One gaffe too many for Warsi?

Tory chairman under pressure after lashing out at party’s right wing.

After a bad night for the Conservatives, the Tory chairman, Sayeeda Warsi, has further antagonised party activists with her comments this morning. In an interview on the Today programme, she said:

As far as the right wing of our party are concerned, I would say this to them: We had many, many MPs turning up. We had some who made much comment about the fact that we weren't fighting a strong enough campaign but, interestingly, didn't turn up to campaign. I would say to those who are critical, unless you were here, unless you were out delivering and unless you were out knocking on doors, you really don't have a right to complain about us not being vigorous enough.

It was always going to be difficult for Warsi to put a positive gloss on the result. If she concedes that the party ran a half-hearted campaign, Tory MPs can legitimately attack the leadership for going easy on the Lib Dems. If she maintains that the party ran a strong campaign, the Tories' poor performance is even less excusable.

But it's her decision to single out the "right wing" of the party for criticism that has angered the grass roots and party officials today. The Spectator's James Forsyth quotes a Tory press adviser as saying: "You can't put her on the radio. She's just a disaster waiting to happen."

As the press adviser suggests, this is far from Warsi's first gaffe. Last year, in an interview with my colleague Mehdi Hasan, she made the remarkable claim that electoral fraud within "the Asian community" cost the Tories three seats at the general election. But her complaint appeared less credible after she refused to name the seats in question. On another occasion, Warsi bizarrely suggested that she didn't want to see more Muslim MPs because "Muslims that go to parliament don't have any morals or principles".

Even before today, Warsi was far from adored by Tory activists, many of whom resent being lectured by an unelected peer. Her position doesn't appear to be under threat but it's safe to say the party will think twice before fielding Warsi on a bad news day again.

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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