We have Martha Lane Fox, of course, the Digital Tsarina or the government's "digital champion" as she is more politely known. She has launched a plan because nobody can survive without a plan.
Launching a plan to get the 10 million Britons who have never used the internet online, the Government's "digital champion", Martha Lane Fox claimed “the Government needs to think ‘internet first’ – by getting more people online, everyone wins.” She suggested that everyone applying for benefits should also be subject to “informal” tests on their computer skills.It is not unreasonable to suggest that most (though far from all) jobs now require some kind of computer literacy but Ms Lane Fox with the blessing of the new non-socialist government goes further:
‘Networked Nation’ plans to get businesses and charities to encourage people to use the web, and suggests a plan for low-cost web access for elderly people and those on low incomes. Libraries and job centres should also appoint their own “digital champions”, while electronics retailers will be encouraged to offer discounts on products to people who have completed basic IT skills courses. A national equipment recycling scheme could also be developed for the 12 million web-enabled devices shipped into the UK every year, allowing new users cheaper access.This reminds me of the campaign to get a computer into every primary school classroom in the land, which disregarded the fact that a very large proportion of primary school pupils could not read or write adequately.
Most libraries and charities that deal with older people (who are not necessarily quite a computer illiterate as Ms Lane Fox, still a spring chicken in her estimation, makes out) offer various classes to help those who want to learn more about the internet or any other part of computing they see as necessary to their lives or desirable. Those who do not, may not want to. (Then again, given the way the Post Office functions these days, going on e-mail might become an absolute necessity very soon.) In other words, and in very simple words, it is not the government's business to interfere; neither is the government likely to solve problems, be they treatment of cancer (as Tony Blair guaranteed personally) or net illiteracy, with a magic wand and a great deal of taxpayers' money wasted.
I thought The Register got it right:
Martha Lane Fox has launched a campaign to make sure everybody in Britain of working age has heard of Martha Lane Fox by 2015. It's an ambitious goal, especially since she doesn't actually have her quango any more - her Digital Services Unit was created in March but abolished last month.Mind you, as they rightly point out, she could take a few lessons herself. Her 65 page manifesto is full of italics, purple prose as well as pink and peach. "You can tell it's unofficial, because nobody would ever have approved such an eccentric document."
This hasn't stopped her soaking up valuable civil servants' time, or launching an initiative with David Cameron today to promote greater awareness of Martha Lane Fox.
As many as 10 million people live a Fox-free existence, and among those targeted are the most vulnerable in society. Fox promises that "the disadvantaged, unemployed and retired", will be cajoled and berated to get online. As if they haven't got enough to worry about already.
In her "Manifesto for a Networked Nation", Fox proposes that local authorities - which are cutting front-line services - appoint "digital champions", although it isn't clear where the cash might come from.
Aren't we all glad that the days of nagging chivvying do-as-I-say-because-I-know-better-than-you Labour have gone?