George Osborne – still here
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A recovering economy could hand Osborne the Tory leadership

The Chancellor's personal approval ratings move in line with the government's, and a strong year of growth has reversed his dire ratings. 

The past year has been transformative for the coalition.

In July 2013 more than 60 per cent of voters disapproved of the way the government was handling the economy, and only 30 per cent approved.

Now, practically as many people support their approach as oppose it.

By many accounts, a lengthy and slow turnaround has always been part of the coalition’s plan. Cuts were necessary to trim the government back into shape, the argument ran, and both GDP and the government’s approval ratings would suffer in the short run.

But in the long run growth would recover – and so would the public’s view of the coalition’s competence.

That strategy appears to have worked.

After more than two years of intermittent or negative growth, the economy has grown by 3 per cent in the past year – and propelled the government’s economic ratings.

This is very good news for George Osborne, whose political career appeared dead at the start of last year, as the economy stumbled through a fourth quarter of negative growth under the Coalition.

In the nine quarters – or 27 months – from October 2010 to December 2012, the economy grew just by 1.1 per cent in total.

Critics encircled the Chancellor from all angles. The "scale and speed and completeness with which things are going wrong are numbing", declared John Lanchester in the LRB. "This was not supposed to happen", blared the Independent. We pointed to Obama’s rejection of "Osbornomics", and a former Bank of England member called for a new strategy in Prospect.

For most of 2012, fewer than one in eight voters approved of Osborne’s economic plans, and six in ten consistently disapproved of them. In April 2013, Fitch, the discredited but newsworthy credit rating agency, downgraded the UK’s rating.

Osborne had pointed to our safeguarded rating three years earlier, as "a big vote of confidence" for "the coalition government's economic policies". His best-laid plans seemed to be finished.

But the Chancellor’s ratings are now in reverse. One in three voters approve of his approach, and fewer than one in four disapprove – his best ratings for four years.

Osborne’s political life is simply determined by the economy. His personal ratings move in line with the government’s, and the government’s are largely determined by GDP.

If the economy continues to improve, his well-publicised hopes of becoming the next Tory leader are likely to be rekindled.

 

This is a preview of May2015.com, an affiliated site launching later this year. You can find us on Twitter.

 

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

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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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