The Tories attempt to delete all pre-2010 speeches from the internet

It turns out that Cameron isn't the "most transparent" leader ever after all.

How's David Cameron's pledge to be the "most transparent" leader ever working out? Not very well judging by an extraordinary story from Computer Weekly. The site reports that the Conservatives have attempted to erase all speeches and press releases issued between 2000 and until May 2010 from the internet. That's right; not just from their own site but from the Internet Archive, the largest publicly available digital library. 

Mark Ballard reports: 

Sometime after 5 October, when Computer Weekly last took a snapshot of a Conservative speech from the Internet Archive, the Tory speech and news archive was eradicated.

Conservatives posted a robot blocker on their website, which told search engines and the Internet Archive they were no longer permitted to keep a record of the Conservative Party web archive...The erasure had the effect of hiding Conservative speeches in a secretive corner of the internet like those that shelter the military, secret services, gangsters and paedophiles.

The Conservative Party HQ was unavailable for comment. A spokesman said he had referred the matter to a "website guy", who was out of the office.

And before their words disappear down the memory hole, here's what Cameron and George Osborne had to say about transparency and freedom of information before 2010. 

Cameron told Google's Zeitgeist Europe Conference on 22 May 2006:

You've begun the process of democratising the world's information. Democratising is the right word to use because by making more information available to more people, you're giving them more power. Above all, the power for anyone to hold to account those who in the past might have had a monopoly of power - whether it's government, big business, or the traditional media.

On 11 October 2007, he told another Google conference in San Franciso: 

It's clear to me that political leaders will have to learn to let go. Let go of the information that we've guarded so jealously.

In an article for the Telegraph in 2011, he wrote:

Information is power. It lets people hold the powerful to account, giving them the tools they need to take on politicians and bureaucrats. It gives people new choices and chances, allowing them to make informed judgments about their future. And it lets our professionals judge themselves against one another, and our entrepreneurs develop new products and services.

As for Osborne, he declared in a speech on "Open Source Politics" at the Royal Society of Arts on 8 March 2007:

We need to harness the internet to help us become more accountable, more transparent and more accessible - and so bridge the gap between government and governed.

The democratization of access to information...is eroding traditional power and informational imbalances.

No longer is there an asymmetry of information between the individual and the state, or between the layperson and the expert.

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Now listen to George discussing why the Conservatives have tried to erase these pledges on the NS Podcast:

Conservative ministers listen to David Cameron speak at the party's conference in Manchester last month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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