techUK enjoyed one of its busiest Party Conference seasons, sponsoring a business reception with the Chancellor, hosting 2 fringes, and speaking on the issues that matter most to the UK’s digital economy at 12 other events.
Conservatives seeking renewed domestic agenda
A difficult conference for the Conservatives, hoping to kick start their domestic agenda after the Prime Minister’s Florence speech. While the fringe was rich in ideas, many xpected more policy announcements rom the set pieces. Questions over the leadership were just about managed over the four days but the Party does not appear to have a renewed sense of direction.
Tech was, however, one of the main themes of the fringe with numerous events on each of the days discussing digital issues from data flows to AI. It is positive that the Conservatives see the digital economy as a key part of Britain’s economic future, so expect continued engagement on issues affecting the tech sector.
- techUK co-sponsored the Enterprise forum Business Reception with the Chancellor, Philip Hammond MP.
- Tata Consultancy Services kindly sponsored a joint event with techUK and Res Publica on the future of AI with Digital Minister, Matt Hancock MP, and Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Damian Collins MP.
- Deputy CEO, Antony Walker spoke at a number of events including on the future of skills post-Brexit and the future of AI.
- Head of Public Affairs, Tom Morrison-Bell, spoke on a panel about the role of the Digital Charter alongside Damian Collins MP, and an IPPR event with Jenny Russell and Peter Oborne on digital and Brexit.
- Head of Cyber, Talal Rajab, spoke alongside Security Minister, Ben Wallace MP, on a number of panels regarding the UK’s cyber resilience.
Upbeat conference as Corbynistas believe they are on the cusp of victory
A marked turnaround from last year’s downbeat Conference as Corbyn’s leadership is now secure. The Conference was energetic, and, notably, businesses had returned after a year of absence. Buoyed by the election result, the leadership is confident in its policy platform and is on an election footing, seeking to select Parliamentary candidates in 80 seats by Christmas in case of an early election. Election fever is being used to keep energy high in the party, and Corbyn and McDonnell believe Labour can win.
That said, there remained an undercurrent of division. Public recriminations may have died down but the split between Corbyn’s supporters and the moderates remain obvious. There were fewer MPs than in previous years and Momentum’s parallel World Transformed conference contributed a great deal to the overall optimism.
- techUK hosted a fringe event with Labour Business on the how digital fits in a modern industrial strategy. Speakers included:
- Shadow Digital Minister, Liam Byrne MP
- Shadow Industrial Strategy Minister, Chi Onwurah MP
- techUK Head of Public Affairs, Tom Morrison-Bell
- Charlotte Holloway, Digital Plymouth
- Tom also spoke at a private Demos event on Britain’s Digital Policy with Liam Byrne MP and on an IPPR panel about The Data Economy After Brexit, with Daniel Zeichner MP.
Split between “optimists” and “realists” on Party’s future
There is a growing split between “optimists” and “realists” about the Party’s future. The optimists believe the Party will see a dramatic revival in fortunes given its position on Brexit. This group, which includes a lot of younger members, feels the Party needs to be stronger on Brexit and sought to change the Party’s position to one of outright opposition, instead of a referendum on the final deal.
The realists believe that any recovery will be slow and that excessive focus on Brexit will not engage voters. While they also believe the Party has made the right call on Brexit, they are concerned about a dearth of ideas in other policy areas.
Both camps are, however, united in opposition to both the Government’s and Labour’s approach to Brexit. It was also Vince Cable MPs’ maiden speech as leader. It was a pro-business speech but otherwise lacking in policy detail. The Party has a way to go if it is to return to pre-2015 general election seats.
- techUK’s Head of Brexit Policy, Giles Derrington, attended a number of tech specific events with senior Lib Dem members, including the new Digital Spokesperson, Christine Jardine MP.