Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's newspapers.

1. From Washington this looks like Syria's 'Benghazi moment'. But not from here (Independent)

Robert Fisk discusses the situation in Syria: Look east and what does Bashar see? Iran standing with him and Iraq refusing to impose sanctions.

2. Syria between two massacres: Hama's memory endures (Guardian)

As Syrians find their voice to mark the 1982 massacre, says Wadah Khanfar, their resolve to overthrow this brutal regime is clear.

3. Great expectations? No. Hard times? Yes. Enter Miliband Snr (Daily Telegraph)

The former foreign secretary's blueprint to help a lost generation must be taken seriously, says Mary Riddell.

4. Is Lansley the exception to the no-sacking policy? (Times) (£)

The botched NHS reforms could destroy the Tories at the next election. What they need is a new health secretary, says Rachel Sylvester.

5. The way to cut bonuses: scrap public subsidies for banks (Financial Times)

The public interest in bankers' bonuses lies in the fact that taxpayers underwrite them, says Philip Stephens.

6. The right's stupidity spreads, enabled by a too-polite left (Guardian)

Conservativism may be the refuge of the dim, says George Monbiot. But the room for rightwing ideas is made by those too timid to properly object.

7. All is revealed in Gingrich's fantasy fiction (Times) (£)

The Republican contender is a novelist -- who knew? But, Ben Macintyre explains, his stories are less 'what if' history than 'so what' history.

8. The ice is cracking under Putin (Financial Times)

While nobody is talking of a Moscow spring, there is a definite thaw, says Gideon Rachman.

9. If India doesn't want it, why are we still giving them money? (Independent)

David Cameron's decision to maintain our overseas aid budget was intensely political, says Dominic Lawson.

10. Derailing Bonuses (Times) (£)

Network Rail executives have bowed to public pressure over bonuses. This highlights the need to sort out its status, says this leading article.

DebateTech
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Politicians: it's no longer OK to know nothing about technology

It’s bad enough to joke about not being "techy"; it's worse to write a piece of legislation from a position of ignorance. 

Earlier this week, facing down a 600-strong battalion of London’s tech sector at a mayoral hustings in Stratford, Zac Goldsmith opened his five minute pitch with his characteristic charm. “I’m not very techy!” he exclaimed. “I understand coding about as well as Swahili!”

Pointless jibe at a foreign language aside, this was an ill-chosen way to begin his address - especially considering that the rest of his speech showed he was reasonably well-briefed on the problems facing the sector, and the solutions (including improving broadband speeds and devolving skills budgets) which could help.

But the offhand reference to his own ignorance, and the implication that it would be seen as attractive by this particular audience, implies that Goldsmith, and other politicians like him, haven’t moved on since the 90s. The comment seemed designed to say: “Oh, I don't know about that - I'll leave it to the geeks like you!"

This is bad enough from a mayoral hopeful.  But on the same day, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament filed its report on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, the legislation drafted by the Home Office which will define how and how far the government and secret services can pry into our digital communications. Throughout, there's the sense that the ISC doesn't think the MPs behind the bill had a firm grasp on the issues at hand. Words like "inconsistent" and "lacking in clarity" pop up again and again. In one section, the authors note:

"While the issues under consideration are undoubtedly complex, we are nevertheless concerned that thus far the Government has missed the opportunity to provide the clarity and assurance which is badly needed."

The report joins criticism from other directions, including those raised by Internet Service Providers last year, that the bill's writers didn't appear to know much about digital communications at all, much less the issues surrounding encryption of personal messages.

One good example: the bill calls for the collection of "internet connection records", the digital equivalent of phone call records, which show the domains visited by internet users but not their content. But it turns out these records don't exist in this form: the bill actually invented both the phrase and the concept. As one provider commented at the time, anyone in favour of their collection "do not understand how the Internet works". 

Politicians have a long and colourful history of taking on topics - even ministerial posts - in fields they know little to nothing about. This, in itself, is a problem. But politicians themselves are often the people extolling importance of technology, especially to the British economy - which makes their own lack of knowledge particularly grating. No politician would feel comfortable admitting a lack of knowledge, on, say, economics. I can’t imagine Goldsmith guffawing "Oh, the deficit?  That's all Greek to me!"  over dinner with Cameron. 

The mayoral candidates on stage at the DebateTech hustings this week were eager to agree that tech is London’s fastest growing industry, but could do little more than bleat the words “tech hub” with fear in their eyes that someone might ask them what exactly that meant. (A notable exception was Green candidate Sian Berry, who has actually worked for a tech start-up.) It was telling that all were particularly keen on improving internet speeds -  probably because this is something they do have day-to-day engagement with. Just don't ask them how to go about doing it.

The existence of organisations like Tech London Advocates, the industry group which co-organised the hustings, is important, and can go some way towards educating the future mayor on the issues the industry faces. But the technology and information sectors have been responsible for 30 per cent of job growth in the capital since 2009 - we can't afford to have a mayor who blanches at the mention of code. 

If we’re to believe the politicians themselves, with all their talk of coding camps and skills incubators and teaching the elderly to email, we need a political sphere where boasting that you're not "techy" isn’t cool or funny - it’s just kind of embarrassing. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.