Cameron, Next and “padded bras”

Will the Conservative leader condemn the Tory party donor Simon Wolfson?

David Cameron yesterday was quick to condemn the high-street chain Primark as "disgraceful" for selling swimsuits with padded bras for seven- and eight-year-olds -- or "paedo bikinis", in the typically inimitable words of the Sun, which broke the story.

With the Tory manifesto highlighting the "sexualisation" and "commercialisation" of young children as a campaign issue, it's not surprising that the Tory leader was so "delighted" to see Primark apologise, and immediately withdraw the offensive clothing range, only days after his party's manifesto launch.

However, today's Sun moves the story on, reporting that other leading high-street clothing stores, including Next, Tammy and Peacocks, have been selling similar items. Next, says the Sun, sells "padded bras in Size 28AA in their girls' sections online".

So, will Cameron also be condemning Next as "disgraceful"? Will he be calling for a boycott of Next by parents of young girls? Or reminding Next of its responsibilities, as he did with Primark?

I doubt it. Next's chief executive is Simon Wolfson, one of David Cameron's most vociferous supporters in the business world, having donated to Cameron's campaign in the 2005 leadership election and co-chaired the party's Economic Competitiveness policy review.

He also happened to co-ordinate the all-important letter from business leaders backing the Tories' National Insurance policy last week. Oh, and his dad, Lord Wolfson, is a former Thatcher lackey.

So, expect radio silence from Cameron on Wolfson. Primark, BAD BAD BAD. Next, perhaps not so bad.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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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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