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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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.