Nigel Farage by Dan Murrell
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Commons Confidential: Nigel Farage’s World Cup jitters

Plus how the Labour Leader’s team try to avoid him being portrayed as “Weird Ed”.

One of the tasks of people working for Ed Miliband is spotting potential photos that could be twisted to portray him as Weird Ed. If the Labour leader was, say, at a Dickens literary festival, it would be the responsibility of an aide to ensure that his head didn’t block out the “-ens” in pictures. So imagine the dilemma observed by my snout when Mili was invited by his equalities spokeswoman, Sharon Hodgson, to shoot a few hoops in a game of wheelchair basketball on a makeshift court in the shadow of Big Ben. Ed Balls was only too happy to play but Mili’s point guard, Anna Yearley, declined on her master’s behalf after Hodgson spotted the pair strolling by. Fearing a future dig from Private Eye, perhaps mocking Mili for sitting down on the job, Operation Cotton Wool takes no risks with the porcelain figurine.

The self-styled patriot Nigel Farage is a fan of rugger and cricket rather than the round ball game, as his private school ilk are prone to dismiss association football. Yet he may be suffering palpitations over the chances of England meeting Germany in the semi-final of the World Cup in Brazil. It is unlikely, but an England-Germany clash is enough to bring Ukip’s anti-migrant John Bull out in a cold sweat. Farage’s German wife, Kirsten, has in the past draped the black, red and gold tricolour of her native country over the fence of the family home when the two nations played. Tory right-wingers snigger that Farage wouldn’t want his household to fail Norman Tebbit’s cricket test.

I hear that the Lib Dem minister Tom Brake, the deputy leader of the Commons, informed the Association of Professional Political Consultants that he is minded to require lawyers to enrol on the fledgling register of lobbyists. Oh, to be a fly on the wall when Nick Clegg pops home to inform Miriam González Durántez, the head of the EU wing of the international corporate law firm Dechert and also Mrs Clegg, that she must sign up. Will there be a special section for pillow talk?

The Labour frontbencher Stephen Pound has turned Ealing North into a safe seat and bucked the trend in 2010 by winning more than half the votes cast with one of the few swings to Labour. Yet he wondered aloud if somebody thought he’d overstayed his welcome when he received an invitation to purchase copies of Who Was Who. Sound-as-a-Pound informed the publisher that he intends to stand again. 

The word is that Kevin Barron, the chair of the Low Standards Committee, harbours ambitions to succeed Malcolm Rifkind at the No Intelligence Committee after the election. I suppose that their interests – sleazebags and spooks – have criminality in common.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 08 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, India's worst nightmare?

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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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