The sadness of Alan Johnson’s resignation

As my experience with Paddy Ashdown taught me, politics needs people with messy lives.

Sometimes I wish we were French. I wish that we were not raised on the false morality of Carry On Camping. Instead, I wish we lived in a country where someone deeply human like Alan Johnson didn't feel he had to resign because of sex. Where William Hague doesn't have to write about infertility and where marriage remains a strictly private matter between two individuals.

The first really difficult media issue I ever dealt with was when Paddy Ashdown spoke publicly about his extramarital affair in 1992. At the time, as a naive press officer, I was genuinely surprised when journalists asked me whether or not he was going to resign. It just hadn't occurred to me that he needed to. For me, his politics had not changed, his leadership had not changed.

All the senior men in the party hid, quite literally, in their offices. We were getting slaughtered on air with no one to talk for the party. I sent a grovelling message to the elderly Baroness Nancy Seear, Economist, Titan, Good Egg, who stormed into the press office and announced loudly, in her best Margaret Rutherford tones: "My dear, I have a past and I don't know many people who don't. Now, which studio do you want me to go into first?"

No doubt the Sunday papers will be full to the brim with the kind of stuff that belongs in Coronation Street and EastEnders, rather than parliament. But there will be few revelations that would convince me that Johnson had to go.

If, on the other hand, this was the moment, he felt, to get away from the poison whispering campaign regarding his competence on the economy from his own side, well, that I would understand.

I think people have messy lives; many journalists, many politicians and many voters. Politics needs people with messy lives, politics needs people like Nancy Seear and Alan Johnson. No one should have to resign because of that.

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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