2024 UK election: Political parties’ stances on digital governance

Digital freedom
14 mins

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called an early general election. Slated for the beginning of July, this election is about more than who gets to live at Number 10. It’s a pivotal moment that could reshape digital governance in the UK and determine whether Sunak’s Conservatives can stay in power, or if Keir Starmer’s Labour will overturn their 14-year hold.

While the usual suspects like the economy, immigration, and healthcare are still grabbing headlines, we’re focusing on something that affects us all but often flies under the radar: digital privacy and security. For voters in the UK and overseas—who might be tuning in via a UK VPN—getting a clear picture of each party’s stance on these matters is key to making an informed choice.

Understanding the 2024 UK general election

In the U.S., voters cast their ballots for the president, but in the UK, things work a bit differently. Set for Thursday, July 4, 2024, the UK general election is all about choosing MPs—Members of Parliament—to represent local areas in the House of Commons.

The UK is divided into 650 constituencies, each represented by one MP. The leader of the party that wins the most seats in the House of Commons typically becomes the Prime Minister. To form a majority government, a party needs to secure at least 326 seats. If no party achieves a majority, a coalition government may be formed, or the party with the most seats might attempt to govern as a minority.

Main contenders 

The primary contenders for leading the UK government are from the Conservative and Labour parties. Their policies on cybersecurity, data privacy, and digital platform regulation are important because they’ll shape the UK’s digital future.

Conservative Party

Rishi Sunak: The incumbent Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. Sunak seeks to retain the top spot and continue his tenure as the head of the UK government.

Labour Party

Keir Starmer: The leader of the Labour Party is hot on his heels. Starmer aims to lead the UK with a focus on addressing key national issues and restoring public trust in government.

Other notable parties and candidates 

Several smaller parties also play an important role in the election:

  • The Liberal Democrats are stirring things up with their centrist, progressive agenda, pushing for stronger ties with Europe.
  • Reform UK, led by Nigel Farage, is carving out space on the right. 
  • The Scottish National Party (SNP) continues to be a major force in Scotland.
  • The Green Party champions environmental and social justice issues.
  • Plaid Cymru voices Welsh concerns, aiming for greater autonomy.
  • New and smaller parties like the Workers Party of Britain, True and Fair Party, founded by Gina Miller and British Democrats are also making waves trying to contest a small number of constituencies.
  • Independent candidates like Jeremy Corbyn, Andrew Bridgen, Angus MacNeil, and Claudia Webbe are also bringing their unique perspectives outside of the mainstream party lines.

Jump to…
The importance of digital governance
Where does the Conservative Party stand?
Where does the Labour Party stand?
Where do other major UK parties stand?

The importance of digital governance

Digital governance is about using tech smartly to make public institutions more efficient, effective, and transparent. It’s also paramount for encouraging society to have a say in the decisions that affect our lives. Here’s a breakdown of the major elements of digital governance in the UK and why they matter:

Privacy and mass surveillance

Privacy is a cornerstone of freedom, allowing us to control who knows what about us. Yet, the rise of mass surveillance—gathering data often without clear consent—poses a threat. It risks stifling free speech and could even lead to the persecution of vulnerable groups. 

At the heart of this issue in the UK is the Investigatory Powers Act (IPA) 2016, dubbed the “Snooper’s Charter.” This law gives the government sweeping powers to monitor activity, aiming to balance national security with individual privacy rights, though it has sparked ongoing debates about its implications.

Artificial intelligence

AI is a game changer, offering vast potential but also bringing complex challenges. The UK government has developed a framework to regulate AI, focusing on principles like safety, transparency, and fairness. This framework aims to ensure responsible AI usage while mitigating risks such as bias and discrimination. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) oversees AI regulations to align with data protection laws.

Digital inclusion

Ensuring all citizens have access to digital technologies is essential for full participation in society. The UK’s Digital Strategy focuses on boosting digital literacy and infrastructure to ensure everyone can benefit from digitization. This includes initiatives to enhance digital literacy and provide equal access to technology across different regions.​


Cybersecurity is essential for protecting government systems, data, and citizens’ personal information. The UK’s National Cyber Strategy sets out to fortify the nation’s cyber defenses, focusing on creating “secure-by-design” products and bolstering the resilience of essential services. This strategy is vital for safeguarding personal information, government data, and the integrity of the UK’s digital economy.

Where does the Conservative Party stand? 

Privacy and mass surveillance 

Often referred to by its critics as the “Snooper’s Charter,” the IPA stands as a controversial pillar of UK surveillance law. It arms security and intelligence agencies with far-reaching powers, allowing them to scoop up vast amounts of communication data and conduct what’s known as equipment interference. This means they can access and pull data from devices without needing to pinpoint a specific individual first. Additionally, telecom companies are mandated to keep customer data for a year and must hand it over when asked.

The IPA has recently been amended to include tools for gathering internet connection records and bulk personal data sets. These enhancements are meant to help intelligence operations keep pace with rapidly evolving threats, making them quicker and more agile. However, the IPA has faced criticism from privacy advocates who argue that it infringes on civil liberties by enabling extensive surveillance without adequate safeguards.

National security is the first duty of government. I will do everything to ensure we protect our people and our allies – Sunak

Sunak and his Conservative Party are staunch defenders of these powers. They assert that the imperatives of national security necessitate such measures. In their view, while fostering technological innovation and securing communications are important, they should not weaken public safety. According to the government, these robust laws are vital for tackling today’s security challenges, ensuring that intelligence operations are effective and equipped to protect the nation.


The Conservative Party is championing AI as a transformative force for the UK, positioning the country as a leader in setting global standards for AI safety, ethics, and innovation. Under Sunak’s leadership, the UK aims to be the central authority in AI regulation. 

During his speech at the Conservative Party Conference, he highlighted the UK’s ambitions to lead in AI safety and ethics through international cooperation. This includes hosting significant events like last year’s AI Safety Summit and the establishment of the AI Safety Institute. These initiatives promote global dialogue and research on AI’s ethical implementation.

I genuinely believe that technologies like AI will bring a transformation as far-reaching as the industrial revolution, the coming of electricity, or the birth of the internet — Sunak

The government supports AI’s potential while advocating for a cautious regulatory approach. This includes a set of five cross-sectoral principles for regulators to ensure AI development remains safe, ethical, and aligned with public interest.

Additionally, to bolster AI capabilities, the government has committed significant funding: over 1.5 billion GBP (1.92 billion USD) for next-generation supercomputers and 80 million GBP (102 million USD) to establish new AI research hubs across the UK. An additional 10 million GBP (12.8 million USD) has been allocated to enhance regulators’ ability to manage AI-related challenges effectively.

The Conservative Party also plans to leverage AI to improve public services, making them more efficient and accessible. This includes using AI technologies to enhance healthcare delivery, streamline government operations, and improve service delivery to citizens​​.

Digital inclusion 

The Tories have recognized the growing challenge of digital exclusion and are taking steps to address it. They’ve set up a cross-departmental ministerial group to improve how government bodies and the private sector work together. One of their targeted measures includes discussing social tariffs to make internet access more affordable for everyone. However, the real-world impact and adoption of these tariffs have been limited.

In education, the Conservatives are pushing for a more integrated approach with the Advanced British Standard, which combines academic and technical learning. They’re making a case for mandatory education in English and mathematics up to the age of 18, and are vouching for the idea of compulsory digital literacy classes.

However, despite these forward steps, there’s been criticism directed at the Conservatives for not updating their digital inclusion strategy since 2014, leaving many behind. It’s also uncertain if a new strategy will be unveiled anytime soon, though there’s hope it might surface in the Conservative manifesto slated for release later this month.


The Conservative Party’s approach to cybersecurity involves addressing the significant rise in data breaches within the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) to better protect national security. Over the past five years, data breaches have increased by almost 400%, raising concerns about the UK’s ability to withstand cyberattacks.

Facing an alarming 400% rise in data breaches at the Ministry of Defence over the past five years, the Conservative Party is ramping up efforts to fortify the nation’s cybersecurity framework. They’ve introduced guidelines aimed at setting global standards for AI security, emphasizing the necessity for AI systems to be resilient right from their initial design—guarding against data manipulation and theft.

Moreover, the government is proactively encouraging businesses and charitable organizations to adopt stringent cybersecurity measures. The latest Cyber Security Breaches Survey reveals an uptick in organizations seeking external cybersecurity guidance, highlighting a growing awareness of the need for strong digital defenses.

Controversially, the Online Safety Bill, a major element of the Conservative’s digital strategy, has sparked debate. While intended to curb illegal activities on digital platforms, it has faced stiff opposition from tech firms and some party members. The bill’s approach to managing “legal but harmful” content has raised fears about potential over-censorship and privacy intrusions, particularly concerning how it might impact encryption and thereby restrict free speech online.

The Online Safety Bill is another key component of the Conservative Party’s digital strategy. However, it’s sparked debate. While intended to curb illegal activities on digital platforms, it has faced stiff opposition from tech firms and some party members. The bill’s approach to managing “legal but harmful” content has raised fears about potential over-censorship and privacy intrusions, particularly concerning how it might impact encryption and thereby restrict free speech online.

Where does the Labour Party stand?

Privacy and mass surveillance

Labour’s take on surveillance and privacy rights strikes a careful balance. On one hand, they recognize the need for surveillance to keep the country safe. On the other, they’re adamant that this shouldn’t compromise privacy.

This perspective took on new significance following the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013, which exposed the extent of global surveillance by intelligence agencies, including those in the UK. These revelations sparked a nationwide conversation on the need for greater oversight and stricter guidelines.

In tackling these issues, Labour proposes an independent review of surveillance authorities and clearer regulations to ensure responsible use. They also advocate a “double lock” system, which requires both a judge and a government minister to approve surveillance warrants. This system is designed to boost oversight and ensure that surveillance practices are not only legal but also fair, respecting both security and privacy.

National security is the most important issue of our time. The security and defense of our nation is personal to my family – Starmer


Under Starmer, Labour aims to implement more rigorous AI regulations, focusing on safety, security, and fairness. This approach marks a departure from the Conservatives’ emphasis on innovation, aiming instead to address potential risks like misinformation and job displacement.

Labour’s strategy, led by Shadow Digital Secretary Lucy Powell, includes supporting AI deployment in both public and private sectors and emphasizes transparency in how the government uses AI. The strategy also includes initiatives to boost productivity and foster innovation, particularly through supporting small businesses in harnessing AI and advocating for significant investments in AI research and development.

Labour is also focused on the social impact of AI, planning to legislate protections for workers against tech disruptions and offering training programs to enhance job competitiveness. Additionally, the party is considering the establishment of a Regulatory Innovation Office and potentially a National AI Laboratory to oversee AI development, ensuring it adheres to ethical standards and promotes public safety.

We are nowhere near where we need to be on the question of [AI] regulation. It must work for working people – Starmer

Digital inclusion 

Labour has long advocated closing the digital divide, with past pledges like “broadband for all” aimed at universal internet access. This initiative was created during the pandemic in a bid to support remote learning and other key online activities. Currently, Labour is focused on enhancing educational access by providing necessary digital tools to students. They’re proposing to remove data charges for educational websites, supply technical support to schools, and ensure that students have ample interaction with teachers to boost digital learning.


On the cybersecurity front, Labour advocates for robust national and international measures to strengthen digital resilience. They’re looking to improve cooperation with the European Union through a defense and security pact, addressing both logistics and cybersecurity challenges. 

Domestically, the party aims to shield citizens from digital threats and tackle algorithmic discrimination in employment. Labour also supports the controversial Online Safety Bill they are advocating for tougher measures, including potential criminal liability for social media executives who fail to protect users from harmful content. However, like the Tories, Labour have also faced scrutiny for not fully addressing the bill’s impact on end-to-end encryption. 

Where do other major UK parties and candidates stand?

This section looks at the digital governance policies of the major UK parties that have made their positions clear. Notably, some parties like Reform UK have not outlined detailed digital governance policies, so they aren’t included here.

Liberal Democrats

In their digital governance policies, the Liberal Democrats put a strong focus on transparency, privacy, and ethical technology use. Their digital governance platform includes advocating for a code of ethics that ensures personal data and AI use is unbiased and privacy-respecting. They propose setting up a searchable online database for political ads to boost transparency in digital campaigning. Additionally, the party supports forming a citizens’ assembly to deliberate on how algorithms influence political decisions. To address the digital divide, they prioritize extending hyper-fast, fiber-optic broadband throughout the UK, with special attention to rural areas.


While Scotland is part of the UK, the SNP seeks greater autonomy for Scotland and focuses on policies specifically benefiting Scotland. Their AI strategy emphasizes the development of trustworthy and inclusive AI, spearheaded by the Scottish AI Alliance. Additionally, the SNP is committed to improving digital infrastructure and accessibility, with initiatives aimed at bridging the digital divide and ensuring all citizens have access to high-speed broadband and digital services.

Green Party 

The Green Party prioritizes privacy, transparency, and equitable access to technology in its approach to digital governance. Firmly opposing mass surveillance, the party incorporates technology concerns within its broader environmental and social agendas. They advocate for the sustainable development of technology that aligns with environmental goals, emphasizing that technological progress should not compromise ecological or social well-being.

Jeremy Corbyn

As an independent candidate, Jeremy Corbyn maintains his commitment to digital governance principles established during his time as Labour leader. He’s advocating for a “Digital Bill of Rights” to safeguard privacy and promote the use of open-source software in government, enhancing both transparency and security. Firmly opposing mass surveillance, Corbyn advocates for measures that protect citizens from invasive monitoring, consistently aligning with broader human rights. His approach to AI and digital technology emphasizes ethical standards and public ownership, advocating for accessibility and equity in digital resources to ensure they serve the public good, not just private profits.

Read more: Where do 2024 U.S. presidential candidates stand on privacy, surveillance, and AI?

What do you think of each party’s stance? Let us know in the comments below. 

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article has been compiled through research from a wide variety of reputable sources. ExpressVPN is not affiliated or associated with any of the political parties mentioned above or in these sources. We aim to present this information impartially and solely for informative purposes. We are committed to providing accurate and balanced content to our readers, without any intention of influencing or swaying public opinion or political stances.

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