Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference in Perth on 21 March 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour's bombardment of the Lib Dems shows it is going all out for a majority

Rather than preparing for another hung parliament, Labour is focused on "crushing" Clegg's party. 

Until recently, it was not uncommon for senior Labour figures to openly speculate about the possibility of working with the Lib Dems in a future coalition. In my interview with him earlier this year, Ed Balls memorably revealed that Nick Clegg was no longer a barrier to an agreement between the two parties and said of the Deputy PM: "I understand totally why Nick Clegg made the decision that he made to go into coalition with the Conservatives at the time. I may not have liked it at the time, but I understood it. I also understood totally his decision to support a credible deficit reduction plan, because it was necessary in 2010. I think the decision to accelerate deficit reduction, compared to the plans they inherited – which was clearly not what Vince Cable wanted – I think that was a mistake . . . I can disagree with Nick Clegg on some of the things he did but I’ve no reason to doubt his integrity."

Balls went on to attack the Lib Dems for their support for early spending cuts, the reduction in the top rate of tax and the bedroom tax, but his intervention irked those such as Harriet Harman who advocate a strategy of all-out war against Clegg's party.

In Labour circles they distinguish between those who want to "crush" the Lib Dems and those who want to "accommodate" them. Heavily influenced by Andrew Adonis's 5 Days in May, in which the Labour peer and former transport secretary warns his party that it must be better prepared for another hung parliament, some MPs are wary of of an unambiguously hostile approach to Clegg's party. But with a year to go until the general election, it is now clear that the "crushers" have won. 

Rather than love-bombing the Lib Dems, Labour has today simply been bombing them. It was Harman who led the charge, declaring that "The Lib Dems are a party of broken promises. Nick Clegg says they're different from the Tories, but the truth is they've backed David Cameron all the way.

"From trebling tuition fees when they promised to abolish them, increasing VAT when they promised not to, backing the bedroom tax, cutting tax for millionaires and undermining the NHS, the Lib Dems are not a constraint on the Tories - they are their willing helpers." Her words were followed by an infographic of a Lib Dem lottery card inviting users to "scratch the surface to reveal the truth". 

The attacks are, among other things, a sign that Labour is going all out for a majority. Were the party doubtful of victory, it would, with another hung parliament in mind, be adopting a far less hostile stance. 

If Labour is to triumph, the most important task will be retaining the large group of voters it has won from Clegg's party (think of it as Miliband's firewall). With around 25 per cent of 2010 Lib Dems currently supporting Labour, the party can't risk going soft on Clegg and handing them "permission" to return. In addition to those seats that Labour can hope to win directly from the Lib Dems, strategists point out that in 86 of the party's 87 Tory targets, the Lib Dem vote share in 2010 was larger than the Conservatives majority. In 37, it is more than twice as large. Even if Clegg's party partially recovers before 2015, Labour stands to make sweeping gains. 

It is the Lib Dem collapse combined with the Ukip surge that means Labour can hope to achieve the rare feat of winning a majority after just one term in opposition. The party's bombardment of Clegg and co. is further evidence that Miliband is determined to do so. 

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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