Confused Dot-Coms: Britain’s Bipolar Election


British citizens head to the polls tomorrow amid heightened security fears, the specter of Brexit and a division between its two leading parties that has widened further than at any point in the last 30 years.

On one side there is the incumbent Conservative Party, led by phlegmatic Prime Minister Theresa May, who called the snap election in April despite having previously vowed not to do so before 2020. On the other is Labour and its populist chief Jeremy Corbyn, a lifetime hard-lefter who, some say, has drawn crowds on the campaign trail as big as anything post-Winston Churchill.

There is, however, little Churchillian about either candidate for 10 Downing Street this year. Mrs May, staring at the political equivalent of an open goal just months ago, has turned voters away with a lack of charisma, an over-reliability on slogans and social policies so unpopular they have been scrapped within days.

Mr Corbyn, by contrast, has stirred vocal support among working classes desperate for representation. But with it has come empty bluster, a poor recollection of statistics and a roll-call of unpleasant former acquaintances, including the IRA and Hamas.

Neither side offers a definitive answer to Britain’s biggest current crises: how best to negotiate an exit from the European Union, national security and a yawning income divide that is threatening social cohesion. Like America, Britain has fallen foul of the kind of polarizing politics allowing Donald Trump to call himself the 45th President of the United States.

Tech heads across the US pleaded against, and have subsequently protested, Mr Trump’s isolationist, and oftentimes jingoistic policies, citing globalization and the cross-pollination of culture, capital and people as key in succeeding in a more competitive global economy.

Britain’s leading tech figures have not been so vocal. But the technology sphere is a key battleground in today’s election. And a victory for either Mrs May or Mr Corbyn could have major consequences.

First, there is regulation of the Internet. Mr Corbyn has vowed to democratize the web via a ‘Universal Service Network’ that would roll out broadband access across the nation. Mrs May has also suggested a similar ‘Universal Service Obligation’ demanding minimum download speeds of 10Mbps for all Brits. Both plans face considerable backlash from ISPs unwilling to pick up excess cost.

Labour also wants to supercharge the “digital economy” (i.e. startups) by installing a Digital Ambassador tasked with promoting the UK to investors. The Conservatives, meanwhile, have promised regional expansions for its startup-oriented British Business Bank.

Possibly the most controversial aspect of the Conservative manifesto is its ‘digital charter’, which has “two fundamental aims: that we will make Britain the best place to start and run a digital business; and that we will make Britain the safest place in the world to be online.”

Moves include an “industry-wide levy” on social media companies to provide protection from harmful online material, and the option of a “comply or explain” feedback system. Mrs May, who has been highly critical of the roles of platforms such as WhatsApp in recent terror attacks, also wants to “push” companies to remove terrorist propaganda from the web.

Both parties have pushed increased spending in digital education and research, and both parties have vowed to better represent British citizens working in the ‘gig economy’. Labour in particular wants to implement strict national standards on the taxi industry, which are targeted largely at Uber, which has faced heavy protests over its business model in capital city London.

But aside from some other, smaller policies, that’s it. Little wonder Britain’s tech firms are keeping quiet. Mrs May is expected to run out victor tomorrow but the polls have been steadily closing. The fact that few companies have come out against Mr Corbyn and his throwback socialism is telling. Everyone is now looking to one thing above all else: Brexit. 99% of the future of British tech success will not be fought in London, but in Brussels.