Labour is polling ahead of the Tories among women voters. Photo: Getty
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Could women voters be the key to Labour's electoral success?

Ed Miliband should seize the electoral potential of its advantage in the polls among women – particularly mothers.

David Cameron throughout his premiership has been accused of having a “women problem”. Numerous polls over the years have suggested that women don’t feel the Prime Minister is on their wavelength, and his past refusal to call himself a feminist and notorious failure to pose wearing a “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt have compounded his problem with appealing to 51 per cent of the population. His promotion of women in a major reshuffle last summer arrived too late in the parliament to seem like an authentic commitment.

And some polling out today shows that Ed Miliband has the opportunity to capitalise on Cameron’s lack of appeal to women voters.

A poll carried out by TNS on behalf of the BBC’s Woman’s Hour indicates that 59 per cent of women say they are concerned about the NHS – significantly more than men (50 per cent). Although only 12 per cent of women feel Miliband best understands what life is like for people (compared with 10 per cent for Cameron), the fact that the NHS is the greatest concern for women suggests more will vote Labour, which is putting the health service at the heart of its election campaign.

Cost of living and care costs were the two other highest priorities among women – again, topics on which Labour is stronger than the Conservatives.

Also, according to the same survey, Labour is rated as the party that best understands the issues faced by families, with one in five choosing them (20 per cent) on this concern. Significantly fewer (16 per cent) chose the Conservatives on this.

A separate poll for the Financial Times by Populus finds that Cameron will have a particular problem with mothers come the general election. When it comes to mothers, the Tories are 20 points behind Labour; 28 per cent of mothers with children under 18 plan to vote Conservative, compared with 48 per cent for Labour.

With 35 per cent of women yet to decide who to vote for in the general election, as found by the Woman’s Hour survey, Labour has everything to play for – and a lot to lose – in harnessing its advantage when it comes to appealing to female voters.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at 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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