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July 31, 2014

5 tech-savvy politicians

The MPs who DO have a clue about technology.

By Joe Curtis

The public sector is always far behind the private sector when it comes to innovation – at least that’s the cliché, anyway.

In fact, while there’s always going to be friction between public purse strings and the latest technology, Britain’s startup scene is doing pretty well on the whole, while Labour and the Tories both have interesting ideas about how to harness cloud, mobility and everything else when it comes to local and central government IT.

But how much do politicians really know about technology? Swapped to cover different briefs every few years, with a lot of attention devoted to constituency matters, it’s sometimes hard to tell whether any actually have a clue about digital skills or even basic IT outside of operating Outlook on their laptops.

Here’s five MPs we think are switched on even when their PCs are switched off.

Adam Afriyie MP (Conservative)

Adam Afriyie

Tory MP Afriyie represents Windsor, and is also president of the Conservative Technology Forum. The think tank was set up in 2010 and since 2012 has had the aim of using technology to aid the economic recovery.

Afriyie is knowledgeable about tech – and should be: he’s a self-made millionaire as founder and chairman of Connect Support Services, now called Connect, which provides IT support to UK businesses.

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However, Afriyie doesn’t toe the party line all the time. In fact, he can be pretty outspoken – he’s attacked the current smart meter rollout, a project to replace UK households’ gas and electric meters with ones that automatically update the energy companies with usage, as well as show the energy costs to the household itself via a small, portable display.

It’s this display that has sparked Afriyie’s ire, with him calling it a waste of £200m in an age when the Government could simply approve an official app that people could download to check their energy usage. In fairness to him, the entire rollout is estimated to cost £11bn.

 

Chi Onwurah MP (Labour)

Chi Onwurah small

The shadow cabinet office minister is currently examining responses to Labour’s Digital Government Review, which will help shape the party’s digital policy, expected to be revealed come this autumn.

Onwurah is outspoken on many issues, as you’d expect for an opposition MP, and has criticised the Government’s reliance on Big IT suppliers as well as its record of spending with SMBs. She also wants to increase the basic IT literacy of civil servants and target the most vulnerable in society to help them develop digital skills that could make it easier for them to find work.

Tim Farron MP (Liberal Democrats)

Tim Farron

Prolific Twitterer-er Tim Farron has written about the need for policymakers to keep up with technological changes – though, admittedly, that’s a pretty hard task.

In a guest blog on the Huffington Post, he’s said: "There is a very real risk that policymakers ignore the tech sector because they don’t understand it or because they are scared of not looking like an expert.

"I think this blind spot is also linked to overly managerial politics: politics that responds more to polls than to fresh opportunities, that listens to focus groups in order to invent new ways of saying the same thing, rather than engaging dynamically with the new innovations emerging."

You tell them, Tim! He also pins Britain’s growth on its tech startups and emphasised the need for government to support such entrepreneurs.

 

Chuka Umunna MP (Labour)

Chuka Umunna

Labour’s shadow business secretary has bemoaned the lack of digital skills in Britain, talking about the need to develop Britain’s "knowledge economy".

He’s also spoken about how doing so would boost the economy, saying: "We make no apology for wanting to address the huge digital divides which still exist in Britain, locking whole communities out of the benefits of the digital economy."

 

David Willetts MP (Conservatives)

David Willetts

That the science community praised the former minister for universities and science on his recent departure from the role, during the cabinet reshuffle, says a lot about Willetts’ record in charge.

While the Tories’ university fees have proved controversial to say the least, Willetts was widely seen as a champion of the sciences and saw the importance of those subjects in boosting the economy.

His tenure saw renewed investment in pioneering science projects, and it remains to be seen whether that will change under his replacement, Greg Clark.

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