Time To Cast A Tech Vote?

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Whether your vote is swayed by technology or not, it’s important to get out and use it, says Peter Judge

Before the campaigning started, there was plenty of techno-politics in the air. During the actual campaign, it went by the board. As we watched a staged debate on TV, and yawned while the old press manufactured the Bigotgate scandal.

So let’s remind ourselves what the issues have been.

Digital Economy and Broadband

There was, of course, the Digital Economy Act, still causing endless outrage on Twitter, which the main parties shamefully forced through without a full debate before Parliament closed down. The Liberal Democrats are the only party to promise a proper re-examination of that debacle.

Broadband services also looked like providing one or possibly two major election issues. Rural broadband provision shaped up as a classic conflict, where the issue is how to fund a public service: one third of Britain won’t get broadband the way things are now, and Labour and Conservatives had the proposals you would expect: public money from Labour, contrasted with a typically vague and unfeasible Tory promise to scrap the tax, and rely on the private sector. The issue, predictably, dropped into the background.

The overlapping issue of fast broadband also cropped up, with big promises and no real idea on funding. While some places can club together to get faster services, that’s not going to work for everyone; hence the Labour 50p-a-month broadband levy – vastly smaller than the amount needed, and still unpopular enough to get axed under pressure from the Tories and fear of lost votes – leaving no real way to pay for better broadband.

As the actual campaign started, we had the chance to pore over the manifestos, which contained little in the way of firm technology promises. The Tories promised a technology minister who would help create UK Googles and Facebooks, while the Lib Dems quietly promised to fund rural broadband.

Voter involvement

One interesting thing which emerged is that, despite the availability of Twitter and other social networks, most voters prefer to hear from their candidates by mail or email.

When it comes to voting, however, there is fairly strong support for e-voting, up from 19 percent to 43 percent since the last election. Stronger support than one might expect, in fact, given the politicians’ poor record on privacy and security, and the difficulty they have had implementing large scale systems such as ID cards.

Gordon Brown has predicted that e-voting might come in the next five to ten years. So it seems that (assuming we’re not voting again in six months time) our next general election might use different technology.

Voting choices

Given all that, how will people vote? On the Internet, sites have been springing up to advise voters how to match their views with a party, or vote tactically for a hung Parliament, in the belief that only this would reign in the excesses of the two-party system.

From a technology perspective, we are disappointed with Labour’s love of bureaucracy, and the Conservatives’ urge to hand even more power over to vendors and consultants (remember the idea of giving health service data to Microsoft and Google?).

The Liberal Democrats have been able to surf a wave of Internet popularity, as shown for instance, by the 165,000 members of a Facebook group called “We got Rage Against the Machine to #1, we can get the Lib Dems into office!”

Alongside that sort of poularity, we think there’s substance in the Lib Dems’ ideas. The party’s fresh look, and commitment to reforming voting also recommend it to us.

Far more important than who you vote for, however, is actually exercising your democratic right. Whether tech issues decide you, or you have another more pressing agenda, we’d urge you to get out and vote.

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