But what about more practical things? After the election, can the Tories do any better than Labour when it comes to the net?
Let’s face it – we could hardly do worse. This government’s IT failures are a national scandal. Here are some ways Labour has “used” the internet, with your money.
* The National Programme for IT. Delayed. Forecast to be £10.3 billion of your money over-budget. Yes, I did say TEN BILLION POUNDS.
*Department of Work and Pensions customer information system – £48 million quid over budget.
* NOMIS and LIBRA – two Justice Ministry schemes dealing with prison, probation and magistrates courts – £620 million pounds over budget – so far.
And that’s before we’ve even looked at the NHS!
Can Tory strong society improve on Labour big government? In the USA, cheap private websites are revolutionising how people interact with their politicians. The New York Times business section recently lauded the website SeeClickFix.com, which enables users to report a pothole or a broken traffic light. Crimereports.com lets Americans see what crimes have been committed in their area. Everyblock.com carries everything from local political news to reviews of neighbourhood restaurants. Here in the UK we need more publicity for sites like FixMyStreet.com, where I could enter my own postcode and see problems reported.
SeeClickFix was developed by private backing, but also won a $25,000 prize given for internet entrepreneurship. Jeremy Hunt and his team are taking that idea and running much bigger with it. A £1m prize for a website that can truly help government serve the public. Even Labour blogger Alex Hilton, a Labour PPC in a safe Tory seat and an old hand on the centre-left blogosphere, lauded the idea. I read a suggestion of a website where public service whistleblowers could report examples of waste in their departments – completely anonymously. How much might that save us?
What about letting voters keep their eyes on government? If there’s one thing the expenses scandal taught us, it’s that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Politicians need to be held to account. On their promises. On their expenses. On their spending.
The internet offers every voter a way to shine a bright torch into the dusty corridors of Westminster. Every parent knows – when you know you’re being watched, behaviour changes! David Cameron has promised new MPs will publish expense receipts online. But it goes way further than expenses. Steve Hilton gave the example of how Maidenhead council published online, in real time, energy use in some of their buildings. And guess what? As soon as ratepayers could see the energy use, bills dropped by 15%!
Government and internet. It doesn’t have to be costly, snail-paced IT projects. It can be direct conversations, reporting a fallen tree in the road, visual crime records, and sunlight blasting through the so-called governing classes. It can be citizens holding our spending accountable. It can be whistleblowers reporting waste in safety. It can be social justice projects and ways to help people find charities they’d like to assist. In short, it can be fast, effective and user-friendly.
It’s a great irony that a party named “Conservative” should be the one to bring in this revolution. But that shouldn’t stop us!