Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Forget the furore over the 50p tax rate. The Tories will regret it if they underestimate the Balls/Miliband team (Independent)

They’ve fought four elections navigating the hazardous politics of “tax and spend”, notes Steve Richards. 

2. Labour is confirming critics’ suspicions (Financial Times)

The party’s 50p tax plan may poll well but when employers call it a job-killer, voters will listen, says Janan Ganesh. 

3. Ed Balls's 50p tax rate won't harm business – but these kleptocrats will (Guardian)

The only thing a higher taxation rate will stifle is growing inequality, says Polly Toynbee. No wonder the captains of industry are yowling.

4. Dave and Ed need their lipstick and high heels (Times)

Politicians should swing both ways, writes Rachel Sylvester. Conventional old-left or old-right policies won’t attract the votes both parties need.

5. Voters may be seething, but they don’t want to be taken for idiots (Daily Telegraph)

The idea of soaking the rich may be popular in the pub, but the Prime Minister is counting on voters to put aside their anger and understand the deeper questions at stake, writes Benedict Brogan. 

6. Globalisation and growth are no cure-all (Financial Times)

New forms of political conflict have emerged that are resistant to traditional prescriptions, writes Gideon Rachman. 

7. Think there's a cap on elderly care costs? Think again. You're in for a shock (Guardian)

The charge for our elderly relatives could be several times higher than the £72,000 we've been told, says Jackie Ashley.

8. NewKIP (Times)

Nigel Farage has grand ambitions to replace the Conservatives with UKIP, says a Times editorial. This could deliver a Labour government.

9. Why are we failing our cleverest children? (Daily Telegraph)

Britain should take lessons from around the world in how to teach its brightest pupils, argues Martin Stephen. 

10. Never again? The loss of trust in the European project holds great dangers (Guardian)

We must heed the lessons of 1914, says Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Those who rail against the EU should appreciate that it has brought us peace.

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital