Gesture Politics and Big Toys

Two of the announcements made by Chancellor George Osborne in his budget speech yesterday say much about this Government and politics in general.

As we are now in the long run up to the General Election in May of next year we can expect a stream of small gesture goodies from the government in order to try to sway the public to vote for them.

Yesterday, George Osborne announced a cut in bingo tax to 10%, a clear political move, as bingo players are more likely to be seen as coming from the ranks of Labour Party voters. The announcement of the cut however highlights how gesture politics can sometimes run into problems when such gesturing is not thought through properly. Less than 3 weeks ago, Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, was arguing for a tightening up of the regulatory control of the gambling industry in order to help gamblers deal more effectively with the consequences of what for many is an addiction. How Osborne’s announcement squares with Miller’s stance is very difficult to understand.

But not to worry, because a second ‘big’ announcement might help to identify the missing communication link between the Chancellor and Maria Miller. The Government will be spending £42 million setting up and running what will be called the Alan Turing Institute. The aim is to make Britain a world leader in so-called Big Data analysis and algorithm research, primarily it appears however for the benefits of companies.

Mr Osborne’s personal communication links do seem to be in a mess, because he may or may not be aware that an Alan Turing Institute already exists since 2009 in Almere, Holland. It has to be asked if the government cannot spot such an obvious name clash like this, then perhaps their money (our money) might be better spent on more straightforward communication projects rather than big data analysis.

The creation of this new Institute might uncharitably be seen as one of Osborne’s Big Toy’s, as it is strange why he made the announcement and not the Secretary of State heading the department who will run the Institute, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

It is unclear how the Government can justify spending this sum of money if it is to benefit commercial enterprises, but then politicians do like their big toys. The nature of the work that will be undertaken at this new facility must inevitably also raise concerns. Alan Turing’s most famous work related to the breaking of the German encryption codes during the war. Whilst of vital importance in defeating the Germans, if we think of the NSA and their breaking of encryption codes, we can view such work in a different light. Will the work of this new Institute lead to the possibility of greater control and surveillance of us all, in this instance commercial control?

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