On a role for digital when the centre’s weak

It’s time for all crystal ball watchers to find a new methodology, because minority government produces surprises – and lots of them. Just look at the success of Stella Creasy’s amendment on access to abortion for Northern Irish women, and Tory travails on public sector pay increases. Cross-bench policies with popular appeal may be sneaked out under cover of critical government business that’s too big to fail.

And so to today’s Cabinet reshuffle. In one of the less trumpeted appointments, Caroline Nokes MP was confirmed as junior minister with responsibility for the Government Digital Service. It’s not a name we expected; Nokes is best known as past CEO of the National Pony Society and “Parliament’s resident expert on equestrian issues”. This surely says everything we need to know about government interest in digital.

But it’s significant that Nokes is a former inmate of DWP, as is new Cabinet Officer Minister Damien Green. With GDS established under the rule of fellow DWP alumnus Kevin Cunnington, it seems digital government is going the way of previous efforts: shaped by and for the needs of large departments.

The grind of departmental transformation is no gymkhana. But meanwhile, the strategic (fun?) elements of national digital policy continue to leach out of GDS and into DCMS, now home to an increasing number of ex-Cabinet Office folk including of course Minister of State for Digital Matt Hancock MP. Skills, infrastructure, innovation, cyber and international partnerships are areas in which digitally-minded people can still do interesting things.

But whilst Theresa May’s minority has survived for now, Corbyn’s post-election détente with Labour moderates could be falling apart again as three frontbenchers who voted to amend the Queen’s Speech in favour of EU Single Market membership were sacked. 

It’s still impossible to call how Brexit will turn out, and this is in large part because Labour’s (or more specifically Corbyn’s) position is so obscure. Although Corbyn is pro-immigration, he’s anti-EU fiscal policy and rules on state aid, which appears to explain his opposition to Single Market membership. There’s also a school of thought that Labour’s Brexit policy is simply a convenient fiction that will be abandoned if and when the public changes its mind on Brexit.

(Originally published on Kable)

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