TV can still influence Labour’s leadership vote

Tonight’s Channel 4 News hustings will be no holds barred.

TV debates were the defining element of the last election. Cleggmania was born after millions tuned in to the first leaders' debate and were introduced to a politician capable of using voters' first names and looking down the barrel of the camera during his closing statement. Being "televisual" matters more for politicians than ever before.

Tonight is the second televised hustings of the Labour leadership contest on Channel 4 News. It follows the disappointing Newsnight hustings in June, when Jeremy Paxman stole the show. Paxo dominated proceedings and conducted a speed-dating version of his confrontational interview style, taking few questions from the audience of former Labour voters that the production team had assembled in the studio.

Channel 4 is not going to have a studio audience, so a lot rests tonight on how Jon Snow chairs the debate. Ed Balls was said to have been frustrated by Paxman's inability to stop the Miliband brothers jumping in and talking over each other. The formal Labour hustings have used strict rules of engagement, set by the party's National Executive Committee, to stop that happening. Tonight, there will be no holds barred and Snow will be the only referee.

Channel 4's timing is perfect. Newsnight was too early in the contest and BBC Question Time -- on Thursday 16 September -- will probably be too late to affect the outcome. On Sunday, Sky News will broadcast from Ed Balls's home town of Norwich (where Labour lost both parliamentary seats) and has the chance to involve swing voters with the kind of audience participation that has so far been absent from any British political TV debate.

Very early in the Labour leadership election, Newsnight ran a mixed focus group of voters who unanimously backed David Miliband. But we don't know if that was based on their familiarity with him, up against the unelectables and the unknowns. It would be interesting for Newsnight to get the same panel back together after four months and see if they've changed their minds.

When it comes to winning over party members, the veiled endorsements from Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson could not have come at a worse time for David Miliband. His campaign team will have been delighted to have seen today's Mirror front page but dismayed by the "soap opera" and "back to the future" soundbites that are undoing all the positioning of his "post-New Labour" Keir Hardie Memorial Lecture.

Since last Wednesday's article in the Times, David Miliband has lost his voice. Others have spoken for him. The Times itself gave so much top spin to its splash ("Gloves off as Miliband rounds on his brother") that the rest of the week was dominated by others responding to the drawing of first blood.

Tonight is his chance to turn the tide once more because Snow is likely to focus more airtime on him, as the front-runner, and on his brother. The danger for David is that Ed Balls, Diane Abbott and Andy Burnham are increasingly relying on attacking him to gain their own definition, leaving his brother to rise above the fray.

TV debates could still make a difference to this contest, as clips from tonight's Channel 4 News and Sunday's Sky News debates can be embedded in the final round of all-member emails that the candidates send to get out their vote. Having completed more than 50 hustings events, the candidates are familiar with the stock of soundbites that their opponents have drawn on. Tonight, a original killer line could make all the difference.

Richard Darlington is head of the Open Left project at Demos.

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

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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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