Photo by Steven McDowell/Science Photo Library
Artillery Row

In China’s pocket

Tech UK is taking money from CCP-influenced tech giants to lobby UK politicians

Huawei is going old school in its attempt to get back into the country’s good books. The parties are gearing up for their traditional bombast, booze and boondoggles in various cities around the nation. For the first time in two years, face to face with humans or at least what passes for humanity. Those with political drive and lack of ordinary social skills are spending good money and part of their annual leave rubbing shoulders with like-minded souls in badly decorated and ill-lit rooms. It’s conference time, the Smithfield of the terminally gauche and friend-free. It is also the most public and explicit venue for crass schmoozing and high profile lobbying, with prosecco and largesse splashing around like so much Brut in hairy 70s armpits. 

The way to a conference audience is through its liver

As is always the case, what happens on the conference floor is of far less importance than that which happens elsewhere. On the fringe, in the bars. Companies and interest groups have for years competed to host the most senior politicians and get the biggest audiences so much, so reasonable. The way to a conference audience is through its liver (though some nice snacks always go down well, too) but mostly it is the copious quantities of free booze that make the best events.

I have seen knots of delegates exchange advice and make plans about which fringe events to attend, and this is rarely driven by interest in the topic. “OK, we’ll convene at the event organised by the Institute of Glucose Trading (Beet beats Cane) because it’s being sponsored by Tate and Lyle they always throw a great bash, and it’s outside the security zone.”

Every year this happens, and every year some enterprising hack will go through the conference program and point out who is spending what on who and why.

So let me be the first. Tech UK, the trade association that supports the UK tech industry (formerly and more prosaically named Intellect) is hosting a number of events for the party conferences that is, for the Labour Party and the Tories. They have got some big hitters: Rishi Sunak is speaking at a closed door event and Chi Onwurah the Shadow Business Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) and Sir Ed Davey. 

But the panel meetings are over-crowded the go-to events are the receptions, and this is where Huawei is spending its largesse.

Don’t get me wrong: they are a legitimate company and trade organisation, who wish to impact UK public policy. They have every right to spend their money in any way they wish (save on anything nefarious or spooky). Presumably, as its standard bearer, Tech UK will focus on promoting the UK tech industry which, if we look at various surveys and studies, is pretty good in itself.

The UK in 2020 was the third largest destination for Venture Capital investment in tech

In the Tech Nation Report of this year, Boris was characteristically bullish, and incomprehensible: “Unicorns now roam the streets of cities across England, Scotland and Wales. This isn’t just great news for the entrepreneurs and thinkers and do-ers who make the British tech industry what it is. As the sector grows and grows it contributes more and more to our economy, a silicon supercharge that benefits us all.” What he was talking about, if it is possible to understand his 5th form prodigy prose, is that the UK in 2020 was the third largest destination for Venture Capital investment in tech after the US and China with £14.9bn, beating Germany and France combined who managed £12.2bn over the same time.

UK firms are innovation magicians. The President of the European Patent Office António Campinos said, despite a slight dip in applications in 2020, “The UK’s excellence in computer and telecoms tech, as well as software innovation, is also globally recognised and activity levels over the past year have been on a par with those we have seen in other global innovation centres.” 

So why is Tech UK using its access to Ministers and Shadow Ministers to forward the interests of foreign companies?

One event is sponsored by Nvidia: a US firm, sensibly tax domiciled in Delaware, whilst doing its work at the heart of Silicon Valley. Nvidia, famous for AI gambling platforms, has an interest in the UK; it is, Laocoön-like, currently dealing with the regulatory snakes that are complicating its purchase of ARM, the preeminent British semiconductor firm, currently owned by Softbank. But the pissups are the possession of Huawei. Only this week it was revealed that a longstanding, supposedly independent Brussels based news service, EUReporter (the first publication to publish my own witterings, it must be admitted) has been largely in the pocket of the Chinese giant. 

Despite Whitehall bureaucratic filibusters, public opinion meant that the UK government finally cut the knot when it came to the CCP-influenced tech giants’ involvement in the UK’s 5G network. Yet the organisation that is supposed to support British Tech is taking their money to lobby UK politicians. 

Tech UK look to be beholden to the Chinese

Looking at their website, perhaps things become clear. Tech UK is well connected, very well connected. According to Companies House, it has a massive 36 officers, including representatives of Intel, BAE Systems, IBM, SAP, MIcrosoft, TikTok, Cisco, Oracle, Hewlett Packard and the rest. One director, and the only one with a visual presence on the website, is Kulveer Ranger. Ranger, the man who lays claim to the Oyster card, a Boris ally and a Tatler Tory. Look into their accounts and find a turnover of over 6m in 2020 but a profit of under 70,000. Tech UK is the industry body, but they look to be beholden to the Chinese.

In recent months we have seen the attempted capture of tech research and the higher education establishment, so exquisitely poignarded by the China Research Group. We have seen the alliance of horror with the Taliban, we see bullying of Taiwan, we see the Lithuanian state urging its citizens to throw away their Chinese made phones after discovering they can be remotely censored. And yet this body, well connected, but on its uppers, is happy to take its paymaster fifth column into the heart of Britain’s political establishment.

If a body is there to promote British industrial and research interests, while getting the powers-that-be hammered in the meantime, wouldn’t it be nice if it actually did so?

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