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Tony gets spun up by Microsoft
August 2001

Well, it's all over for another 4-5 years (barring disasters/miracles, depending on your point of view), and what a waste of time it was for the most part. Talk about a forgone conclusion. The only action at the bookies concerned the size of the majority; you could have got better odds on poor old Willy Hague turning up in number 10, than Elvis..

However, IT and internet barely featured in any electioneering reports I have seen. After all, the internet came and went "mid term" as they say, and the election was fought on vastly more prosaic issues such as the fact that it takes 400 years to get a hip replacement operation on the NHS, the price of petrol will be £10 a litre by the next election, and the Euro means that we will all be eating snails in garlic by order to the President of Europe. So no surprises there, then.

There were a couple IT moments in the whole turgid process though, first was the predictable “we must do something to produce legislation to clean up the internet”, and other was a moment to treasure. I and many others will long recall Tony Blair's bemused look when he was ambushed at Microsoft's impressive Reading HQ, and then used as a stooge for the launch presentation of Office XP. If looks could speak, his would have said: "Who the fuck set me up for this..?"

However, HMG was clearly already in the steely grip of Microsoft (like the rest of us) and was fumbling for words to explain this story on

Britain's first step in the country's grand plan to move all government-related services onto the Internet has resulted in a virtual lockout for users who do not run Microsoft software.

The British Government Gateway site, developed by Microsoft, will eventually be the main access point to 200 central government and nearly 500 local government institutions.

But only those who are using Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.1 can access all of the site's services at the present time, a situation that some said is proof that Microsoft cannot play well with others.  

Microsoft denies the allegation that it has created a Microsoft-only site.

Developed by Microsoft..? What..? No English businesses are up to the job of developing a web site for the Government..? So is that what 4 years of socialist misrule have done to the country? Reduced to us to a puppet of the US in all matters of IT..?

And now consider this next statement in the light of Microsoft’s record on security and its well recorded tendency to want to know what’s happening on your PC:

"The goal of the Government Gateway project is to provide our citizens and businesses with a powerful set of tools for interacting and exchanging secure transactions with government institutions,"

Blimey, talk about inviting the fox into the chicken coop!

A trip to the Microsoft website will reveal a vast amount of preening that the government chose their “incredibly capable people” to turn the government’s vision of UK Online into a glittering reality. The e-Envoy Andrew Pinder is even trapped on one recorded interview endorsing Microsoft as a wonderful bunch. He’s also reported on the MS website on a story with a Seattle origin, as saying:

"The goal of the Government Gateway project is to provide our citizens and businesses with a powerful set of tools for interacting and exchanging secure transactions with government institutions," said Andrew Pinder, e-envoy for the U.K. government. "Microsoft was part of a team that delivered a world-class enterprise solution - on time and on budget - which has successfully integrated and orchestrated our government IT systems into a central point of access for government services. Today, the Government Gateway project is bringing real value to our most demanding and precious resource: our citizens."

So let’s remind Tony what he said:

On 15th April 1998 the Prime Minister Tony Blair, commenting on the release of a visionary white paper on the growing use of technology within the modern world, said:

"We are in the throes of an information revolution. It is vital that Britain leads the way, so that we can be Europe's pioneer in what is now known as the Information Age. I have set out today an ambitious programme of how the Government can help meet the challenges of the Information Age. But it should also be seen as an opportunity, because some predict that up to half of new jobs in the future may come from IT." 

Britain leads the way..? Come again..? The first opportunity that the government gets to tee up British businesses to work on their flagship projects, and Microsoft grabs it. And we’d be very interested to see if there were any “cross subsidies” involved in that deal.

We all know that Bill has been seen smoozing at Number 10 (incidentally, so have I – the Bill you all love - but that’s another story..), so expect Euan and Tony’s other kids to have an MS X-Box delivered soon – from his best mates in Reading.