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Dave Cameron pledges to Open Source UK.gov

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The UK’s two major political parties have demonstrated the benefits of bringing the open source ethos into government, by getting into a punch-up over who thought of the idea in the first place.

David Cameron embraced Linux, open source and bottoms-up decision-making today as he detailed his vision of a Tory innovation policy in a speech at the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

Cameron pledged that a Tory government would set the UK’s data free – but not in a bad way, like HMRC. Rather, he said, he wanted to ensure people could access information which allowed them to create “innovative applications that serve the public benefit”. This “information liberation” meant ensuring spending data was transparent for example, and that people could easily compare crime figures.

At the same time, he said, “We also want to see how open source methods can help overcome the massive problems in government IT programs”. Cameron said the Tories would reject Labour’s addiction to the mainframe model. Instead, he claimed, a Conservative government would follow private sector best practice and introduce open standards, “that enables IT contracts to be split up into modular components”.

“So never again could there be projects like Labour’s hubristic NHS supercomputer.”

Leaving apart the issue of whether Labour has got the NHS running on a supercomputer – hubristic or not – Cameron’s pledge to open source comes just days after the minister for transformational government, Tom Watson, claimed that Labour is the party that really, you know, gets open source.

In his speech on Monday announcing the government’s Power of Information taskforce, he referred to an earlier speech where “I talked about the three rules of open source - one, nobody owns it. Two, everybody uses it. And three, anyone can improve it." He then recounted how the Tories immediately sent out an email “laying claim that in fact they are the ‘owners’ of these new ideas. I was accused of plundering policies from the Conservatives.”

The irony that laying claim to the ownership of a policy on open source was lost to the poor researcher who had spent a day dissecting the speech.

The conclusion? Our political class really has embraced the ethos of the open source movement, and are even as we speak battling over the tech clichés of the day with the same ferocity and ultimate futility as open source utopians discussing the merits of the GPL. ®

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