Following the Conservative Party’s election win last week, David Cameron, somewhat unexpectedly, is now able to form the first all-Tory cabinet since 1997.
The officials appointed by the returning Prime Minister will have a huge impact upon government policy over the next five years and may well shape the future of the country’s education, health care and economy for many more years beyond that.
In terms of the country’s technology industry and digital economy, some of the major appointments include Sajid Javid as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and President of the Board of Trade, Amber Rudd as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and perhaps most prominently, Theresa May as Secretary of State for the Home Department.
May’s reappointment to the role has made headlines this week in relation to the so-called “Snooper’s Charter,” an act of legislation that would require Internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile network operators to maintain records of each user’s Internet browsing activity and mobile phone use for 12 months.
The potential that the bill, which was blocked during the last parliament by the Liberal Democrats, has to affect the threat of cyber terrorism and also individual privacy has understandably led to a polarised response from the electorate. However, the Communications Data Bill is not the only impact we are likely to see from the new Conservative government.
In his first meeting with the new cabinet, David Cameron tasked his ministers with delivering his party’s manifesto in-full. If they are to do so, Amber Rudd will need to make good on a promise of unlocking £59 billion of investment in new electricity supplies. This would include the Hinkley Point nuclear power station, offshore wind turbine manufacturing at Green Port in Hull and the Swansea tidal lagoon. The latter, in particular, would provide a boon to the UK’s green energy plans, although concerns have been raised over how much the energy will cost to produce and the government subsidies that will be required to fund it.
Continuing the work begun by the Green Investment Bank will be another of Rudd’s key concerns.
As Secretary of State for Business, Sajid Javid is likely to spearhead a substantial review of business rates during 2016, which could have implications for the country’s technology startups. The Tories plan to devolve more economic powers to regions such as Cambridgeshire, Greater Manchester and Cheshire East, allowing councils to retain 100 per cent of the growth in business rates. The policy is likely to be an attempt to replicate the success of London’s Tech City, with Manchester set to become the home of Tech North, while Cambridge will receive further boosts to its own technology cluster.
Whether or not the reform to business rates will provide further boosts to SMEs in the UK remains to be seen, but companies based outside of the capital are likely to welcome economic proposals focusing on the rest of the country.
Mr Javid does have significant business experience himself before becoming an MP. At 25 he was vice president of Chase Manhattan Bank and then went on to become senior managing director of Deutsche Bank, helping to build the firm’s business in emerging markets.
However, the biggest change to the cabinet is, of course, the absence of any Lib Dem MPs. During the coalition government, David Cameron and George Osborne had to first negotiate policy change with Nick Clegg and former Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander. Now with greater autonomy David Cameron and his party can push through policies with more certainly than they could during the preceding five years.
Whether the new all-Tory government will strengthen the UK’s position in the digital economy is unclear, but without the option of hiding behind Lib Dem opposition, the new government will succeed or fail based on its new cabinet appointments.