Farage says that "a couple of dozen" Tory MPs would be open to pacts with UKIP

The UKIP leader's figure is "spot on", says Conservative MP Philip Hollobone.

Nigel Farage is doing his best to steal the limelight from George Osborne today with a stringe of fringe appearances outside the Conservative secure zone. He quipped to cheers at one event: "If Godfrey Bloom disrupted my conference, I like to think I'm disrupting and ruining David Cameron's."

But it was on Radio 4 earlier today that Farage's most notable comments came. After reaffirming his support for local non-aggression pacts between Tory and UKIP candidates in today's Times, he told the World At One that he estimated that "a couple of dozen" Conservative MPs would be open to agreement. Tory MP Philip Hollobone, who won the backing of UKIP in 2010, went on to describe Farage's figure as "spot on".

Conservative ministers have done their best to play down talk of deals today, but Farage's comments are a reminder of why the idea won't go way, particularly if UKIP win the European elections next year, or at least outperform the Tories. At a fractious fringe meeting with Farage earlier today, Bill Cash warned that UKIP could cost the Tories up to 60 seats and hand Ed Miliband the keys to Downing Street. "Let us be realistic. Are we going to be allies or enemies? Lay off our marginals," he said.

While UKIP is unlikely to inflict as much damage on the Tories as Cash fears, the split in the right-wing vote (UKIP draws around half of its support from 2010 Tory supporters), will make it easier for Labour to dislodge the Tories in the marginals it needs to win to become the largest party. At the last election, with a UKIP share of just 3 per cent, there were 20 constituencies in which the party's vote exceeded the Labour majority (one shouldn't make the error of assuming that all those who supported the party would have backed the Tories in its absence, but many would have done). Should UKIP poll at least 5-6%, around half of its current support, it could well indirectly propel Labour to victory. And that is why talk of pacts will continue right up until May 2015.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage addresses the Bruges Group in Manchester Town Hall earlier today. 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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