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Philip Hammond shows the Conservatives how not to take on Jeremy Corbyn

The Chancellor's dismissal of the Labour leader as a “dinosaur” and a “Marxist” made the Tories sound like the party of the past.

A spectre is haunting the Conservatives: the spectre of Jeremy Corbyn. After losing their majority to Labour in June, the Tories now fear they are losing the battle of ideas. A man whom they long regarded as unelectable is within reach of Downing Street.

Philip Hammond's Conservative conference speech was so devoted to Corbyn that it felt like that of an opposition politician. At the opening of his address, the Chancellor quipped: "I can almost hear the warning bells going off in Conference Control Centre: 'Don't talk about the 70s!'" But Hammond then proceeded to do just that. "I think we owe it to the next generation to show how Corbyn's Marxist policies will inevitably lead us back to where Britain was in the late 1970s."

The top rate of income tax, he reminded his audience, stood at 83 per cent (98 per cent on interest and dividends), corporation tax was 52 per cent and much of industry was nationalised. There is little comparison, however, between such measures and Labour's social democratic 2017 manifesto (which proposed a top income tax rate of 50 per cent and corporation tax of 26 per cent). Corbyn's "Marxist policies", such as renationalisation, are supported by around 80 per cent of the public (a fact which strengthens Labour's claim to be "the new mainstream"). 

But Hammond wasn't done. "For those who don't like history lessons, I could equally appeal to geography," he remarked, invoking Cuba, Zimbabwe and Venezuela (hyperbole reminiscent of Churchill's 1945 warning that Labour government would lead to "a Gestapo"). Such was the length and ferocity of Hammond's attack on Labour that it was easy to forget that he was running the Treasury. "Last week at Brighton the dinosaurs had broken out of their glass cases, their political DNA apparently uncontaminated by any contact with the reality of 30 years of global economic development ... a sort of political version of Jurassic Park." 

Such attacks, ironically, made the Tories sound like the party of the past (an impression not aided by Hammond's ad-libbed quip: "An ageing population ... that's us!") Though party delegates will likely have agreed with every word, the unconverted will have been left cold. "I wouldn't trust him with a Monopoly set!" Hammond declared of John McDonnell. "Not even to give him the boot." But the Chancellor's speech dwelt too little on the reasons why an increasing number wish to evict the Conservatives. 

The housing crisis is at the root of the Tories' woes; it's hard to sell capitalism to those without capital. But beyond promising an extra £10bn in funding for Help to Buy (which merely inflates demand, rather than increasing supply), Hammond's speech offered no solutions to the problem. The Chancellor spoke of "the pressure on living standards caused by slow wage growth and a spike in inflation". Yet after the longest fall in real wages since the Napoleonic Wars, he was notably short of answers.

The spectre haunting the economy is that of Brexit. But until its close, Hammond's speech entirely evaded the subject. The Chancellor repeated his words of last year: "They [the electorate] didn't vote to get poorer or to reduce trade with our closest neighbours and biggest trading partners." Yet though Theresa May has proposed a two year transition, the UK is set to leave the EU single market and the customs union (neither mentioned in Hammond speech). As the Chancellor well knows, no British government in recent history has enacted such an act of economic self-harm. It's hard to defend capitalism when the UK is simultaneously leaving the world's largest single market.

As long as the Tories stand accused of such economic recklessness, and choose to insult Corbyn, rather than scrutinise him, they will struggle to regain their stride. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.