Michael Gove says Britain needs to create its own DARPA

It's time we rebooted democracy in our start-up nation, apparently

Alasdair Gray, the acclaimed Glaswegian writer and artist, penned a phrase now engraved on a wall of the Scottish Parliament: “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.”

Michael Gove, the controversial Caledonian Brexiteer, journalist and Conservative politician, has in turn declared his intention to seek the leadership of the UK Tory Party and thus become the Prime Minister, to "reboot democracy" in a new "start-up nation".

Delivering his leadership pitch today Gove said: “I want this country I love – and which has given me so much – to embrace this opportunity for change with optimism and conviction.”

Opposed primarily by Theresa May, who is considered more moderate by the mainstream press and the Conservative Party's masses, Gove stated: “We need change to make this country a global leader in education and science, a start-up nation that generates the technologies which will transform this world permanently for the better.”

If we are going to meet the challenges of the future “and make the most of those opportunities, then I believe we need to reboot and renew our democracy,” said Gove.

Declaring himself the true “candidate for change” Gove argued that we “cannot meet this historic moment with timidity and caution” and fired a shot at May in declaring that “the best person to lead Britain out of the European Union is someone who argued to get Britain out of the European Union.”

Proud of his work as education secretary, the MP for Surrey Heath said that, along with further reform, the nation needed “to think in particular about how we strengthen our position in science and innovation.

“The total amount we spend as a nation on research and development is significantly less than countries such as the US and government spending on R and D has been less than the OECD and EU average,” Gove claimed. He went on:

I am not an instinctive advocate for higher government spending. But the evidence from the most successful start-up nations – US and Israel – is that thoughtful government investment in science triggers a culture of innovation more widely that generates the businesses of the future.

The internet was a government creation – developed by the American government’s scientific incubator DARPA – and the amazing creativity in Silicon Valley is a function not just of America’s more effective venture capital system but of government leadership.

More and more thinkers have made a compelling case for a leading role for government in creating a more entrepreneurial state. And that must be the right course for Britain – creating our own equivalent to DARPA, providing the capital for new tech innovation and helping the tech sector grow even faster.

Of course, the UK did have an equivalent to DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in DERA, the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, which was privatised as QinetiQ in a deal heavily criticised by Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office.

In 2007 Bourn noted it was “of concern that the Ministry of Defence did not seek specialist advice on the incentive scheme, which resulted in the top ten managers owning shares worth £107m. This level of return exceeded what was necessary to incentivise management.”

Gove also stated that the recent referendum on the UK's membership of the EU “was about democratic accountability.” He explained he believed this was “the principle that politicians must answer, as directly as possible, to the people who elected them. Because of that, I believe the next Prime Minister has to be on the winning side of the argument.”

We have filed a bid to interview Gove with his office. We welcome your suggested questions in the comments section. ®

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