Not even Paine could make Cameron a progressive

David Marquand is wrong to suggest that reading Thomas Paine could transform the Tory leader into a

I blogged last week about Thomas Paine's influence on Barack Obama, noting that the man once dismissed by Theodore Roosevelt as a "filthy little atheist" had been quoted several times by the US president.

In today's Guardian, David Marquand appears to suggest that Paine's revolutionary works could inspire David Cameron to undertake a thorough overhaul of Britain's archaic constitution.

Would a close reading of Common Sense or Rights of Man motivate the Tory leader to become a "true progressive" as Marquand hopes?

Cameron has previously cited Tony Benn's Arguments for Democracy as one of the books that triggered his interest in politics, so there's no reason why Paine couldn't make it on to his next summer reading list.

But less promisingly, Benn's text, which advances a number of Paine-type arguments for the abolition of the monarchy and hereditary peers as well as the disestablishment of the Church of England, seems to have had remarkably little influence on Cameron's politics.

I'm rather less optimistic than Marquand that Paine -- who famously declared that hereditary rule was "as absurd as a hereditary mathematician, or a hereditary wise man" -- could succeed where Benn failed.

Cameron has repeatedly made it clear that the removal of the remaining hereditary peers from the House of Lords is very much a second-order issue for his party.

As for Marquand's suggestion that Cameron could capture the "spirit of Milton and Paine", is he really suggesting that the Tory leader could take up the "good old cause"?

At a time when the Conservative Party has aligned itself with some of the most reactionary forces in Europe and Cameron has adopted the arguments of deficit hysterics, Marquand's contribution is sadly misguided.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

As crime moves online, the police need the investment in technology to follow

Technology offers solutions, not just threats.

It’s perhaps inevitable that as the world becomes more digital, so does crime. This week Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, recognised that online crime is as serious as face-to-face crime. “Hate is hate,” Saunders wrote referring to internet abuse, and the police should protect people from it wherever they are. This will add demand to under-pressure police forces. And it is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Forty-seven per cent of crime involves an online element. Police recorded 30,000 instances of online stalking and harassment last year. People are 20 times more likely to be a victim of fraud than robbery, costing businesses an estimated £144bn a year. On a conservative estimate, 2,500 UK citizens use the anonymous dark web browser, Tor, for illegal purposes such as drug dealing, revenge porn and child sexual exploitation.

The police need new technology to meet demand, a Reform report published today finds. Some progress has been made in recent years. West Midlands Police uses an online portal for people to report incidents. Durham uses evidence-gathering software to collect social media information on suspects, and then instantly compile a report that can be shared with courts. Police have benefited from smartphones to share information, and body-worn cameras, which have reduced complaints against police by 93 per cent.

Yet, Theresa May’s 2016 remarks that police use “technology that lags woefully behind what they use as consumers” still stand. Officers interviewed for Reform’s research implored: “Give us the tools to do our job”.

Online evidence portals should be upgraded to accept CCTV footage. Apps should be developed to allow officers to learn about new digital threats, following the US army’s library of knowledge-sharing apps. Augmented-reality glasses are being used in the Netherlands to help officers identify evidence at digital crime scenes. Officers would save a trip back to the station if they could collect fingerprints on smartphones and statements on body-worn cameras.

New technology requires investment, but forces are reducing the resources put into IT as reserves have dried up. Durham plans to cut spend by 60 per cent between 2015-16 and 2019-20. The government should help fund equipment which can meet demand and return future productivity savings. If the Home Office invested the same as the Department of Health, another department pushing “transformative” technology, it would invest an extra £450m a year. This funding should come from administrative savings delivered through accelerating the Government’s automation agenda, which the think tank Reform has previously calculated would save Whitehall £2.6bn a year.

As crime moves online, police must follow. Saunders is right to point to the importance of meeting it. But technology offers solutions, not just threats. Installing the next generation of equipment will give police the tools to do their jobs, addressing online hate and more. 

Alexander Hitchcock is a senior researcher at reform