Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg hold a news conference to announce the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill on 10th July 2014. Photo: Getty Images
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Laurie Penny on surveillance: Cameron's cynical appeal to three of the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse

The emergency surveillance law being rushed through Parliament next week exploits all the usual moral panic suspects - criminals, terrorists and paedophiles - to undermine our fundamental rights.

Illegal spying is illegal, except when it isn't. It has just been announced that a highly unusual emergency law will retroactively provide a legal basis for collecting the data and internet browsing history of all British citizens. 

The hastily-announced Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill will force phone companies and ISPs to store data - who you text, call and contact, when and for how long - and hand it over to the security services on demand. This was already going on, but in April, the European Court of Justice ruled that the practice was unlawful. Now they’re going to make it lawful, with no discussion and no argument.

The MPs who will be voting on this legislation have not read it. They haven't had time. The whole thing is being rammed through early next week with almost no debate, with terms already agreed between the three major parties behind closed doors.

There are countless ways to define democracy, each more convenient than the next for governments looking to post-rationalise their lack of mandate, but this is surely pushing it.

This new government spying law will give even more powers to what is arguably the most intrusive, invasive state surveillance programme in any country that continues to call itself a democracy - with a promise of more to come after the next election. Scrambling to justify themselves today, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister assured furious back-benchers and an even more outraged public that this bill is about catching not just terrorists, but "criminals, terrorists and paedophiles".

Bingo. That’s three of the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse right there, the excuses which are always used to justify curtailing civil liberties online (the other one is ‘money laundering’, as cited in the Cypherpunk FAQ).

Cameron’s assurance that this legislation will help the state catch paedophiles would seem crass and desperate at the best of times. However, given that the British political establishment has lately proven itself unable to deal with paedophilia and pederasty within its own ranks, this isn't just cynical - it's goddamn tasteless.

So what does this bill mean for the rest of us? As I wrote last week:

State surveillance is only incidentally about catching terrorists. The apprehension of shady fundamentalist miscreants is the excuse used to extend the powers of our government to monitor ordinary people, whether or not they have done or plan to do anything wrong. Such tracking is an everyday invasion of privacy that changes behaviour and intimidates minority communities. In 2009-2010, more than 100,000 stop-and-searches were made under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Not one of them led to a terrorism-related arrest."

One of the cornerstones of the coalition agreement, the compromise on whose back this right-wing government glided into Downing Street, was the promise of “a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion”. How’s that going?"

What is happening here is quite simple. The basic processes of British democracy are being overridden in order to ensure that the British public can continue to be spied upon. Our democracy is being undermined so that our faith in that democracy can be further exploited.

Laurie Penny's Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution is available for now. She will also be in conversation with classicist and author Mary Beard on 30 July at Conway Hall, London. More details and tickets here. 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images
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Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.