John Major was urged to embrace internet to keep up with US

UK government adviser wrote internet users will be ‘growing group of opinion-formers’

John Major was urged to catch up with the White House and stay ahead of young Labour leader Tony Blair

John Major was urged to catch up with the White House and stay ahead of young Labour leader Tony Blair

 

John Major’s government was urged to embrace the internet in 1994 to catch up with the White House and stay ahead of young Labour leader Tony Blair, according to newly released official documents.

Former first secretary of state Damian Green, then in the government’s policy unit, wrote that “Internet users will be a growing group of opinion-formers” as he suggested getting online to keep up to date.

In a letter to Mr Major’s private secretary, Alex Allan, on August 22 1994, he said: “Various MPs who are computer-literate have made the point to me that it would be advantageous for Number 10 to be seen to be up with developments in this area.

“Specifically, connecting No 10 with the internet would keep us up with the White House, which has made a big thing of the modern way the Clinton/Gore administration deals with communications.

“Internet users will be a growing group of opinion-formers, and I can just imagine Tony Blair showing how he belongs to a new generation by signing up.”

Mr Blair had been elected Labour leader the previous month, following the sudden death of John Smith in May.

But the concerns about him were unfounded, as Mr Blair was notoriously known as a technophobe who was once described by former spokesman Alastair Campbell as a “pen and paper man”.

Mr Allan responded to the inquiry by agreeing that getting online would show “that Number 10 is keeping up with technological trends”.

Letter released by the National Archives from Damian Green Photograph: Thomas Hornall/PA Wire
Letter released by the National Archives from Damian Green Photograph: Thomas Hornall/PA Wire

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However, he was concerned about advertising for the public to send emails to the PM, which the White House was doing at the time.

Mr Allan said: “I am sure we should offer this in time, but I am cautious about rushing into it.

“I do not believe we would get a huge volume of email in the long run, but we could expect an initial flood as people around the world tried it out for fun.”

Mr Green lost his cabinet position in December 2017 after he admitted lying over pornography on his office computer.

Progress in communications appears to have been sluggish in the administration, with the files also showing that by late 1992 Number 10 did not even have a direct fax machine line.

On November 19 Mr Allan wrote a memo asking about the installation of a “direct fax line” into Downing Street.

He wrote: “I have to say that I do think a direct fax line would be sensible.

“We must be the only office in the public or private sector who does not have one, so I do not believe that the security problems of people misdirecting faxes would be significantly increased.” – PA