David Cameron delivers a speech on welfare in Hove, East Sussex, on February 17, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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What the Tories can't say about today's immigration figures: political failure is economic success

 The Conservatives' failure to meet their pledge to reduce net migration to "tens of thousands" is one of the best things to have happened to the economy. 

One might have thought that the news on immigration couldn't get any worse for the Conservatives - but it just has. The figures released by the ONS this morning show that net migration rose to 298,000 in the year to September 2014, an increase of 88,000 compared to the previous 12 months. In other words, the level is now nearly three times the Tories' target of "tens of thousands" (of which David Cameron declared in 2010: "If we don't deliver our side of the bargain, kick us out in five years"). Worse, net migration is now higher than when the government took office, meaning that the Conservatives can't even boast that the trend is downwards. 

What they also can't say is that while an extraordinary political failure, the figures are an economic success. That the UK is the destination of choice for so many migrants (immigration rose to 624,000, while emigration was static at 327,000) both reflects and reinforces its status as a centre of prosperity. Since immigrants are younger and more economically active than the population in general they stimulate growth and increase employment (currently at a record high; proof, if needed, that migrants don't "take" jobs, they create them). But the Tories' "tens of thousands" target, which is premised on immigration being a negative force, means they are incapable of telling this positive tale. After political humiliation, they have largely stopped talking about the subject on the correct grounds that doing so only aids Ukip (the only party promising to regain control of the UK's borders through EU withdrawal). 

Labour will assail Cameron today for breaking his pledge to the electorate but this is not a simple political victory for the opposition. The rejoinder to their criticism of the Tories' failure is "what would you do?" Ed Miliband has long emphasised his aim of reducing low-skilled immigration to the UK (partly through more apprenticeships for British citizens) but has remained ambiguous on the question of what level of migration is ultimately desirable. Like the Tories, Labour is torn between the awareness that more immigration is an economic positive but that it remains a political negative. The danger for Miliband, as he tries to simultaneously woo pro-migration Greens and anti-migration Ukippers, is that his balancing act struggles to convince anyone. 

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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