Syria: the Labour rebels who voted against Miliband

Six Labour MPs voted against the party's amendment on the grounds that it failed to rule out military action. How many shadow ministers would have resigned?

Though largely unnoticed after the government's extraordinary defeat last night (as I noted earlier, no prime minister has been defeated on a matter of peace and war since 1782), Ed Miliband suffered his own rebellion over Syria. 

There were six Labour MPs who voted against Miliband's amendment on the grounds that it failed to rule out military action. They were: Ronnie Campbell, Jim Fitzpatrick, Stephen Hepburn, Siân C. James, Grahame M. Morris and Graham Stringer. 

A few hours before the vote, Fitzpatrick resigned from his position as shadow transport minister. During the debate he had warned that he had "problems" with the government motion and Labour's amendment since neither ruled out military action and was "opposed to military intervention in Syria, full stop."

An interesting hypothetical is how many would have followed him if Miliband had eventually supported military intervention. One party source told me earlier that around five were prepared to do so. But fortunately for Miliband, Cameron's decision to immediately take military action off the table (he could have offered to work with Labour to secure a majority for Miliband's amendment) means he'll never have to find out. 

Stop the War protesters demonstrate outside Parliament during yesterday's debate on military action against Syria. Photograph: Getty Images.

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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