Thursday 13 March 2014

EXCLUSIVE: GDS and the 2015 general election – SCOOP

"Central plank of the 2015 UK election campaign temporarily unavailable", we said, back in November 2013.

That was when CloudStore went down for a week. Twice. Just after Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE had been allowed to make a presentation to the full Cabinet of the UK government.

Clearly GDS – the Government Digital Service – was going to form part of the Conservative Party May 2015 general election campaign and manifesto, and maybe the Liberal Democrats', too.

But what of UKIP?

Don't know.

And what of Labour?

There's been a bit of activity on Twitter over the past few weeks involving Matthew Taylor and, indirectly, Jon Cruddas MP, Labour's policy architect. It looked as though Labour are trying to make their mind up about digital-by-default and that is confirmed in a blog post by Bryan Glick, the editor of Computer Weekly, following an interview with Chi Onwurah, one of the few Labour (or Conservative or Liberal Democrat or UKIP) MPs who might actually understand the technology.

Only four months after DMossEsq, Mr Glick says "GDS becomes political as Labour launches digital government review" and now GDS have noticed, too, and have started to set out their stall in a blog post today, Mapping the GDS journey.

We've got 14 months of this to look forward to. And we're off to a good start. With a scoop, which Mr Glick has not yet found room to publish in the comments on his blog post. [Mr Glick has now kindly published the comment, which had been trapped by a Computer Weekly spam filter.] So here it is. An exclusive:

By some mystery of modern telecommunications, the following email arrived in my inbox three months before it was sent.
From: SpAd
Sent: 12 June 2014 20:15
To: ShadCabOffMin
Subject: Government Digital Service (GDS)
Dear Chi
As requested, I have taken a look at this GDS business. I understand that the issue is what to put in the manifesto that will make us look modern, alert to the possibilities of technology, caring and prudent moneywise.
There’s an obvious political problem. If we support GDS, we look as though we support the Conservatives/Lib Dems. I strongly recommend, therefore, that we criticise them.
There is ample reason to do so.
They’re promising savings. GDS reckon it would take 11 years [1] from the time digital-by-default starts – which it still hasn’t – to the point at which the country could enjoy savings by making a minimum of 40,000 [2] public servants redundant.
The public has had it up to here with promises of savings that are never delivered. They’ll take one look at that 11 years and decide that (a) it’s so far in the future no-one could possibly make an accurate prediction, (b) that’s 11 years during which no politician or official can be accused of failure, they can just do what they like in the interim, and (c) they’ll all have moved on to retirement/better jobs in the private sector by the time the mission is aborted at a cost estimated by the NAO to be £1 billion.
I may have got this wrong but 40,000 public sector redundancies doesn’t look to me like a Labour policy objective. It would probably knock another million off union subs to the Party. Not helpful with our overdraft at the Co-op.
We’d do best to point out that digital-by-default is just the Blair policy of transformational government [3] under a different name. Criticising it gives us a double whammy. Not only can we say that the coalition have got it wrong, they’ve been hoodwinked by silver-tongued IT salesmen, it also helps to keep a distance between us and TB.
Digital-by-default only works if there’s a reliable national identity management system. We really don’t want to go through all the aggro we had with ID cards again. Do we? Better to cast the coalition mob as Blairite ID card supporters and let Labour take a stand on civil liberties (if any of your colleagues can remember what they are) and the human right to privacy.
There’s a lot more but perhaps that’s enough. Will write up the rest if you insist. As a parting shot, do you realise that GDS’s model for digital by default is Estonia [4]? I wouldn’t fancy your chances of re-election if you try to convince the good people of Newcastle that they should be more Estonian.

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