Tens of thousands of people fled Iraq's city of Mosul after it was overrun by IS. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Conservatives are pushing for stronger laws to face the threat from Islamic State

How the Communications Data Bill is intended to tackle Islamic State.

There can't be much doubt left for Brits. The threat of evil terrorist group Islamic State (IS) is closer to home than we thought.

Only a few days ago, we read about a chilling plot to carry out a gruesome beheading. Not in Syria, and not in Iraq, where we have witnessed with horror in bloody detail what this involves. No, this was a terror plot to attack Londoners, here on British soil. And it was foiled by Britain's Police and security services at the last minute. Our Home Secretary Theresa May could not have been clearer, when she told us this week: the threat to the UK is perhaps greater than it has ever been.

Millions of families will be reassured, therefore, to hear about the government's new laws to tackle these evil extremists. Incredibly, more than 500 Brits have already travelled to Syria and Iraq: many of them to fight for IS. They have made a choice to join that evil organisation. And their choice must have consequences. This is why Conservative ministers are bringing in new rules:
 

1)      Tough new powers to control our borders, to confiscate passports from suspected terrorists, preventing them from travelling to fight for IS.

2)     New exclusion orders, to ensure that British terrorists in Syria and Iraq are only allowed home on our terms - rather than just being nodded through automatically.
 

Schools and universities will play their part too. New "counter-radicalisation" measures are in our Bill. These will help to protect our children from corruption and brainwashing tactics – helping to keep them at home, safe, where they belong.

IS cannot be ignored. It will not disappear with time. It is a threat that must be confronted: or it will surely reach our shores. That is why we need these new laws, to ensure police and security agencies have all the powers they need, and access to all the data they need to disrupt terrorist plots.

Our police and security services have done a nerve-wracking job this year, wiping out numerous terrorist plots and arresting 271 potential killers. But, because we all communicate more online, they are losing access to the vital communications data – the "who, where, when and how" – that they need to keep us safe. That is why Conservatives want to strengthen the law, giving our police access to this critical information. We want to act. But we need a majority in parliament to do it. That's why the Home Secretary has made it crystal clear: this will be a priority for us in the next parliament.

To sum up: we are determined to keep you and your children safe. We are committed to civil liberties, but your security must come first. It is your fundamental right as a British citizen. Everyone in this country has the basic right to walk our streets, take their children to school, and travel to work feeling safe. We will never put this at risk.

Grant Shapps is the Conservative MP for Welwyn Hatfield and Conservative party chairman

Getty
Show Hide image

Does it matter that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group?

Well yes, a little.

“#WESTMINSTERBUBBLE JOURNOS CHAT ON #WHATSAPP. NOW THAT’S INTERESTING,” writes the alt-left site Skwawkbox.

Its story refers to the fact that Westminster journalists have a WhatsApp group chat. The site finds this sinister, suggesting the chat could be used to “swap info, co-ordinate stories and narratives”:

“It’s a technology that worries Home Secretary Amber Rudd, in case terrorists use it – but its use by the Establishment for 1984-style message co-ordination would worry many people just as much.”

Skwawkbox’s shock was mocked by lobby journalists and spinners:


Your mole, who has sniffed around the lobby in its day, also finds the suggestion of journalists using the app for terrorist-style collusion a little hard to swallow. Like every other industry, journos are using WhatsApp because it’s the latest easy technology to have group chats on – and it’s less risky than bitching and whining in a Twitter DM thread, or on email, which your employers can access.

But my fellow moles in the Skwawkbox burrow have hit on something, even if they’ve hyped it up with the language of conspiracy. There is a problem with the way lobby journalists of different publications decide what the top lines of stories are every day, having been to the same briefings, and had the same chats.

It’s not that there’s a secret shady agreement to take a particular line about a certain party or individual – it’s that working together in such an environment fosters groupthink. They ask questions of government and opposition spokespeople as a group, they dismiss their responses as a group, and they decide the real story as a group.

As your mole’s former colleague Rafael Behr wrote in 2012:

“At the end [of a briefing], the assembled hacks feel they have established some underlying truth about what really happened, which, in the arch idiom of the trade, is generally agreed to have been revealed in what wasn’t said.”

Plus, filing a different story to what all your fellow reporters at rival papers have written could get you in trouble with your editor. The columnist David Aaronovitch wrote a piece in 2002, entitled “The lobby system poisons political journalism”, arguing that rather than pursuing new stories, often this ends up with lobby journalists repeating the same line:

“They display a "rush to story", in which they create between them an orthodoxy about a story – which then becomes impossible to dislodge.”

This tendency for stories to become stifled even led to the Independent and others boycotting the lobby in the Eighties, he notes.

Of course, colleagues in all industries have always communicated for work, social and organisational reasons in some way, and using WhatsApp is no different. But while Skwawkbox’s “revelation” might seem laughable to insiders, most people don’t know how political journalism works behind-the-scenes. It touches on a truth about how Westminster journalists operate – even if it’s wrong about their motive.

I'm a mole, innit.