The loss of a good man

When the perks are so attractive, it's no wonder our public servants are tempted by retirement

A politician's life is nothing if not unpredictable; you plan a day and then the phone rings and some "crisis" or media raucousness has to be dealt with.

So it was the other day when as leader of the Conservative Group on the London Fire Authority I received an urgent phone call from our Commissioner for London (until four years ago the holder of the post was known as the Chief Fire Officer but members of the Fire Authority were not going to allow Livingstone's former transport commissioner Bob Kiley to take precedence) telling me he had accepted the post of Chief Fire Advisor to the government and the minister was going to announce it that afternoon.

Well, Sir Ken Knight is indeed the most professional fire officer of his generation in an occupation desperately lacking any men (and they are all men) who know which knife and fork to use at the Mansion House, but I expressed surprise that he was taking a job of advising a minister (Angela Smith) held in universal contempt in the fire world, not least because the only subject she has taken an interest in is the colour of a suggested new national fire uniform.

Furthermore, the traditional post of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Fire Services (and with it the honour of laying the wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday) had been abolished following the forced retirement of the last incumbent, the bumbling Sir Graham Meldrum, much, rumour has it, to the personal displeasure of Her Majesty herself, who does not like elected politicians interfering with posts appointed by Royal Warrant.

Sir Ken, who led London's response to the 7 July Bombings, is not daft. He is following an increasingly well worn path in the public sector in that he will officially retire from the Fire Brigade, take his six-figure lump sum payoff from the pension scheme, his not insignificant annual pension (all of which he is perfectly entitled to) and a £160,000 salary (plus bonus, apparently).

The pioneers in this field were Ian Johnstone, chief constable of the British Transport Police, and his deputy, Andy Trotter, who take substantial Met pensions and no doubt well earned salaries.

But for men who obviously do not deserve their salaries we need look no further than the designers of the new Olympic logo.

For £400,000 (that is even more than Sir Ian Blair earns as Met Commissioner), we have something that has been universally derided and even had Ken Livingstone spitting feathers with his office apparently in despair with Seb Coe for allowing another Olympics PR disaster and the opportunity for the likes of me to pop up on endless news outlets and have an "easy hit" (Memo to self: remember to decline the rude and cantankerous Nicky Campbell on Radio Five Live and stick to those nice presenters on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire who are just grateful for any notable guest).

Oh well, perhaps we should ask the Olympic logo designers to organise the new Fire Brigade national uniform!

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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