Iain Dale has a short post about how it has emerged that John McCain is incapable of using the internet and e-mail. Dale puts it down to McCain’s age – perhaps true, but not the whole story if my experience with politicians in the UK and the European Parliament is anything to go by.

I reckon the problem that McCain and others face is some sort of 21st century version of Yes Minister. The closest staff of a politician don’t want their boss to go anywhere near a computer lest they actually do something with it, and hence cause more problems (and work) for the staff. So keep the politician at arm’s length from the technology.

I’ve met politicians who can touch-type (learnt before they entered Parliament) but do not know how to do anything else but turn on a PC. There are others in Brussels that don’t even have computers in their offices and dictate letters to their staff. Ironically some of these politicians actually have reasonable websites, and while none of these politicians are exactly spring chickens, but they are not as old as McCain either.

It seems in short for many that upon entering Parliament personal development stops and the mind starts to atrophy when it comes to practical matters. While parents might learn about computers from their kids, even that can be partially prevented for politicians working long hours and seeing little of their families (as documented in Jeremy Paxman’s Political Animal).

And these same politicians are then supposed to make some sort of appeal to Generation Y?


  1. Denise

    The politician that I have worked with for over 30years purchased a Blackberry yesterday. He has not been seen since. I sent him a memo, printed on green paper so that it would not get mislaid, with full instructions as to how to purchase the Blackberry. He followed the instructions and made the purchase. This is an achievement and he was very chuffed at his progress. I know that we are in for a stormy time as he endeavours to learn how to use it. To make and take calls on his mobile phone took many months of tantrums.

    You are right. I did not let him have a computer. He mentioned it once and the tone of my ‘we must look at this as soon as there is a spare moment’ ensured that it was not mentioned again.

    I expect he would have got flashes of inspiration, vision, annoyance, frustration and given promises / undertakings that may have sounded perfect in the moment but as sure as night follows day would have created problems.

    It was my idea that he get a Blackberry but, of course, I put it in such a way that he thinks that it is his idea!

    I await the scavenging of the office emails!


  2. Oh, and the chances of getting a computer working properly within the civil service… Hmmm. Not easy.

  3. Sorry, should have been more precise – it’s not a civil service plot, it’s more of a researchers / assistants plot, i.e. it’s in the parliamentary offices rather than in the civil service.

    It’s Yes Minister style in that these people keep some truths away from politicians.

  4. I’m not sure there’s any kind of Senior Civil Service conspiracy. My guess is, they’ve spent their careers in the Fast Streams, away from the front line – and arguably, the real world.

    Plus, consciously or not, they’re aware of their place in a centuries-old establishment: note all the black-and-white photos on Private Office walls. Such august jobs never needed technology… why should they bring it in now?

    (Good point re MPs’ – and particularly, Ministers’ – lack of family contact, by the way. I’d never thought of it.)

  5. Ha ha. Very true! I think I was being a bit forgiving this morning.

    Plus I think some of these dynamics might be behind the MyParl.eu issue.

    I wonder whether there would be any way to survey the IT use of politicians in comparison to the rest of the population of the same age…? It would be fascinating to see the results of that.

  6. It is much easier to ignore reality when you do not have free access to internet and the information therein – that eases tough decision where more knowledge just means more doubts… 😉 (Some countries in the world have even made this their general philosophy!)

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