The manifestos are yet to be published yet, but we’ve already got our first big digital pledge of the 2019 UK election: the Labour Party is pledging to nationalise parts of BT in order to provide free broadband for the country.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC that the plan would cost around £20 billion – money that would be raised by taxing multinational companies that make their money predominantly via the internet.
“First of all we’ll issue bonds for shares,” McDonnell said. “So, what we’re doing is we’re introducing a new tax – we’ve already discussed it publicly – which is on multinationals. Particularly those internet multinationals, the ones that gain their income from the internet – the Apples, the Googles and the Amazons of this world – and in that way we’ll pay for the day-to-day costs.”
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In terms of cost and ambition, this far outstrips the Conservative pledge to make full fibre broadband available to every home by 2025, to which the party has promised £5 billion. Labour’s nationalisation plan, meanwhile, promises UK-wide results for consumers and businesses by 2030.
Unsurprisingly, the opposition parties have lined up to dismiss the plan as unrealistic. The culture secretary Nicky Morgan – who is standing down at this election – called the pledge a “fantasy plan,” and highlighted the potential cost to taxpayers. “Jeremy Corbyn’s fantasy plan to effectively nationalise broadband would cost hardworking taxpayers tens of billions,” she said.
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The Liberal Democrats echoed the Conservative warnings, with Sam Gyimah, the party spokesperson for business, energy and industrial strategy saying that “wasting billions of taxpayer funds to nationalise BT won’t solve the connectivity issues faced by so many of our rural communities.”
Although it’s being billed as an election predominantly on the subject of Brexit, it will be interesting to see how often digital issues crop up during the campaign. We’ll know more when the party manifestos are published ahead of the big day on December 12.