Fright night: George Osborne outside No 11 on 27 October. Photo: Getty
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Commons Confidential: Osborne’s nightmare on Downing Street

George’s back should be bleeding from the number of Tory knives plunged into him. 

Amid the talk of Labour’s Jim Murphy seeking a future in the Scottish Parliament, speculation grows in Scotland over whether it’ll be back to the future for Alex Salmond. The SNP separatist brushes aside questions about his possible (probable?) return to the UK parliament. My spy tells me the Tartan Chieftain is taking the temperature in the Westminster seat of Gordon, which overlaps with his Holyrood estate of Aberdeenshire East. Lib Dem grandee Malcolm Bruce retires next May and the 6,748 majority is considered vulnerable, with the SNP the runner-up last time around. The move would get Salmond out of SNP queen Nicola Sturgeon’s hair in Edinburgh and the capital of Scotland’s colonial occupiers isn’t without attractions for the former first minister. He seemed to enjoy London’s bars and betting shops when last an MP.

George Osborne’s back should be bleeding from the number of Tory knives plunged into him. Con MPs mumble darkly that the only long-term plan of the party’s chief election strategist is to manoeuvre his cronies into position so he’ll be crowned king when David Cameron is ousted or abdicates. The current target of the Tory disenchanted is Rupert Harrison, so posh he makes Trust Fund “Sir” George seem common. Harrison, Osborne’s brain at the Treasury, isn’t your run-of-the-mill Old Etonian like Dave or Boris. He’s a former head boy. The whisper is that a safe seat is Rupe’s for the asking. The Tory unfavoured, forced to knock on doors for years to secure a constituency, are resentful. One seething MP recalled canvassing a grand house in west London when the door was answered by a younger Rupert, who replied that he was voting Green.

I’m told vice-chair was the Labour role that ex-postie Alan Johnson, now promoting his second volume of memoirs, declined to remain a man of letters. Ed Miliband hasn’t given up on a one-time home secretary who speaks human. Johnson promised to do the rounds of TV and radio studios for the party in the new year. In the scrap for blue-collar votes, the mailman has the edge on Ukip’s Nigel Farage, as well as Tory posh boys. Johnson was heading for work when the City slicker Farage was reeling home from the pub.

A snout’s eye was drawn to a notice at the peers’ entrance to parliament listing locations of defibrillators. In the House of Cronies, the dead wood resists not only reform but the call to God’s waiting room.

Vanquished David Miliband keeps his cards close to his chest in New York, yet remains in touch with British soulmates. Asked what the elder Milibrother thinks of the younger’s performance, a prominent Labour figure who saw him recently replied: “David feels sorry for Ed.” 

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 29 October 2014 issue of the New Statesman, British jihadis fighting with Isis

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital