Clegg and Cameron’s stage-managed ruckus

Nick Clegg and David Cameron are keen to play up their differences. But are there really cracks in t

The Prime Minister and his deputy both gave interviews to national newspapers this weekend. It was obviously David Cameron's turn to be Good Cop in the Daily Telegraph. He duly took the softly-softly approach, discussing watching DVDs with his wife in bed and putting together Ikea cupboards. Nick Clegg, however, was Bad Cop in the Independent. A very bad cop, indeed.

After a rather-too-revealing interview in the New Statesman this month, Clegg has attempted a self-reinvention, turning himself from a simpering punchbag and teary-eyed audiophile to a hardened political street fighter, swinging at anyone who gets in his way.

"I'm a human being – not a punchbag," he whimpered to Jemima Khan in the New Statesman, while also admitting that he cries to music. Now, though, he's not a human being, he's an animal, tearing strips off anyone who looks at him funny or gets in his way. John Reid? "Reactionary and backward-looking." The Tories? "A right-wing clique who want to keep things the way they are."

Clegg even massacres the English language to prove what a tough nut he is. "I am probably harder line than anybody . . . about making sure that Liberal Democrats don't get rolled over."

And it has worked. The Lib Dems haven't been rolled over – in his head, at least. "If you were a political expert from Mars and you didn't take your cue from the Daily Mail, you would conclude that this is, objectively speaking, a quintessentially Liberal government."

But hang on, the coalition is fundamentally Tory, says Cameron in his interview:

People who voted Conservative can look at this government and say, of course it's a coalition, I didn't get everything I wanted, but I got reform of the welfare system. I got a cap on immigration. I got the abolition of Labour's jobs tax; a massive expansion of academy schools. I think Conservative supporters have every reason to think, "Of course this government hasn't solved all the problems of the country, but they're on my side."

As the local elections near, both leaders are desperate to paint their party's principles as the guiding narrative of the coalition – and emphasise that neither of them really likes coalition government. In this regard, they sound remarkably similar, for men so eager to emphasise their differences.

Clegg describes the coalition as an "unsentimental . . . transaction", sounding awfully like a husband justifying his visits to a call girl. Clegg doesn't want a relationship with his bit on the side – Cameron means nothing to me, Miriam! "I see all this stuff about how we are somehow mates. We are not. We are not there to become friends," he says. "I didn't come into this coalition government to look for friends." Tennis partners, perhaps – but not friends.

Cameron, meanwhile, gets the point across through a loud conversation with a Conservative councillor in Southampton, in earshot of the Daily Telegraph's Allison Pearson.

"Can we get a few right-wing Lib Dems over to us?" asked Cameron. "Coalition's working well. Quietly deprive the Lib Dems of their seats?

"Don't write that down," the Prime Minister says to me jokingly.

He might as well have thrown her a cheeky wink. With local elections and the AV referendum just two weeks away, it is no wonder that Clegg and Cameron are preaching to their respective choirs in the Independent and Daily Telegraph.

The interviews, however, are electioneering, plain and simple. Any talk about "cracks" in the coalition on the back of them is misplaced. It's a stage-managaged ruck to please the punters and nothing more.

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital