It don't mean a thing, if you ain't got that swing. Photo:Getty
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What if the polls are wrong?

Averaged together, the polls still point to a Labour victory - but the picture is more complex.

Who’ll win next week? Frankly, it’s impossible to tell. When we average the polls together, it appears as if Ed Miliband will be Prime Minister in short order. But the reality is that the polls are diverging, making an average less useful than it appears. ICM, Ashcroft, Survation and Opinium tend to show Conservative leads of varying strength, ComRes an effective tie, while Panelbase, Populus and IpsosMori have tended to show Labour ahead. The question of the election isn’t so much “What if the polls are wrong?” but “Which polls are wrong?”

Labour’s campaigners on the ground are privately less positive than the more positive polls would suggest. The party’s own targeting strategy indicates a less than rosy picture. As I wrote yesterday, the party is still jittery about its prospects in Westminster North, Hampstead & Kilburn and Southampton Itchen, all seats that it held in 2010. Seats that ought to fall into the party’s lap, like Waveney and Stockton South look like more difficult fights than Labour might wish. The party underperformed its poll ratings in the local elections in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

That said, that might be as much to do with the lacklustre Labour campaign prior to those contests. This time, Ed Miliband is having the campaign of his life, which you'd assume will help Labour on the day. The bleak forecast of one insider before the start of the campaign – “You cannot make as many mistakes as we will make and not lose” – now looks wide of the mark. Labour's vote, meanwhile, increasingly resembles that of the American Democrats: it's young, diverse, urban and relaxed about turning out in midterm elections. It may be that Labour does better both than the polls and its previous showings over the last five years suggest. 

As for the grim noises being made by candidates in the marginals, that could easily be paranoia.  One Tory MP in a marginal remarks that “the second you relax, you’re dead”, while a Labour MP in a similar predicament says that he “would never be able to forgive myself if I didn’t do enough to hold the seat”. So the pained expressions of Labour canvassers in the marginals could simply be a particularly exacting form of professionalism, although it’s worth noting that the same pessimism doesn’t seem to extend to their Conservative counterparts. But, one way or another, at least some of the pollsters will be left with egg on their faces next Thursday.

 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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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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