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August 2007

As we waved goodbye to Tony Blair last month (doesn’t it already seem that the Blair era was ages and ages ago?) it occurred to me that his time in power coincided almost exactly with the rise of the personal computer.  When he first became Prime Minister, the large and sophisticated company I worked for had not started using email, and did not have a website.  We had no internet access and only two computers in my eleven person department, which were only used by secretaries to generate letters. 

However, the Blair years were the internet years, which saw a computer placed on almost every desk, and being able to work one became a basic office skill.

So who was left behind, who can’t work any of it?  I’ll tell you who – it’s those people who have been in high positions of considerable power for that period, supported by large departments and eager assistants.  And who does this group most obviously include?  Someone who has, for example, been Chancellor of The Exchequer for that last ten years, perhaps?

I’d love to know just how good Gordon is with a keyboard and a browser, but I bet he’s rotten at it; indeed he has already admitted that his four year old son is better than he is.

Despite this, the use of computers (and the internet) has become central to the delivery of a huge range of government services such a tax collecting and making benefit payments.  So if you are Prime Minister and have no real knowledge of the practical end of working online then I fail to see how you can possibly know what the rest of us are going through.

Then there’s the whole question of websites.  Quite soon, I’m sure that we will all think that if an organisation doesn’t have one, they must be very transient or too dodgy. 

Incidentally, I’m not sure which of these applies to Blair’s new employer, the Quartet.  This powerful group came into existence in 2001, but still seems to have no independent web presence.  I thought I would look up Mr Blair’s job description, or perhaps find out what he is being paid, but there is nothing.  You can find some press releases on the excellent Foreign Office site ( but not much else.

Politicians generally, in fact, have a greater obligation to make themselves visible online than most, especially to their constituents.  They can even claim a Parliamentary allowance to do it, so there’s really no excuse.
Even with this encouragement, about 20% of MPs still have no constituency website of their own, including, believe it or not, Gordon Brown.

Those MP websites that do exist are of very variable quality, and most follow a template sold by the one or two companies who have targeted politicians.  Mind you, even if the MP’s website looks good, it’s useless if the content is not fresh.  If his most recent entry is four months old, just how keen is he to keep us informed?

One I looked at had two spelling mistakes in the first paragraph; how much attention has he really given it?  Not much, I think, so why should we?

The British Computer Society (, a distinguished and venerable (in computer terms) professional body, has decided to do something about it.  To that end it is sponsoring a set of awards to recognise the best MP websites (  They have gone so far as to ask me to be one of the judges and so I in turn am asking you to help me.

Would you have a look at your MP’s website, please, and let me know what you think, good or bad?  If you don’t know where to find it, go to , click on “Members and Staff” and you’ll find a link to their website, if they have one.

I will be most grateful for any comments you can give me.  Oldie opinions are always worth having.