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Do the accusations against Kelvin Hopkins spell trouble for Jeremy Corbyn?

Questions are now being asked about what the Labour leader knew and when. 

The accusations against Kelvin Hopkins, the 76-year-old MP for Luton North, have taken another turn. The Evening Standard has revealed that Rosie Winterton, the then-Labour chief whip, flagged the accusations against Hopkins with the Labour leader’s office before Jeremy Corbyn went on to appoint Hopkins to the post of shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport.

Hopkins denies sexually harassing the activist Ava Etemadzadeh in 2013 and has now been suspended by the party pending an investigation.

Hopkins’ appointment came at a time that relations between Corbyn’s office and his then-chief whip were at an all-time-low. Winterton had been instrumental in putting together Corbyn’s first shadow cabinet, which then resigned almost en bloc following the European referendum defeat. It may be that Winterton’s remarks never made their way to Corbyn himself. In any case, expect the fraught relationship between the two to be used by some of the leadership’s outriders to explain away the lack of action.

The blunt truth, however, is that the story may end up serving as the supreme example of Westminster’s sexual harassment problem. There are always reasons not to believe the testimony of women and there are always reasons why it is convenient not to – at the time, Corbyn’s difficulties filling the cabinet were such that Paul Flynn, then aged 81, ended up serving in two posts – that of shadow leader of the house and shadow Wales secretary – at once.  

The story will be a blow to Labour’s women's groups, who hoped that Corbyn’s inability to exert control over most of the party’s institutions until his general election performance transformed his opposition meant he was, as I put it on our podcast this week, a pair of “clean hands”: he had never been involved in turning a blind eye to bad behaviour because his writ had never run into the party’s headquarters.

They hoped that meant the usual reasons that genuine reform never happens wouldn’t apply. (Some of his allies also believed that it put them in the perfect position: untainted by the blind eye of previous leaderships, able to do the right thing and use it to consolidate their control over Labour Party headquarters and candidate selection.) Now the fear will be that, as far as turning a blind eye goes, Corbyn is just as implicated as any other senior Labour politician would be. 

Should it turn out that Corbyn did know earlier than advertised about the accusations against Hopkins, it is unlikely to change his internal position – almost everyone in the party in a senior position is either compromised, or for one reason or another unable to make a credible challenge to him. But it means that the big political dividend that some of his allies hoped for will remain uncollected. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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People are not prepared to see innovation at any price - we need to take care of our digital health

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

As individuals, we have never been better connected. As a society, we are being driven further apart.

Doteveryone’s People Power and Technology report, released this week, found that half of the 2,500 British people we surveyed said the internet had made life a lot better for people like them - but only 12 per cent saw a very positive impact on society.

These findings won’t be news to most people living in Brexit Britain - or to anyone who’s been involved in a spat on Twitter. The fact that we’re constantly connected to our smartphones has not necessarily improved our communities or our understanding of one other, and the trails of data we’re leaving behind are not turning into closer social bonds.

Many of the positives we experience are for ourselves as individuals.

Lots of consumer tech puts simple self-sufficiency first - one-click to buy, swipe right to date - giving us a feeling of cosy isolation and making one little phone an everywhere. This powerful individualism is a feature of all of the big platforms - and even social networks like Facebook and Twitter, that are meant bring us together, do so in the context of personalised recommendations and algorithmically ordered timelines.

We are all the centre of our own digital worlds. So it is no surprise that when we do look up from our phones, we feel concerned about the impact on society. Our research findings articulate the dilemma we face: do we do the thing that is easiest for us, or the one that is better for society?

For instance, 78 per cent of people see the Internet as helping us to communicate better, but 68 per cent also feel it makes us less likely to speak to each other face-to-face. 69per cent think the internet helps businesses to sell their products and services, while 53 per cent think it forces local shops to compete against larger companies online.

It’s often hard to see the causality in these trade-offs. At what point does my online shopping tip my high street into decline? When do I notice that I’ve joined another WhatsApp group but haven’t said hello to my neighbour?

When given clear choices, the public was clear in its response.  

We asked how they would feel if an online retailer offered free one-day delivery for lower income families, but this resulted in local shops closing down - 69 per cent found this unacceptable. Or if their bank invested more in combating fraud and cyber crime, but closed their local branch - 61 per cent said it was unacceptable. Or if their council made savings by putting services online and cut council tax as a result, but some people would find it hard to access these services - 56 per cent found it unacceptable.

It seems people are not prepared to see innovation at any price - and not at the expense of their local communities. The poorest find these trade offs least acceptable.

Correcting the course of technology in Britain does not need to mean taking backwards steps and becoming an anti-innovation zone.

A clearer regulatory environment would support positive, responsible change that supports our society, not just the ambition of a few corporations.

Some clarity about our relationship with web services would be a good start. 60 per cent of people Doteveryone spoke to believed there should be an independent body they can turn to when things go wrong online; 89 per cent would like terms and conditions to be clearer, and 47% feel they have no choice but to sign up to services, even when they have concerns.

Technology regulation is complicated and fragmentary. Ofcom and the under-resourced Information Commissioner’s Office, provide some answers,but they are not sufficient to regulate the myriad effects of social media, let alone the changes that new technologies like self-driving cars will bring. There needs to be a revolution in government, but at present as consumers and citizens we can’t advocate for that. We need a body that represents us, listens to our concern and gives us a voice.

And the British public also needs to feel empowered, so we can all make better choices - adults and children alike need different kinds of understanding and capability to navigate the digital world. It is not about being able to code: it is about being able to cope.

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation’s health and well-being, and reduce health inequalities. Perhaps we need a digital equivalent, to protect and improve our digital health and well-being, and reduce digital inequalities.

As a society, we should not have to continually respond and adapt to the demands of the big corporations: we should also make demands of them - and we need confidence, a voice, and representation to begin to do that.

Rachel Coldicutt is chief executive of Doteveryone.