General election 2024: Digital threads run through all parties' manifesto commitments

We’re not yet at the stage where a general election manifesto contains an entire section on digital economy issues, alongside the expected priorities of health, education, defence, housing and so on – and we may never be. But this year’s campaign does at least show one thing – digital considerations now sit very much at the heart of many of the critical party policies, and nobody hoping to lead the country can ignore its impact.

It’s fair to say that reading through the 333 pages of manifesto commitments made by the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats is enough to fry your brain – that’s how much Computer Weekly cares about you, dear readers. But if you want to find out about the digital policies that will impact on anyone working in IT, you need to read every page. That’s a great sign that tech is embedded throughout.

You would expect to see artificial intelligence (AI) feature – largely, let’s be honest, because it’s a bit cool and trendy for politicians to talk about it – but all the parties recognise the need to monitor, control and regulate AI, to varying degrees. They all buy in to the “magic technology tree” by which AI will miraculously save billions of pounds in public spending by enabling productivity improvements in Whitehall and the NHS. Good luck with that.

Labour includes perhaps the standout new policy – changing planning rules to allow more digital infrastructure, and in particular datacentres, to be built. It’s a bold, sensible proposal – and one that will no doubt prove controversial. But the UK has already missed its opportunity to be the European platform for the big cloud and datacentre operators. This policy could change that, creating jobs, capacity and encouraging skills development.

Labour is also the only party to recognise the regulatory challenges caused by new technologies, and its promise to overhaul the regulatory environment to speed up such processes could bring significant long-term benefits across many industries.

Broadband and mobile networks are a given – as is the likelihood that they still won’t be rolled out quickly enough, no matter how much the parties promise otherwise. Online safety features heavily, and will continue to be a thorny challenge to be grasped by the next government. It’s encouraging to see support for startups, skills and research and development funding appear in every manifesto as an obvious commitment – it’s not so long ago that the tech community would have had to fight and lobby for these to be priorities.

The final challenge comes down to all of us in tech – whoever wins on 4 July, we must make sure their digital policy commitments are delivered.

Data Center
Data Management