back to article Surveillance, broadband, zero hours: Tech policy in a UK hung Parliament

Five years after its first coalition government for decades, Britain again looks likely to refuse to elect a single party to government. The Liberal Democrats, which joined the 2010 government as the Conservative’s junior partners, look set to lose a significant number of seats, meaning the party may not have the numbers to …

  1. Tom Chiverton 1

    Timely post. There's a major Hustrings tonight in Manchester (7pm, Friends Meeting House) orangised in part by the Open Rights Group, with questions tabled on exactly these topics.

  2. Alister Silver badge

    But the SNP doesn’t get away Scot-free

    Yes, well that would be self defeating, sort of...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about skills?

    "IT-reliant businesses often rely on skilled immigrants to fill gaps in their workforce"

    ...because they're too fucking mean, stupid and short sighted to train the staff they need.

    We've got 1.9m officially unemployed, 0.9m not in education, employment or training, and about 1.5m disability benefit claimants not in work. And we've got 3m workers who were not working as much time as they wanted to - on a full time equivalent basis representing perhaps a further 0.8m unemployed. So that's a pool of around 5-6m potential workers, mostly dependent upon the state (or their parents/carers). Even allowing for the skivers, dossers and thickos, in over 5m people I'm sure I could find the necessary aptitude and talent.

    Instead of rubber stamping business plans to import skilled labour, the manifestos ought to have mandatory training requirements for medium and large business where they don't employ enough apprentices or sponsor enough training and education. Unfortunately this is increasingly ceasing to be a tech sector issue, and needs to be a universal requirement.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What about skills?

      I agree. Also too mean to pay a fair rate. Im struggling because the cost for me to work is too high and the cost of living in modest levels of comfort is high.

      I dont want to live in a room with 8 other sweaty blokes and eat rice and lentils every day. Its not what ive spent the last 15 years of my life working towards. Its not why I live in a first world country.

      A lot of immigrant workers seem happy to live like cattle though. More power to them but its just exploitation at the end of the day.

      I dont live the most lavish of lives. I live in a two bed flat with my wife and baby which we will soon outgrow but cant afford to move from. I drive a clapped out 8 year old Citroen Berlingo. For this lifestyle I require £20 an hour minimum that doesnt include the cost of a holiday which I havent had for years.

      Thats £41k a year which is miles higher than the vast majority of the planet can dream of. The cost of living in Britain is insane. Transport being the biggest problem.

      I work freelance as well so I dont work every day.

      Main costs are mortgage, travel costs into London (im 28 minutes from Waterloo but it still costs over £20 a day, a months worth of train travel could buy me a ticket to Cape Town), energy and council tax. In that order.

      The money is out there but nobody is willing to invest it in people anymore. It all goes on empty buildings and hedge funds.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What about skills?

        "A lot of immigrant workers seem happy to live like cattle though. More power to them but its just exploitation at the end of the day."

        That is my thoughts too, I saw a program about British unable to find work.. they had a French Waitress in the UK, sharing a tiny room with a guy they barely know, if you can't have your own room, then things are bad and you are on the breadline....

        I'm a landlord, and I have had to kick out a bunch of Eastern Europeans who filled the house with workers, 3-4 to a room where it was supposed to be a family of 4 living in the house...

        My regular sparky talks of large families living in a dank basement not tall enough to stand in....

      2. Semaj

        Re: What about skills?

        Self employed with a kid and an old car, living in the poverty trap that is London... I really feel for you.

        Things are better outside the capital so if you can get the cash to move and can find work then do it.

        Good luck and a pint cause you probably need it.

      3. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: What about skills?


        Hang on. Did you just say £41k for a modest lifestyle? Wow. Our household is far from earning that but we are nowhere near 8 sweaty blokes eating rice and lentils. I admit we dont have kids and nowhere near London (a northern city) but if you find it that hard then I suggest you look at your mortgage and location. Your commute is expensive so maybe consider moving to part of the country with more local jobs. You wont get the same salary but you wont get the same excessive costs either and a bigger property for your money.

        After nearly falling off my chair I have to disagree with your final comment about investing in people. If it costs a minimum of £41k + expectations of keeping up with whatever taxing schemes the gov implements it makes more sense to import workers and still have an affordable business.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What about skills?

        "The money is out there but nobody is willing to invest it in people anymore. It all goes on empty buildings and hedge funds."

        Well, the hedge funds live on borrowings and promises, until they build up their own funds by ripping off other hedge funds, so I don't think you can blame them. But, to look at your two key problems: Lowish wages, high housing costs.

        Lowish wages: Significantly influenced by open door immigration policies, free trade agreements with developing countries. These allow employers to take on cheaper workers rather than pay a decent living wage, or to move the work wherever they can get slave labour (and then avoid UK corporation taxes on that work, UK NI contributions on the salaries, and business rates on the premises). You could FORCE employers to pay higher wages (experience says that doesn't work), but until you remove the easy options of cheap labour in or from other countries it won't help. With the exception of UKIP, all the parties seem committed to open door policies and free trade with anybody.

        High housing costs. Well, its all sounding very UKIP again, because over the past fifteen years we've let in roughly a net 4m immigrants. That implies building total housing, roads, hospitals, workplaces, utilities, shops equivalent to a city the size of Worcester every single year. Clearly we haven't been doing that, so prices go up because demand outstrips supply. Nor has government policy resolved the problem of too many employment opportunities a long way from where people live, and an overly dense employment cluster in the centre of Greater London. Add in the obscene salaries of the City, and the option for foreign investors to buy new build London flats and keep them empty "as an investment", and you have the makings of the foul mess that is the UK housing market. Policy solutions are to systematically distribute the controlling policy departments in regional cities (not just paper pushers like DVLA and DWP's processing staff), and to build 250,000 new properties a year for the next five years. That housing build would have the consequences because with much reduced brownfield availability, the side effects are tarmacing the green belts, reducing agricultural land, and ultimately reducing house prices - which is not viewed well by people with big mortgages or the banks.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What about skills?

        "A lot of immigrant workers seem happy to live like cattle though."

        Give them time, they came here in their teens and twenties, no financial obligations, no kids, comfortable lodging is never a priority for the young anyway. But I can see them settling, majority won't stay in the 10-per-bedroom flats for ever, once kids arrive (and they do).

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: What about skills?

      >We've got 1.9m officially unemployed, 0.9m not in education, employment or training, and about >1.5m disability benefit claimants not in work

      And the number of those with physics degrees and 10years software development experience is ...?

      So a company in the city needing to expand it's trading system can either:

      Take somebody unemployed and totally failed by the education system, educate them to post grad level and teach them software engineering and have staff ready in 10years - unless they leave.

      Up the paycheck to persuade somebody to leave an identical job down the road. So if every company simply doubled salaries there would be no unemployment.

      Not care about the skin colour or accent and hire from whereever in the world they can.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What about skills?

        "And the number of those with physics degrees and 10years software development experience is ...?"

        Minimal, but so is the number of jobs that require this. I might add that the graduate trainee working for me at the moment has a degree in maths from Imperial College, and the best offer he got jobwise was from an energy company as a dogsbody grad. We're not using that talent, and if the country is wasting its best mathematical minds in this way, I don't accept the implicit argument that the 300k immigrants we have are highly skilled specialists, essential to keeping this country running, whilst all the natives are thick, lazy slobs.

        "So a company in the city needing to expand it's trading system can either:"

        Well, from my point of view another option is that they can fuck off and die if they can't fix the problem with locally grown skills. I don't owe the over-paid fuckers of the City a living, and that includes not owing them the right to debase our employment market and inflate our housing market for their own fucking convenience. This country has bailed the profligate bastards out to the tune of £375bn (last time I looked, BoE QE figures), and if they want to expand their trading system, and they can't find the skills in this country, then they can go to the wall. And I'll laugh if they do. In reality, they want immigrant labour not because some other country has magically trained the ultra-skilled people they need, but because they're cheap and easier to find, and lower back office costs means higher bonuses.

        "Take somebody unemployed and totally failed by the education system, educate them to post grad level...Up the paycheck to persuade somebody to leave an identical job....."

        Straw man. Yawnn. Next please.

      2. Triggerfish

        Re: What about skills?

        Having worked in temp job for the council a couple of years ago to avoid living on the dole, I could say there are people out there at least education wise out of the ten temps that started it included me relatively well educated in engineering and It with experience, a physics grad an architect and a economy grad, that was out of ten new starters. I can assure you working in a call centre for council tax was not what we had thought of as ideal jobs.

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: What about skills?

      Simple regulation: import one, train one.

  4. Buzzword

    > "If you want to vote for [...] having all the tech firms in the south-east, you’re out of luck."

    Aren't most tech firms still in the south-east?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If there is indeed going to be another coalition, then that would, I assume mean another coalition agreement. This makes party manifestos even more irrelevant that they normally are. We'll not be getting a chance to vote on any such agreement after it's written either. I also reckon its time to call time on our stupid voting system. We could end up with the Greens and the UKIPs getting perhaps 20% of the popular vote between them, and getting representation of about 5 or less MPs out of 600 odd. Crackers, whatever you think of the 2 of them.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Sadly we, the populous, were given a chance to vote on at least some revision to the first-past-the-post system and we rejected it. Why you ask?

      Maybe due to the Tories & Labour pushing to keep the system in place that has served both of them well since WW-2.

      Or maybe because the morons out there felt it better to "punish" the Lib-dems for failing to hold back the Tory's education cuts & fees, than to make for a better and more representative future.

      What do they say about getting the government you deserve? :(

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Or maybe because the morons out there felt it better to "punish" the Lib-dems for failing to hold back the Tory's education cuts & fees, than to make for a better and more representative future."

        I think that the electorate actually did want a yin and yang between left and right, with near buggins turn for the two main parties. Since coalitions are a near certain outcome of PR, the mediocre performance of the current government is probably what they expected from coalitions, and shows why the majority preferred FPTP.

        Unfortunately, both Labour and Conservative parties no longer have any clear vision, are both completely out of touch with the real world, and have ghastly, dislikeable, gormless leaders with faces they can only have found in the "rejected characters" bin at Ardmann Animations. Neither party are trusted on the economy, health services, immigration, defence, or anything else and so we've now reached a position where by trying to please everybody they please nobody, and even FPTP looks like resulting in coalitions from here on.

        What we need is some proper mould breaking. That might be UKIP, but I doubt it. I can't see the greens or Plaid Cymru doing much other than reinforcing the worst policies and behaviours of the Labour party. The Libdems won't exist in a few months time (and good riddance to the party of Cyril Smith, "Lord" Rennard, and others). So on balance I'd be quite happy for the SNP to call the shots for a few short years under FPTP, because whilst that would lead to some temporarily grim economic mismanagement of the UK economy, the probably inevitable secession of Scotland would kick start democracy south of the border. North of the border they'd be stuck with a single party state in perpetuity, that would soon have an economy a bit like Venezuela, but I think that's what they do now want.

      2. MGJ

        We don't have FPTP, for GB elections we have plurality, the candidate in the constituency with the most votes wins.

        French elections have a post (50% turnout plus one) that you have to be first past. That has worked well in the fifth republic to allow (normally) a second round run off between the best placed candidate from the left and right.

        And to talk about 'paying off the deficit' is just nonsense. The deficit is the growth in the national debt. The best way to pay off the national debt (and which the good Keynesian economists out there would recognise) is to do so when your economy is growing and there are more taxes coming in from workers and less benefits paid out to the unemployed.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @ MGJ

          "The deficit is the growth in the national debt. The best way to pay off the national debt (and which the good Keynesian economists out there would recognise) is to do so when your economy is growing and there are more taxes coming in from workers and less benefits paid out to the unemployed."

          Would that be real economic growth, or the sort of pretend growth where governments borrow more than the increase in GDP, and call that "growth"? I don't think the UK economy has seen any real growth (net of debt) since about 2000.

          Given the spending promises made by the economic illiterates of all the major parties, there's no prospect of any of them turning the deficit to a surplus and paying down the debt. The Labour party (as unfit to run a whelk stall as they've always been) might at least try a taxation squeeze, but that would simply result in a 1970's style brain drain, and large numbers of UK domiciled companies going overseas (as HSBC are currently considering, in response to the bank levy). Add in their ambitions on a living wage or a higher minimum wage and the outlook is bleak. With all the talent, corporations, and high earners gone, tax revenues would fall, and we end up like France. A stagnant, statist economy, with higher and more persistent youth unemployment.

          The Tories are now so close to the Labour position it makes no odds. Ring fenced spending on pensions, health (and obsessive about spending one pound in fifty of government spending as foreign aid), and they're in a position where they can't even afford the sorry state of our armed forces after their laughable 2010 strategic defence review (for which Cameron should be handed over to IS for some rest and rehabilitation). They're obsessed by big state shite like HS2. They stand no chance of balancing the books either.

          Even on health where they've promised shedloads of money, Sir David Nicholson recently pointed out that they're all lying, that their plans make no sense and don't add up.

          Unfortunately, painful though it will be, the only way out of this mess will be to unwind Gordon Brown's profligacy, step by bloody step. All those unemployed encouraged onto disability benefits need to be taken off. All the increases in public sector pay relative to private need to be reversed. The expansion in public sector workers fully reversed. The cancerous GP contract that the last government signed needs to be torn up in full. Energy policy (and all the green levies and related costs) needs to be undone.

          I can't see that happening, so it seems likely that we will continue with the past fifteen or so years policy of "pretend and extend" as Dr Tim Morgan put it. Little has changed since this report was written:

          1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

            Re: @ MGJ

            For some reason The Truman Show sprang to mind when I read all that - How will it end?

    2. ScottAS2

      No coalition required

      If there's a hung parliament, we won't necessarily get a coalition - where two parties agree a joint programme for government, and share out ministerial positions between them. It's entirely possible we'll get a minority government with one or more other parties in a "confidence and supply" agreement, where they agree to support the government in confidence motions and pass their budget - the bare minimum. Everything else would need have support gathered on a case-by-case basis, which, if approached in the right spirit by the politicians, can lead to some nice consensus politics.

      The SNP did this fairly successfully in the third Scottish parliament, although it showed both the good and the bad sides of it: while the Tories engaged fairly constructively, Labour stuck rigidly to the Bain Principle, and flounced around generally seeming upset that they weren't being allowed to run the country. Of course, the result of the election to the current parliament* shows how well that went down.

      *One of the requirements for the Scottish electoral system when it was designed is widely acknowledged to have been to make it difficult for any party, and especially the SNP, to get a majority.

  6. Captain Hogwash Silver badge

    Re: its time to call time on our stupid voting system

    I agree. Unfortunately, when given the opportunity to do just that, the electorate said no.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: its time to call time on our stupid voting system

      The AV system offered in the last referendum would not have made that much difference to the parties' share of MPs. It only came into effect if a candidate polled less than 50% of the votes in a constituency.

      AV still wouldn't have helped parties whose support is evenly spread across the whole country. Their constituency candidates would have been eliminated in the first few rounds of rolling up the voters' preferences until one candidate achieved > 50%.

      Many of the people who voted against AV actually wanted PR - probably STV. That is the system which gives at least some MPs based on a party's national share of the total vote.

      If AV had been the winner than the chances of getting another referendum for PR would have been impossible for decades. As it stands - raising the subject of reform is still possible.

      1. Captain Hogwash Silver badge

        Re: raising the subject of reform is still possible

        Perhaps. But the two main parties will argue that the result was a vote of support for the current system. This means getting another referendum is probably just about as likely as if AV had won the day last time.

  7. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    Meanwhile, in Brussels they do Good Things..

    The EU has just published a couple of interesting YouTube explainers that tackles "nothing to hide" excuses etc:

    For citizens, an explainer with annoying fashionable tingle-tangle music, and a more business focused version.

    In that context it's brutally ironic they rely on we-track-anything-that-moves Google based services, but hey, it's a start. The full STOA "Mass surveillance of IT Users" reports can be found on the LIBE main page under "highlights".

    1. NP-HARD

      Re: Meanwhile, in Brussels they do Good Things..

      I have nothing to hide... I liked the music.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "As for the UK Independence Party, it sees immigration and the EU as the source of many of Britain’s worries." No, right now, UKIP itself is the source of many of this Briton's worries. Idiots might get elected - well, they do, frequently - but the UKIP idiots are a special breed all of their own.

    "A Labour-led government has pledged to ban such contracts " Oops, lets hope no-one notices the zero hour employees of various Labour MPs / the party itself ...

    the "Conservatives would set up full access to electronic health records (although with an opt-out for sharing)," Could I opt out of having any of my government records left on a train please?

    As for the LibDems, I'm sure they will keep to their manifesto promises. Every single one. Just like they did last time.

    A plague on both their houses. (Commons and Lords, in this case)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Meanwhile the Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Ireland parties are also likely to be the partners in a coalition. They already seem to be making loose deals to support their mutual nationalists' agenda for more money and power - even if it means actively interfering with England-only measures to achieve it.

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Nationalist Agendas?

        The DUP won't apreciate that comment.

        For all the current 'protestantations' they're the most compatible with the conservatives.

    2. ScottAS2

      Zero-hour is an arbitrary limit

      Labour are only going to ban exploitative zero-hour contracts. They want you to think that means that all zero-hour contracts are exploitative, so they'll be banned. Of course, what it actually means is that they'll only ban the ones they have deemed to be exploitative - which certainly won't include any connected to a Labour politician, or donor for that matter.

      If I'm honest I'd much rather we focussed on the exploitative bit, rather than an arbitrary number of hours. If a zero-hour contract is exploitative, surely a one-hour contract is almost as exploitative? I was on one during my student days, and although the flexibility suited me well, I can see how it could easily have been abused by a less-scrupulous employer, especially if had been a job whose income I needed, rather than like to have.

      Rather than some vague aspirational soundbite, how about some concrete measures? I'd think if we had protection against detriment from refusing overtime, and the requirement that sick and holiday pay be based on the average hours actually worked over some period (perhaps the 17 weeks employers should already be monitoring for the 48-hour week) then we could keep zero hour contracts and the "flexibility" that business claims is so important, while also improving the lot of employees on all contracts, not just zero-hour ones.

      1. Red Bren

        Re: Zero-hour is an arbitrary limit

        There's no need to ban zero-hours contracts, just enact a law that all overtime (the hours worked over your contracted hours) must be paid at double the hourly rate. If you're on a zero hours contract, you're going to be earning at least double the minimum wage rate.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sometimes I have this thought

    that it would have been better for the Yes campaign to win in Scotland last September.

    Now there is every chance of Alec Salmond becoming PM by Proxy and having his hand up Millibands rectum like a Ventriloquost and their dummy.

    1. nsld

      Re: Sometimes I have this thought

      I agree.

      Given the economic ineptitude of fish boy and the midget Scotland would be as bankrupt as Dubai was and we could have stepped in and snapped it up for a song.

      Would have been far cheaper than having Cameroon bend over and offer his arse for devo max!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mixing and matching the party manifesto promises

    Mixing and matching the paltry manifesto promises.


  11. Wibble 3

    Balanced, detailed election coverage?!

    Nice informative article there - although not much on the Greens (or are they planning on banning evil gas guzzling tech?).

    I understand why you've only covered the tech side of the various parties manifestos, but is there any chance you can get an article out covering the rest of the policies as well as i can find bugger all balanced, comparative factual coverage from the BBC et al...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Balanced, detailed election coverage?!

      for ( x : [parties] )

      Party X claims that they will increase public spending, reduce taxes, make life easier for decent working people, fight terrorism, invest in Britain.....

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Political opinion

    Tories are the Tories. For the rich elite & right wing.

    Labour since the "new" caption was added are just Tories with red ties.

    Liberal Democrats have also proven themselves to be Tories with yellow ties.

    UKIP are Tories that lean too far to the right.

    All of the above are supported by millionaires & corporations to fund their bid for power. As far as an election is concerned it looks like it's a choice of how far right you want to lean, much like American politics.


    So who represents the people, not millionaire and corporate interests?

    A few small parties are making the right noises but do not have enough seats.

    Think we need a change to the system so that power is brought back into the publics interests. Maybe a modern form of employment union? After all, before they got greedy they made huge beneficial charges for us all.

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: Political opinion

      @ Dewix

      "As far as an election is concerned it looks like it's a choice of how far right you want to lean, much like American politics."

      Seriously? How far right the UK wants to lean? We have the lib dems who have always existed so far left as to exist in fairy land. We have labour moving left into the fairy land. We have the tories moving left into labours previous position. And we have UKIP offering a choice by actually being a right wing moderate party.

      If you doubt how far left the politics of this country are going just look at how unhappy business is (economically right wing lovers), how many protected public departments there are and of course the state of the finances of the country.

    2. DocJames

      Re: Political opinion

      Although I agree the UK is economically leaning increasingly to the right, in social terms there has been a mass shift leftwards (or "progressive" if you like the Whig view of history). The Blair government made significant shifts in reducing causal homophobia, sexism and racism. This has been continued by Brown and Cameron. Bizarrely the Labour party doesn't seem to make a big thing out of this (presumably as it might make voters scared they're going to change society again).

      Icon to represent fear of change

  13. Roj Blake Silver badge

    Eat your Greens to Protect your Privacy

    It seems to me that the Greens have the most sensible policies when it comes to protecting private data from the grasping hands of the authorities.

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