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Under The Radar – 16 July

Parker Coffman on Unsplash

This week, we discuss:

  1. Strife within the Green Party

  2. The controversies surrounding the Online Safety Bill

  3. The new threats to national security

Strife within the Green Party

What happened?

This week former London Mayoral candidate Sian Berry quit as co-leader of the Green Party, citing a dispute within the party over trans rights. Her resignation follows that of her other co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, who announced he was stepping down earlier this month.

What does it mean?

The Greens have made steady electoral progress in recent years. The party had a record showing in the local elections earlier this May, making a net gain of 91 council seats to take its national total to a record 444. Their success means the party now has a role in running 18 councils, providing it with the opportunity to demonstrate its embryonic governing credentials.

Yet, in spite of their recent electoral successes, they have now become embroiled in the increasingly heated debate on trans rights in the UK. This dispute isn’t exclusive to them either, with Labour frequently finding itself dogged by internal strife between its trans and women’s rights activists.

The Green Party was principally founded to promote, and advance, environmentalism as a new mainstream ideological tenet of British politics. Labour’s eternal identity crisis, coupled with the growing salience of environmentalism across the political spectrum, suggests that they have never been dealt a better hand by which to access the levers of power in the UK.

Regardless of the Greens’ ripe potential for greater electoral success, whether they will rise to the occasion remains to be seen. At present, they appear more concerned with sacrificing their political ambitions on the altar of internal divisions and progressive ideological purity.

Seemingly not so dissimilar to Labour after all.

Online Safety Bill: Nicola Roberts Calls The Shots  

What happened?

Girls Aloud star Nicola Roberts criticised the government’s Online Safety Bill, arguing that it will fail to stop abusive users from re-joining social media platforms after being banned.

A victim of online harassment herself, the singer had been asked to champion the bill.

What does it mean?

The Online Safety Bill, which was two years in the making, put forward a number of proposals, including giving Ofcom the power to fine social media platforms up to 10% of their annual global turnover if they fail to protect their users from harmful content.

This aspect of the Bill has received extra attention in the past week with fall-out from the Euro 2020 final bringing the whole nation’s attention to the problem of online trolls. Since Sunday, there has been widespread uproar over tech companies’ lack of ability – or desire – to clamp down on racist and threatening posts against Rashford, Saka and Sancho.

Many have been pushing the Government to go further and make social media platforms require users to sign in with formal identification. Such a measure would address the problem that Roberts raised as abusers would no longer be able to hide behind new accounts under different names.

But online identification raises too many new problems to be the solution to all ills that people hope it will be. To name just a few: it will severely limit the freedom of people with marginalised identities to form safe communities online in which they can express themselves; it will discourage whistleblowers from reporting concerns without fear of retaliation; it will give tech companies even more power to collect data on citizens.

Bringing some semblance of order to the Wild West of the Internet is no enviable task but it’s imperative that the Government consider all likely consequences before the Online Safety Bill becomes law.

Threats old and new  

What happened?

MI5 Director General Ken McCallum provided an annual threat update on Wednesday and the organisation’s drive to learn, adapt, and strengthen the UK’s security. He also reflected on the withdrawal of UK troops from Afghanistan and the ongoing challenge of encryption.

What does it mean?

Since 2001, tackling terrorism abroad and preventing attacks at home has been the cornerstone of the UK’s national security strategy.

But MI5 is increasingly shifting focus to counter-intelligence operations from hostile states, warning the public to be vigilant.

Foreign states like Russian are not limiting themselves to attacks on former comrades like Sergei Skripal, but are sowing discord amongst the British public, corrupting public officials, and launching damaging cyber-attacks. China and Iran are similarly engaging in hostile activity, with MI5 reporting 10,000 cases of normal people being targeted by foreign agents.

But that’s not to say that the threat from terrorism has diminished. The withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan means the country is ripe for terrorist organisations to set up camps to train militants. Equally ISIS, although a shadow of the threat it once posed, is still trying to attack the UK and radicalise young people using slick online propaganda.

Tragically, there’s also the threat from within. As the country continues to grapple with the racism that plagued the England team’s heroic loss to Italy, there is growing concern that teenagers are being lured towards far-right extremism on the internet, as racism fuels a growing threat to security.

This Week’s Must Reads

  1. ‘ESG investing: funds weigh sovereign debt profits against human rights’ by Laurence Fletcher and Tommy Stubbington for the Financial Times

  2. ‘No cults, no politics, no ghouls: how China censors the video game world’ by Oliver Holmes for The Guardian

  3. ‘Let’s talk about our addiction to cheap money’ by James Kirkup for The Times

  4. ‘Net-zero transport dream demands an infrastructure revolution’ by Alan Tovey for The Telegraph

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