A reconstruction of the Lib Dem clearout (maybe). Photo: Guiseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images
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Commons Confidential: the Liberal Democrat clear-out sale

Money raised goes into a “fightback” fund – although the flattened Lib Dems will need more than the odd jumble sale to rise, Lazarus-like, from the dead.

A sign of things to come, perhaps? Conservatives queued up to slap Frank Field on the back after Maggie Thatcher’s favourite Labour MP was elected as the chair of the work and pensions committee on 18 June.

The Tory salutes were led, according to my snout, by Matthew Hancock, a ministerial member of Team Osborne so oily that his parliamentary comrade Philip Davies once remarked, “Anyone tempted to lick George Osborne’s backside should be careful . . . if you go too far, you’ll find the soles of Matt Hancock’s shoes in the way.” The cooing Tories interpreted Field’s first public statement as qualified support for Osborne’s and David Cameron’s welfare programme.

The industrial and political wings of the labour movement continue to diverge. The talk among Unite, Unison and GMB members is of endorsing none of the four candidates for Labour leader. If the unions decide to withhold patronage it would be a blow to Andy Burnham, who is seeking their support but not their money (in order to avoid the accusation that he is in their pocket).

One informant whispered that there is a groundswell in Unite to back Jeremy Corbyn, who shared a platform with the union’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, at an anti-austerity march in London on 20 June. Islington’s Dave Spart is already the pick of the train drivers’ union, Aslef, with Tom Watson its choice as deputy. A Corbyn victory remains improbable but not impossible, if the union bandwagon rolls. Ed Miliband’s 2014 reforms were intended to marginalise union influence. The result is that an affiliated member’s or £3 supporter’s ballot paper is worth as much as an MP’s.

The indignities of defeat included an “office clear-out sale” for the Liberal Democrat John Leech. “There’s ten years’ worth of electricals, Risos, printers, folders, tablets, monitors, phones, chairs, desks, tables, cabinets, noticeboards, whiteboards, stationery, campaign materials and other bits and pieces,” advertised the ex-MP for Manchester Withington.

Money raised goes into a “fightback” fund – although the flattened Lib Dems will need more than the odd jumble sale to rise, Lazarus-like, from the dead. I trust that none of the items above was purchased with public money.

The metal turnstile newly installed at the peers’ entrance to parliament will send shivers down the spines of dishonourable members. Expenses cheats, arsonists, perjurers and other assorted ex-cons will be reminded of the prison gates they walked through before shuffling back into the House of Cronies.

Bananas were banned from the recent Unison conference, as one of the 1,200 delegates was allergic to the fruit. No wonder David Miliband the banana-waver never secured the union’s support.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 26 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Bush v Clinton 2

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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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