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MPs battle over blockchain

Conservative MP Eddie Hughes has just written a 36-page white paper extolling the benefits of blockchain for Britain, which was published yesterday Unlocking Blockchain: Embracing new technologies to drive efficiency and empower the citizen, by FREER. FREER is a major new initiative from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA, a UK think-tank dating back to 1955), and promoting a freer economy and a freer society.

Eddie makes a series of strong proposals in this paper, including:

  • the establishment of a UK-based international blockchain competition,
  • a public-facing Chief Blockchain Officer as part of UK Government; and
  • a long-term aim for government departments to make a 1 per cent efficiency saving by embracing blockchain and other associated innovative technologies.

In fact, he’s an all-round enthusiast, as evidenced by this opening statement:

Blockchain and associated technologies offer an unrivalled opportunity to begin to review and redesign the UK’s data systems. Whitehall and public services could be fundamentally rewired to empower citizens and better serve their needs. We should encourage digital entrepreneurship. We must tackle the trust deficit. By introducing a departmental target for blockchain efficiency savings, we can begin to generate a digital dividend to pass on to tax payers or to reinvest. And we can use a mix of classical liberal values and new technologies to strengthen individual freedom and improve the life chances of all. We must harness the energy of entrepreneurial spirit created by these new world-changing technologies to ensure the future is freer. By engaging now, and recognising blockchain’s potential, we can ensure it is used by the state to empower individuals, and to afford us real control over our own data.

Oh yes, this is good. We are all members of the Blockchurch.

Now I love this sort of enthusiasm, but some people do not. For example, those erudite people at the good old Financial Timeswho decided to give him a call:

Mr Hughes was only voted into parliament for the first time last June, but he previously worked in the construction and housing sectors. So we called him up. Did he have a secret side-project in coding or cryptography? Not so much:

“I’m just a Brummie bloke who kept hearing about blockchain, read a bit about it, and thought: this is interesting stuff. So I came up with this idea: blockchain for Bloxwich.”

(Bloxwich is one of the two major towns in Mr Hughes’s constituency, which also happens to be one of the poorest Conservative areas in the country. Was there a reason for Bloxwich being a particular target, we asked? Nope, it’s just that “Blockchain for Walsall North wouldn’t have the same ring to it.” )

Mr Hughes is a refreshingly candid and straight-talking MP. He admitted to not having technological expertise, acknowledged that blockchain might be all just a lot of hype, and even said it was possible he hadn’t really understood it:

“Maybe in some ways I have not completely understood what the application could be, but the idea that transactions are more secure, auditable and unchangeable could have applications for my constituents.”

But if he’s not that sure about it, it doesn’t seem like a great idea that he’s just written a 36-page paper on the subject and has written think-pieces to be published today by the Telegraph and Huffington Post. Confusion breeds confusion, and there’s plenty of that already in this space.

It’s also interesting that Eddie Hughes is not part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Blockchain (APPG Blockchain), which was establised by the Right Honourable Grant Schapps MP and Damien Moore MP in January 2018. APPG Blockchain has the stated purpose “to ensure that industry and society benefit from the full potential of blockchain and other distributed ledger technologies (DLT) making the UK a leader in Blockchain/DLT’s innovation and implementation.”

It has been hearing evidence from a wide range of people, including yours truly, to define and identify the full ways to use blockchain and DLT for the benefit of Britain. Maybe Eddie Hughes should consider co-ordinating his views with the people who are trying to completely understand what the applications could be?

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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