Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers

1. The change we need now is a rougher, more radical Barack Obama (Guardian)

Jonathan Freedland says it would be disastrous for Obama to conclude he must rush to the centre to win back independent voters. Instead, he needs to make himself the leader of a radical movement again.

2. Irrespective of Chilcot, Blair will always remain a pariah (Independent)

Matthew Norman predicts that Tony Blair's appearance at the Chilcot inquiry will change little. He can never escape the verdict of the court of public opinion.

3. How political ideology found a new world (Financial Times)

Ideologies now play a larger role in US politics than in Europe, says John Kay. European parties seek office by emphasising their competence rather than their beliefs. By contrast, US politics is more aggressively, even destructively, partisan.

4. This recession was no accident, and we know who's to blame (Daily Telegraph)

Simon Heffer argues that the government cannot evade responsibility for the recession; it was the Treasury that gave banks access to huge amounts of cheap money. Worse, the Tories followed Labour and took growth for granted.

5. This time let's not waste growth (Independent)

Hamish McRae says that as growth returns we need to consider how to use it more wisely. Even during the boom, it was not clear that added wealth was making us happier.

6. Tories must talk about the next generation (Times)

Daniel Finkelstein discusses David Willetts's new book, The Pinch, and says it provides the Tories with something they have been missing -- a Conservative explanation of fairness.

7. France's attack on the veil is a huge blunder (Guardian)

Raphaël Liogier argues that France's attempt to ban the niqab and the burqa is a huge blunder. Women who wear the full veil are not against modernity.

8. Credit rating (Times)

A leader says that the memory of the recession is too recent for the government to seek electoral reward. No credible politician can claim that the downswing is an accident but the upswing is all his doing.

9. Volcker's axe is not enough to cut banks to size (Financial Times)

Martin Wolf argues that Paul Volcker's plan to tame the US financial sector is, in important respects, unworkable, undesirable and irrelevant to the task at hand.

10. Yemen's greatest enemy is sitting across its border (Independent)

Victoria Clark says that Yemen dreads becoming dependent on aid from Saudi Arabia.

 

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It's not WhatsApp that was at fault in the Westminster attacks. It's our prisons

Britain's criminal justice system neither deterred nor rehabilitated Khalid Masood, and may even have facilitated his radicalisation. 

The dust has settled, the evidence has been collected and the government has decided who is to blame for the attack on Westminster. That’s right, its WhatsApp and their end-to-end encryption of messages. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, wants tech companies to install a backdoor into messages like these that the government can then access.

There are a couple of problems here, not least that Adrian Russell aka Khalid Masood was known to the security services but considered to be low-risk. Even if the government had had the ability to gain entry to his WhatsApp, they wouldn’t have used it. Then there’s the fact that end-to-end encryption doesn’t just protect criminals and terrorists – it protects users from criminals and terrorists. Any backdoor will be vulnerable to attack, not only from our own government and foreign powers, but by non-state actors including fraudsters, and other terrorists.

(I’m parking, also, the question of whether these are powers that should be handed to any government in perpetuity, particularly one in a country like Britain’s, where near-unchecked power is handed to the executive as long as it has a parliamentary majority.)

But the biggest problem is that there is an obvious area where government policy failed in the case of Masood: Britain’s prisons system.

Masood acted alone though it’s not yet clear if he was merely inspired by international jihadism – that is, he read news reports, watched their videos on social media and came up with the plan himself – or he was “enabled” – that is, he sought out and received help on how to plan his attack from the self-styled Islamic State.

But what we know for certain is that he was, as is a recurring feature of the “radicalisation journey”, in possession of a string of minor convictions from 1982 to 2002 and that he served jail time. As the point of having prisons is surely to deter both would-be offenders and rehabilitate its current occupants so they don’t offend again, Masood’s act of terror is an open-and-shut case of failure in the prison system. Not only he did prison fail to prevent him committing further crimes, he went on to commit one very major crime.  That he appears to have been radicalised in prison only compounds the failure.

The sad thing is that not so very long ago a Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice was thinking seriously about prison and re-offending. While there was room to critique some of Michael Gove’s solutions to that problem, they were all a hell of a lot better than “let’s ban WhatsApp”. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.