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The voters won't forget Cameron's record, no matter what's in the budget

The Prime Minister's advisers think keeping him out of the spotlight keeps him fresh in the public mind. But people aren't stupid

With the election campaign entering its final weeks, we’re going to see a whole lot more of the party leaders, whether it’s on the party political broadcasts, on campaign posters or on one of the ridiculously-debated-debates-that’s-format-is-still-being-debated.

I remember reading some time ago that David Cameron’s advisers were urging him to pull back on public engagement. They worried that with a few years to go until the election the electorate would grow bored of seeing his face and he’d be seen as an old timer before this May; he has after all been an MP since 2001 and Conservative leader for 10 years this year, that’s two years more than Nick Clegg and double Ed Miliband.

The advisers believed Cameron, and politicians more broadly, have a sell by date and this date comes sooner the more the politician is in the public eye. The more they’re seen, the longer their perceived to have been around, making them less attractive to those fed up with the establishment and status quo.  

They’re probably right, lots of people don’t like David Cameron, and the more they see him, the more they’re reminded they don’t like him or many other politicians all that much. But not putting Cameron in the public eye as often isn’t good politics, its trickery, and perpetuates the sort of bad politics the British public are so disillusioned with.

I’d like to give the public more credit, just by Cameron not being on their TVs as much in the last few years, they’re still going to know he’s the Prime Minister, and they’re still going to know he’s ultimately responsible for the cuts their local public services have faced, the pay freezes they have felt and the suffering they have seen.

This week George Osborne’s budget is widely predicted to be an election give away. The press have already reported he’ll be giving the public more freedom over their pensions and reducing business rates. Similarly the Lib Dems announced this weekend a £1.25bn support package for mental health provisions, even though they have been part of a Government that has cut children’s mental health services by more than £50 million since 2010.

Just as the electorate remember who has been PM despite his advisers’ best efforts to stop him falling victim to voter fatigue, they’ll also remember the policies that have affected so many, so badly, whatever the Government announces on Wednesday.

 

Beth Miller writes on international and security affairs in her personal capacity. She tweets @BethMiller91.

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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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