The big news this week was the calling of a general election by British Prime Minister Theresa May. Just two years after the previous one, the polls will open on 8th of June, giving the winning party a mandate for another five years.
However, unlike in 2015, I suspect the role of the tech sector may only be noticeable by its absence. As you may remember, things were very different last time around.
With the general consensus being that the 2015 election was on a knife edge, with either the Conservatives or Labour believed to be capable of winning and the most likely outcome another coalition, the tech community did something we hadn’t really seen before: it turned distinctly partisan, and in a very public way.
In a letter published in The Guardian on the 29th of April 2015, more than 90 tech entrepreneurs declared their support for the return of a Conservative-led government and the continuation of what they saw as the incumbent administration’s tech startup-friendly “attitude” and policies. You can read the original letter and its signatories here
, where you’ll be sure to spot some very
Despite being a vocal supporter of the Labour party at the time – not least driven by the Conservative government’s abysmal record on disability rights
– I took it upon myself to cover the publication of the letter and to dig deeper into how it came about.
As I reported at the time
, the letter’s main organiser was Brent Hoberman, co-founder of Lastminute.com. He was also helped by Daniel Korski, a Conservative Party campaigner who used to be a special adviser to the then Prime Minister David Cameron, and who had good access to the London tech community as the organiser of tech breakfasts at No. 10.
According to sources, Korski began ringing around potential signatories at the start of April to let them know that Hoberman was organising the letter and with the presumption they would sign, which not everybody did. As I noted, the letter was originally targeting 100 signatures.
However, looking back at the letter and what I wrote at the time, I’m struck by two things. The first is how many of its signatories are some of the most vocal supporters of remaining in the EU and/or keeping full access to the single market and free movement of people. And yet, in 2015, there was only one party offering a referendum: the Conservatives, the party the letter was in support of and who would go on to win.
This is something I touched upon at the time, after one investor told me they had refused to sign the letter in part because of the Conservative party’s precarious position on Europe. Ironically, Korski was also one of the main architects of the failed Remain campaign (see his candid interview on the topic
from our recent Disrupt London conference).
The second is how my coverage of the letter was received at the time, which still brings a smile. Before I hit publish, I distinctly remember one VC being very concerned that what I’d write would be highly partisan itself, and questioned if I would be quite so critical if the letter had supported Labour instead.
But after the article went live, I received a ton of messages from readers and those who had talked on and off record, and, without exception, they all said it was fair. In fact, in many instances, both Conservative and Labour supporters thought they had come out on top. Perhaps that’s the mark of good political coverage, when both sides think they’ve won 🤔