Cameron plans his own back-room deal with the DUP

But Ken Clarke warns: “It’s not the way to run a modern sophisticated society.”

David Cameron is fond of denouncing the "secret back-room deals" that he claims electoral reform would encourage. But, if we're to believe today's Telegraph, a back-room deal with the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party is exactly what Cameron is planning in the event of a hung parliament.

The Conservatives have already established a formal alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party, but after a recent opinion poll in the Belfast Telegraph suggested that the party will struggle to win more than a couple of seats (it has no MPs at present) the Tories have been forced to look elsewhere.

The DUP, currently the fourth largest party in the Commons, could be expected to deliver an extra nine or ten seats for Cameron. But there will be a price and the DUP is demanding that, at the very least, the Tories cancel £200m worth of cuts to Northern Ireland's public sector.

One Tory who, with typical frankness, has already expressed his dismay at the possibility of such a back-room deal is Ken Clarke. In an interview with politics.co.uk he said: "What we're plainly headed for would be a great deal of squabbling, with small parties given disproportionate influence, trying to manoeuvre advantages for themselves before they allow a Conservative government to get on with the job."

He added:

If I have to sit and talk to three or four other groups . . . in the end you can always do a deal with an Ulsterman, but it's not the way to run a modern sophisticated society [our emphasis].

That Cameron may finally be reduced to doing just that again exposes the falseness of the Tory leader's claim that the first-past-the-post system guarantees "strong government".

But more seriously, if Cameron gets into bed with the DUP as well as the Ulster Unionists, how can he ever hope to act as an honest broker in Northern Ireland?

 

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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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