A manifesto for change in approach to Government policy on technology?

10th March 2023

I love the West Wing. I’ve seen the whole thing at least 4 times. What I love the most is that it shows an aspirational form of politics where the two warring parties rehearse their ideological arguments in an honest and courageous manner and (with a few notable exceptions) the good guys win the debate in the end and some small progress is made.

And last month, a little bit of West Wing-style political vision came to the UK. Two former leaders of opposing parties stood up together and said (para-phrasing) “this is really important and we should be working together to do it better.”

“This” is science, technology and innovation.

On 22nd February, Tony Blair and William Hague published their co-authored report:

The essence of their argument is that we are in the midst of a 21st-century technological revolution but our state is not structured to make the most of this and the United Kingdom risks falling behind.

The essence of the need to change is centred on:

  • A need to reorganise central Government to put science and technology at the centre of the Government’s agenda
  • Building an AI-era infrastructure including development of sovereign-led super-computing infrastructure
  • Setting up an Advanced Procurement Agency, whose role is to specifically seek out opportunities for publicly funded innovation
  • Restructuring pension fund investment rules to incentivise investment in UK innovation
  • Encouraging more university spinouts
  • Creating innovation laboratories to seed new industries
  • Planning reforms that enable not block, technological progress
  • Re-focussing education on new technologies and leveraging edtech to support teachers
  • Building stronger global partnerships with research organisations including EU research programmes

Much of the media focus relating to the report has centred on the relatively niche issue of the creation of a digital ID for each citizen – a topic which remains polarising but there has been less commentary on the central hope that the political parties can stop squabbling on the peripheries and focus on reshaping the agenda.

I may not yet see an 8th series of West Wing played out for real at the Palace of Westminster, but I keep optimistic because support for advancing technologies is crucial.