Miliband shouldn't call them "the Liberals" - he might need their help

He should learn from Gordon Brown's mistake and have the courtesy to get the Lib Dems' name right.

In 2010, as Gordon Brown was desperately trying to strike a deal with the Lib Dems, Peter Mandelson warned him: "you must stop calling them the Liberals". The third party, a merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP, doesn't take kindly to being referred to by the name of its former incarnation. That Brown didn't even have the courtesy to get their name right was one reason why many Lib Dems concluded that they couldn't do business with him.

But today, in defiance of this precedent, Ed Miliband spoke of how Labour needed to rescue the NHS "from these Tories. And the Liberals too." For a politician more pluralist than many in his party, it was an oddly tribal note. With a hung parliament the most likely outcome of the next election, Miliband, like Brown, can't afford to be so careless. If both Labour and the Tories win enough seats to form majority governments with Lib Dem support, he will need to do everything he can to persuade Nick Clegg, against his ideological instincts, to side with him.

But with this in mind, it was striking that the line quoted above was the only reference to the party in the speech. Ahead of a possible coalition in 2015, has Miliband decided that it's best not "to diss" the Lib Dems?

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg attend a ceremony at Buckingham Palace to mark the Duke of Edinburgh's 90th birthday on June 30, 2011. 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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