Ed Miliband was “blocked” from writing the manifesto he wanted to

Gordon Brown and an anti-debate culture in cabinet made former climate change secretary’s job harder

In March this year, I wrote a report on what I termed then "Next Labour", which included a description of a meeting held at Ed Miliband's house to discuss the manifesto:

It was, in many ways, a classic New Labour gathering: a minimalist north London drawing room, freshly squeezed orange juice and mineral water being served, fruit and HobNobs being eaten, and top of the agenda for a five-hour Sunday strategy meeting were the key manifesto messages for the election. Ideas were distributed, and those attending were expected to turn up with notes, not just on party policy but, inevitably, on the Conservatives as well.

There was one important difference between this and any equivalent meeting in election campaigns gone by: it was attended, indeed run, by a new generation of Labour power brokers. This is a generation looking to forge a new agenda for the new decade, not one wishing to frame the coming election as a bid for a "fourth term".

Hosting the meeting on Sunday 7 March was Ed Miliband, Labour's manifesto co-ordinator, whom many see as a future leader. Sitting beside him was his close friend Douglas Alexander, election campaign co-ordinator. In addition, there were advisers from their offices and the No 10 Policy Unit.

For today's magazine, I have written a piece on the Miliband brothers' race for the leadership, during which it appears that David is defending the manifesto more than Ed, its author:

David Miliband was keen to back the 2010 Labour manifesto in its entirety, while Ed Miliband -- the author of that manifesto -- distanced himself from it. "I'm not the kind of person who's going to stand on a manifesto in May and then in June tell you: 'By the way, I'm going to tippex out bits of it,' " David Miliband said. "How can you possibly say you're going to stand on every aspect of our manifesto?" asked Ed in reply. "We lost the election."

This was confusing to some at the time. But now, discussing this with a source who knows Ed, an interesting mini-revelation comes to light. The source says that Ed had much bigger plans for the manifesto, "and a very clear and thought-through idea of what it should be", back at the time of what could be called the HobNob meeting.

But, the source -- who is not anti-Gordon Brown -- says that the former climate change secretary was "blocked" by the then prime minister and what he called a "culture" against ideas and debate within the cabinet.

"Ed's radical ideas were partly blocked by a timid Gordon, and partly by secretaries of state. The manifesto would have been very different -- and more along the lines of Ed's campaign now [including on the 50p tax], if Ed had had free rein."

Disclaimer: this assertion has come not from anyone inside the Ed Miliband leadership camp, but a neutral observer.

 

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
Getty Images.
Show Hide image

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.

0800 7318496