Ed Miliband delivers his speech at the Labour conference in Manchester last month. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Miliband sharpens NHS dividing line with one-week cancer test guarantee

Pledge will be funded through £750m raised by new windfall levy on tobacco firms. 

There is no policy area on which Labour enjoys a larger lead than the NHS (12 points according to the most recent YouGov poll). If the party can ensure that health is one of the defining issues of the election campaign then it will benefit at the expense of the Conservatives, who were this week revealed to regard their reorganisation of the service as their biggest mistake in government. 

Ed Miliband's conference speech, in which he pledged to spend £2.5bn more a year on the NHS (funded by a mansion tax, a windfall levy on tobacco firms and a crackdown on tax avoidance), was the first part of Labour's plan to create a clear dividing line with the Tories. Tomorrow, Miliband will begin setting out how this money will be spent by pledging to ensure that patients in England wait no longer than one week for cancer tests and results by 2020.

The guarantee, made possible by £750m of new investment over five years, funded by the tobacco levy, is aimed at allowing patients to begin treatment early, saving the NHS hundreds of millions a year in costs incurred due to late diagnosis. Miliband will declare his ambition for the health service to have the best cancer survival rates in Europe, something which could save up to 10,000 lives a year. Since May 2010, the number waiting for more than six weeks for key tests used to diagnose cancer has risen from 1,900 to 10,600. Labour described the plan as a first step towards achieving one week access for all urgent diagnostics by 2025. 

In an interview with tomorrow's Times, Miliband says: 

Labour has different values on the NHS than this government. We believe in collaboration rather than free-market competition, in prevention not picking up the pieces, and accountability rather than undermining patients’ rights and guarantees.

Labour has different priorities from this government. We would raise taxes on the most expensive homes worth over £2m  in our country, hedge funds which avoid paying their fair share, and the tobacco firms whose products cause so much ill-health and suffering. This money will help pay for the investments we will make with our NHS Time to Care Fund.

And, unlike this government, Labour has a plan for the NHS so that it can meet the challenges of the 21st century. We have already said we will guarantee GP appointments within 48 hours. And we have already shown how our Time to Care Fund will ensure the NHS has 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 GPs, 5,000 home care workers and 3,000 midwives so they have the time to care for you. 

Some have dismissed Labour's focus on the NHS as part of a "core vote" strategy, but party sources point to polls such as this week's ICM survey, which showed the public rate health as the most important issue, as evidence that there is a large audience for their proposals. One strategist told me: "We're going to come back to it again and again and again for policy and political reasons." Andy Burnham will make a speech in a few weeks' time setting out further details of Labour's ten-year NHS plan. 

There is an obvious political logic to funding the cancer guarantee through the tobacco levy, modelled on one introduced by Barack Obama in 2009. A Labour aide told me that it was time for "those who have contributed so much to the ill health of our nation to contribute to the health of our nation". The party can also draw attention to the long-standing links between Conservative election campaign manager Lynton Crosby's lobbying firm and the tobacco industry. Of the windfall tax, one aide said: "I don't think that's a choice the Tories are either willing or able to make". 

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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