Labour wants a truly digital government. Photo: Flickr/Wonderlane
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What is Labour's plan for building a digital government?

Innovation and democracy.

Five years ago I entered politics for the same reason I went into engineering almost a quarter of a century earlier – I wanted to make the world work for everyone, not just a lucky few.

Digital should be a means to that classic Labour goal of sharing power amongst the many. Rather than the means for a slimmed down state to divide, exclude and enforce - as appears to be this Government’s vision.

That is why in March, as shadow cabinet office minister for digital government, I asked an independent expert advisory board to conduct a review of digital government to set out clear goals for a digital agenda that will improve services and empower citizens whilst being efficient and cost effective

All too often government is something done to the people. A Labour Digital government must not be like that.

The Digital Government Review took as its basis that there is a need for better integrated services which reflect the needs and capabilities of citizens and their communities.

The report, published today, makes 35 recommendations to make digital government work for everyone.

Labour will need to take the time to study the report in detail as we continue our zero based review process and prepare our manifesto. But an initial reading makes clear that this is a comprehensive roadmap for transforming the relationship between government and citizens.

Thanks to the wide ranging expertise of our independent panel combined with over 2000 submissions and responses, it is an important, authoritative, radical and evidence based contribution to the future of progressive public service as well as a stand-alone reference work for the current status of digital government.

The report leads on  the primary importance of  digital inclusion, in contrast to this Government’s attitude of  "get online or lose out". The Government Digital Service (GDS) is a hugely experienced and talented group within the Cabinet Office but Ministers have focussed on headline grabbing areas that can only be used by 80 per cent of the population, rather than building more valuable services that can be used by everyone and that help with some of this country’s biggest challenges such as economic growth, planning, housing or health and social care. Using social value – as well as cost-savings – as the criteria for choosing what services to take digital would help here.

The report is especially severe on  this Government’s chaotic approach to data sharing, as demonstrated by the care.data and HMRC debacles, and recommends Labour establish a review of data in Government. In his Hugo Young lecture in March Ed Miliband said that the presumption should be that everybody should own their own public sector data. Labour will build on that with a review that will establish a coherent and ethical approach to the use of data within government.

The report also makes important recommendations on public sector skills and leadership. The digital revolution cannot be confined to certain departments in Whitehall. In the future all government will be digital and public servants in local and national government need to understand and be inspired by the prospect of using digital to improve all our lives, working with people, as well as for people. The report argues strongly for increased collaboration and reuse between  local authorities, through local ‘digital factories’ with support from central government.

It’s not a simple matter to address. There are issues of culture, of leadership, of accountability, of collaboration and of building architectures based on open standards.

On Thursday, Jon Cruddas will be speaking at the Institute for Government on our broader vision for building a digital state for innovation and democracy, a digital revolution for people’s power

The next Labour government will be the most digital government ever and the prize of digital government that works for everyone glitters before us. Right now though, most people are experiencing what I call digital discomfort—the sense that Government knows who we are calling, Amazon is telling us what we should be buying, our children and friends are being harassed online, Google is recording our every move and we are all reeling under the onslaught of spam and email scams.

To address these concerns and capture the prize of digital government we need a new kind of government devolving power and responsibility and sharing power with people. By giving people skills, control and information Labour will put the people in control of increasingly digital public services. This report sets out how we can do this. Only a radical Labour administration in 2015 can bring about a progressive digital government which delivers for the citizen.

Chi Onwurah is Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central and shadow Cabinet Office minister

Chi Onwurah is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, and the shadow minister for industrial strategy. 

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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