John Major was encouraged to embrace internet

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UK prime minister Major was urged to connect a hesitant Downing Street to the internet 25 years ago to keep up with the “modern way with communications” being embraced by Bill Clinton’s White House and, aides feared, opposition leader Tony Blair.

“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,” wrote Damian Green, former cabinet minister and then on the Downing Street policy unit, in a memo headed “” in August 1994.

Mr Green and Alex Allan, Mr Major’s principal private secretary, were particularly concerned by how the Clinton administration was racing ahead on adoption of the INTERNET, as it was habitually called in the memos released on Friday by the UK National Archives under the 25-year rule.

“Specifically, connecting Number 10 to the internet would keep up with the White House, which has made a big thing of the modern way the Clinton/Gore administration deals with communications,” Mr Green wrote.

In a memo a month later, Mr Allan, now Sir Alex, said that he had been “playing with” his own personal internet connection and was attaching a list of material that the White House had posted on its “FTP link”, an early means of posting files on the internet.

“There is a whole lot more of non-White House stuff too!” he wrote excitedly, adding: “If anyone here . . . want[s] to get copies of any White House announcements, etc, it looks as if this may be quite a quick way of getting them.”

Mr Green, whose own political career was cut short last year by a scandal over internet pornography found on his office computer, declared: “Internet users will be a growing group of opinion-formers. I can just imagine [the Labour leader] Tony Blair showing he belongs to a new generation by signing up.”

In fact, Mr Blair had no computer on his desk at No 10 when he became prime minister and never sent a single email during his time in office.Despite his enthusiasm, Mr Allan was sceptical that the new technology would catch on as a way to broadcast the government’s message. In another memo from September 1994, he conceded that the internet might allow Downing Street to email press releases and copies of speeches to interested parties.But he went on: “We could not (I think) provide a way for a casual Internet user to access us and get this sort of information without emailing a specific request.”

He accepted that there was a case for a public email address for the public to contact the prime minister but was 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

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