Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Missed opportunity...

Last night Gordon had a great opportunity to capture the headlines on a day that might turn out to be a turning point in his leadership.

But in his “major policy announcement” he has really missed a trick – not to mention a golden opportunity to show he is in tune with what people’s worries are.

The ‘educational technology allowance’ – worth up to £700 – will be offered to low income families to cover the cost of getting them on the internet – including, a computer, software, a connection fee and initial monthly charges.

This is the key policy that Brown has chosen to release in advance of his major speech, which suggests he might think it is one of the most important.

It is of course important that all youngsters should have internet access.

But at a time when families across the country are scared they are not going to be able to afford fuel bills this winter, when people are worried about keeping their jobs, the Prime Minister’s ‘come-back’ speech should not hinge on internet access for families in 2010.

There is another scenario – that Brown has more eye-catching policies that he will pull out of the hat and that this was just something to get the morning headlines.

If that is the case then the story failed to get the showing Mr Brown would have hoped for – suggesting that the communication problems that have dogged his leadership continue.

Furthermore, the whole policy is based on the idea that these families who can’t afford to pay for the internet now, will be able to once they have a computer and are connected.

A special advisor to Mr Brown said: “It’s a common feature of studies that families can save hundreds of pounds a year through on-line buying and price comparison websites.

“So in the long term, especially with these help and start up costs, there is a benefit to families which will out-weigh the cost of ongoing internet connection.”

In other words, the money the family will save shopping at Tesco on-line instead of the supermarket will pay for the monthly broadband charges – it is not the basis for a solid policy.

I fear people will be thinking, ‘if they can find £300 million to pay for this, why can’t they use it to give poor families £700 to pay their gas bill this winter?’

One other thing – the scheme will only apply to England. That won’t go down too well in November’s Glenrothes by-election, which rebel MPs say will be key to Brown’s chances of continuing in his job unchallenged.

Joseph Watts
Parliamentary Correspondent

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