanotechnology, while the automotive industry is also singled out to receive further support. The Conservatives also promise “near universal superfast broadband” for rural areas by the end of the next Parliament.
Overall, the Conservative manifesto refers to “technology” 16 times, highlighting that David Cameron’s party sees it as a key area of concern.
Labour leader Ed Miliband is striving hard to convince voters that his party can be trusted to continue Britain’s economic recovery and the primary message from his manifesto is that every policy can be funded without further borrowing.
Miliband’s “budget responsibility lock” seeks to hold those in power to account for any spending that takes place, while still proposing that there is an alternative to the Conservatives' austerity measures.
As well as promising to cut the deficit every year, the Labour Party is also pledging to raise the minimum wage to £8 by 2019, cut business rates, reduce university fees to £6,000 a year and launch an “all-out assault” on tax avoidance.
Labour is also keen to stress how new technologies can help the UK’s economic position, particularly when it comes to improving efficiency and cutting out unnecessary bureaucracy. The manifesto promises to “use digital technology to create a more responsive, devolved, and less costly system of government.”
Long term, the party sees digital innovation as key to the country’s success. The manifesto promises that “all parts of the country” will benefit from high speed broadband by the end of the Parliament, while the reduction of mobile “not spots” is also a key concern. Community-focused projects aimed at getting all members of society online will also be launched.
Andy Nolan, Vice President of UK, Ireland and Northern Europe at Lifesize comments: "Connectivity is critical to any business. Labour’s commitment to that through the proposed levels of affordable, high-speed broadband across the UK is welcome in supporting the needs of businesses who are experiencing a shift in workplace culture and changes in their day to day operations.
"New flexible working initiatives champion the right to work from home and accommodate the increasing need to liberate staff to work anywhere, anytime and from any device but these needs must be addressed through technology as well as cultural changes.
"With increased bandwidth staff will be able to engage with colleagues from outside of the office via communications tools such as video conferencing to maintain that connected experience, as well as the level of performance expected in the traditional workplace."
Furthermore, Miliband proposes to set up a timetable for the Green Investment Bank, so environmentally friendly technology can receive the necessary investment.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has a tough ask to convince voters that his party are the next most viable choice after the Conservatives and Labour following his time as part of the current coalition government.
However that is Nick Clegg’s message: that his party will hold those with the most seats to account in the likely event of another hung parliament. "We will add a heart to a Conservative government and we will add a brain to a Labour one," he said at his manifesto launch.
The Lib Dems major policies include a commitment to reducing the deficit and balancing the books by 2018, adding an extra £2.5 billion to the UK’s education budget and implementing equal care for mental and physical health.
The Liberal Democrats also see technological innovation as a key investment sector. The party aims to double innovation and research spending across the economy, as well as increasing support for “Catapult” innovation and the Green Investment Bank. They also pledge to ringfence the science budget and ensure that both capital and revenue spending have increased at least in line with inflation by 2020.
The party also has a strong green message running through its manifesto, promising to lower decarbonisation targets for the power sector by 2030 and support investment in energy storage and smart grid technology to boost the UK’s reliance on renewables.
The UK’s digital economy will also be secured with investments in high-speed broadband, promotion of STEM subjects in schools, maintenance of the Government Digital Service and the introduction of a Technology Impact scheme to assess the implications of any new technology before it is introduced.
The UK’s other main parties
In terms of the other parties contesting the 2015 general elections, technology remains a key part of their manifestos.
The Green Party, unsurprisingly, has environmental concerns at the heart of many of its policies including a pledge to phase out fossil fuel-based energy generation and nuclear power in favour of increased investment in renewable sources of energy, flood defences and building insulation. They are also promising to ban fracking, which could have a major impact on the UK’s energy industry.
Like the Greens, UKIP promises to abolish plans for the High Speed 2 rail line between London, the Midlands and other more northerly parts of the country. Nigel Farage’s party will also look to initially spend 2 per cent of the country’s GDP on defence, with further increases to follow, so military technology could receive added support. UKIP would also remove tuition fees for any students taking degrees in science, medicine, technology, engineering or maths, providing they practise, work and pay tax in the UK for five years after graduation.
Altogether, technology and the UK’s digital economy is a clear battle ground for the country's main political parties going into this year’s general election. The manifestos launched over the past few days clearly outline the respective approaches to the economy, immigration, healthcare, education and many other areas, but it remains to be seen which parties will stand by their promises.
Image Credit: BBC