Like it or not, the Tories and Labour are going to have get used to sharing power

With hung parliaments likely to become the norm, the kind of strop that Tory MPs are now throwing will be utterly counterproductive.

There's an interesting piece from Dan Hodges today in which he suggests that many Tories are so sick of having to govern in coalition with the Lib Dems that they may actually prefer to be in opposition.

This is a phenomenon that I witnessed first hand in the run up to the 2010 general election. At the time I was doing a lot of media and in one of my radio studio appearances I was chatting to a right-wing commentator who I knew from previous conversations was considering a potential future career as a Tory MP. The subject of electoral reform came up and he stated in blunt terms that if first-past-the-post was ever abandoned for Westminster he would quit politics. For him it was not enough to have power, it had to be absolute power for his party alone.

As a long-standing pluralist, I find this attitude hard to understand. Some might suggest that as a Lib Dem I would say that. But I thought this long before I joined the party. Compromising with colleagues is something that almost everybody does all the time in the "real world". Extending this across party boundaries within politics should not really be controversial and yet, somehow, it is. Well, in this country at least. Most other countries have political systems that ensure the most likely outcome is the sharing of power in various ways. Very few have such a brutal winner-takes-all system as the United Kingdom.

Even under first-past-the-post, it seems likely that the smaller parties will continue to eat away at the long-term vote share for the big two. Indeed, across the world the "Westminster model" is now usually returning hung parliaments. This could well lead to more opportunities for coalitions in the UK. If this is correct, Conservative and Labour MPs and activists are going to have to get used to sharing power. The sort of monumental strop that numerous backbench Tory MPs are now throwing will be utterly counterproductive.

The idea of working with one's political opponents has been anathema to the main parties for the last 60 years. The "winner" of the election gets a majority of seats and pushes through what they want. That has been the basis of our politics for so long that it is a genuine culture shock to find ourselves in a world where constant compromise is necessary. That is as true for the Lib Dems as for anyone else, which is perhaps surprising given they are the party of electoral reform - but that shows how deeply embedded our previous settlement was. We need to see a culture change in this country's body politic. Instead of compromise with political opponents being seen as weak, we need to accept it as an inevitable part of policy making. No one party has a monopoly on good ideas and our country can actually be strengthened by ensuring that more than one political philosophy and tradition has input into that process.

And if we can all accept this, then maybe next time we have a coalition the MPs that form the backbenches will have a slightly more realistic expectation of what can be achieved and perhaps be grateful for the opportunity to contribute, rather than equate compromise with betrayal of their principles.

Mark Thompson is a political blogger and commentator who edits the award-winning Mark Thompson's Blog and is on Twitter: @MarkReckons

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband attend a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

7 problems with the Snooper’s Charter, according to the experts

In short: it was written by people who "do not know how the internet works".

A group of representatives from the UK Internet Service Provider’s Association (ISPA) headed to the Home Office on Tuesday to point out a long list of problems they had with the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill (that’s Snooper’s Charter to you and me). Below are simplified summaries of their main points, taken from the written evidence submitted by Adrian Kennard, of Andrews and Arnold, a small ISP, to the department after the meeting. 

The crucial thing to note is that these people know what they're talking about - the run the providers which would need to completely change their practices to comply with the bill if it passed into law. And their objections aren't based on cost or fiddliness - they're about how unworkable many of the bill's stipulations actually are. 

1. The types of records the government wants collected aren’t that useful

The IP Bill places a lot of emphasis on “Internet Connection Records”; i.e. a list of domains you’ve visited, but not the specific pages visited or messages sent.

But in an age of apps and social media, where we view vast amounts of information through single domains like Twitter or Facebook, this information might not even help investigators much, as connections can last for days, or even months. Kennard gives the example of a missing girl, used as a hypothetical case by the security services to argue for greater powers:

 "If the mobile provider was even able to tell that she had used twitter at all (which is not as easy as it sounds), it would show that the phone had been connected to twitter 24 hours a day, and probably Facebook as well… this emotive example is seriously flawed”

And these connection records are only going to get less relevant over time - an increasing number of websites including Facebook and Google encrypt their website under "https", which would make finding the name of the website visited far more difficult.

2. …but they’re still a massive invasion of privacy

Even though these records may be useless when someone needs to be found or monitored, the retention of Internet Connection Records (IRCs) is still very invasive – and can actually yield more information than call records, which Theresa May has repeatedly claimed are the non-digital equivalent of ICRs. 

Kennard notes: “[These records] can be used to profile them and identify preferences, political views, sexual orientation, spending habits and much more. It is useful to criminals as it would easily confirm the bank used, and the time people leave the house, and so on”. 

This information might not help find a missing girl, but could build a profile of her which could be used by criminals, or for over-invasive state surveillance. 

3. "Internet Connection Records" aren’t actually a thing

The concept of a list of domain names visited by a user referred to in the bill is actually a new term, derived from “Call Data Record”. Compiling them is possible, but won't be an easy or automatic process.

Again, this strongly implies that those writing the bill are using their knowledge of telecommunications surveillance, not internet era-appropriate information. Kennard calls for the term to be removed, or at least its “vague and nondescript nature” made clear in the bill.

4. The surveillance won’t be consistent and could be easy to dodge

In its meeting with the ISPA, the Home Office implied that smaller Internet service providers won't be forced to collect these ICR records, as it would use up a lot of their resources. But this means those seeking to avoid surveillance could simply move over to a smaller provider.

5. Conservative spin is dictating the way we view the bill 

May and the Home Office are keen for us to see the surveillance in the bill as passive: internet service providers must simply log the domains we visit, which will be looked at in the event that we are the subject of an investigation. But as Kennard notes, “I am quite sure the same argument would not work if, for example, the law required a camera in every room in your house”. This is a vast new power the government is asking for – we shouldn’t allow it to play it down.

6. The bill would allow our devices to be bugged

Or, in the jargon, used in the draft bill, subjected to “equipment interference”. This could include surveillance of everything on a phone or laptop, or even turning on its camera or webcam to watch someone. The bill actually calls for “bulk equipment interference” – when surely, as Kennard notes, “this power…should only be targeted at the most serious of criminal suspects" at most.

7. The ability to bug devices would make them less secure

Devices can only be subject to “equipment interference” if they have existing vulnerabilities, which could also be exploited by criminals and hackers. If security services know about these vulnerabilities, they should tell the manufacturer about them. As Kennard writes, allowing equipment interference "encourages the intelligence services to keep vulnerabilities secret” so they don't lose surveillance methods. Meanwhile, though, they're laying the population open to hacks from cyber criminals. 


So there you have it  – a compelling soup of misused and made up terms, and ethically concerning new powers. Great stuff. 

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