Nick Clegg attends a press statement in German Ministry of Economy on November 26, 2014 in Berlin. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Lib Dems hit new poll low of 5 per cent

The party reaches the nadir prophesied by Chris Huhne in 2010. 

Shortly after the coalition was formed, Chris Huhne predicted that support for the Lib Dems would plummett to 5 per cent, while support for the Tories would fall to 25 per cent. The Conservatives have fared far better than he expected, usually polling well above that level, but his own party's fate has been just as prophesied. 

After regularly scoring as low as six per cent in recent surveys (behind the Greens), the Lib Dems have today hit the new nadir of 5 per cent: the lowest figure from any pollster since May 2010. The figure came from TNS, which also gave Labour a seven point lead over the Tories (35-28). Ukip are on 19 per cent, with the Greens on 7 per cent. 

By this stage of the parliament many Lib Dems expected their party to be recovering. As part of the government, the hope was that they would benefit from the return of economic growth and the large fall in unemployment. Yet far from gaining ground, they are still losing it. Some rare consolation was provided by ICM earlier this week, which had them at the giddy heights of 14 per cent (largely owing to methodological differences: ICM reallocate 50 per cent of Lib Dem "don't knows" to the party). But their average rating remains just 9 per cent. 

Owing to the benefits of incumbency and their MPs' local reputations, the Lib Dems still hope to retain at least 30 of their 56 seats at the election. In private, they are resigned to the loss of most of their Labour-facing constituencies, such as Burnley, Manchester Withington, Redcar, Brent Central, Bradford East and Norwich South. But they remain confident of holding the majority of the far greater number of Conservative-facing seats (which account for 37 of their 56). Lord Ashcroft's most recent marginals poll found them on course to retain nine of the 11 surveyed.

But outside of their fortresses, they face the prospect of collapse and hundreds of lost deposits. It will take years of rebuilding before the Lib Dems are a truly national party again. 

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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