There’s a serious discussion to have about data and electoral law, but it is yet to take place.

Our democracy is poorly served by widespread ignorance about campaign technology, and the fact glamorous alarmism wins more headlines than grubby reality.

Back in March, I warned that a failure by politicians and commentators to understand what data does and does not do for political campaigns is obscuring debate on crucial issues relating to our democracy. Widespread ignorance of the true practicalities of new approaches – or the application of new technology to old approaches – has left the field open for a combination of wild alarmists and opportunist snake-oil merchants to further muddy an already little-understood topic.

Make no mistake: there are very real questions about how to update and strengthen our electoral law. I laid out several such questions in August.

Failing to answer them will leave us reliant on laws and institutions that are already ill-suited to the digital age, and which are becoming more obsolete with every passing year. Alternatively, answering them wrongly, particularly on the basis of partial or flawed information, will equip us with defences which might be shiny and new but aren’t up to the task or able to adapt to future challenges. In addition, viewing technology only as a threat to democracy would represent a serious missed opportunity to improve engagement, debate and understanding.

In other words, we need to get this right. But achieving the necessary clarity to produce the necessary good answers is made harder by the existence of plenty of charlatans who are keen to take advantage of the fact that most people don’t know much about the topic, still less about the technicalities. And such people have a shared interest in distorting the discussion.

For every person with a conspiracy theory about a magical black box which they would like to believe is the real reason for their defeat at the ballot box, there is a salesman to confirm that yes, that box really does contain a wonder-weapon capable of controlling people’s minds, and yes we do accept cheques for the eye-watering sums required to recruit it to your team. Add in the natural media preference for attention-grabbing alarm over rather more dull reality, and the environment is not ideal for producing sensible, practical solutions.

This week’s report on data in the EU referendum campaign by the Information Commissioner’s Office tends to bear out what I argued in the spring. The report provides further basis for very real and serious concerns about how data was misused and data rights breached, by a variety of actors on various sides of the referendum, while finding apparently no sign of the grandiose theories that were touted in some quarters about Vote Leave. And yet the latter has garnered the lion’s share of publicity, while the former has been relegated to the status of a mere backdrop.

That does a dis-service to our democracy. The grubby business of harvesting contact and demographic data against people’s wishes, and exploiting a populace who are under-aware of the reasons to value and defend their data, before flogging it for a quick buck or using it for marketing spam, is not as glamorous or titillating as fantastical ideas of dark arts, hi-tech psychological manipulation, and shadowy conspiracies, but the evidence keeps suggesting that it is the former problem which really exists, and which requires close scrutiny. And yet the incentives appear to be mismatched – those who want to make a name for themselves do better hyping up what is flimsy but glitzy, while neglecting issues that are real but less exciting.

The ICO report shows that there are real, important and pressing problems to inform the public about, and on which to begin to base reforms to the law. Allowing that real need to be obscured by flights of fancy has done our democracy no good whatsoever.

Eamonn Ives: No, Brexit will not threaten all creatures great and small

In certain respects, the UK’s leaving of the EU could reap animal welfare benefits on a scale hitherto unimaginable.

Eamonn Ives is a researcher at Bright Blue.

In case you hadn’t yet noticed, the United Kingdom is currently negotiating its leaving of the European Union. Whilst we do not know exactly where the country will end up after the 29th March next year, it is almost certain that Westminster will have the opportunity to legislate on policy issues which for decades it has offshored to Brussels. Nowhere is this more apparent than with respect to environmental law – of which roughly four-fifths stem from the EU.

This has, reasonably enough, put the proverbial cat amongst the metaphorical pigeons of the environmental lobby. Notwithstanding the fact that just about all of them lament Brexit, it is unsurprising that they regard the country’s vote to leave as a threat to existing standards. When anything could happen, expecting the worst might be an instinctive response. One area in particular which has attracted a considerable amount of attention is that of animal welfare regulation.

Such anxieties are, at the very least, understandable. One cannot deny that there exists a contingent of Brexit supporters – some of whom wield significant political clout – who would happily see current welfare standards watered down. However, I also believe that those fears are somewhat misplaced and overblown, and that in certain respects, the UK’s leaving of the EU could reap animal welfare benefits on a scale hitherto unimaginable.

One of the most exciting aspects of Brexit is the fact that it allows the UK to do away with divisive and much bemoaned Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This byzantine framework for awarding public money to farmers and land-owners based largely upon nothing more than the amount of land they manage has a whole host of drawbacks – none less so than the consequences many, Eurosceptics and Europhiles alike, believe it has had for British biodiversity.

Mercifully, the Government has committed to replacing the CAP. In a move inspired by a report published by Bright Blue last year, future payments look set to be made to recipients for the public goods they deliver. Importantly, things which increase animal welfare (such as measures which reduce antimicrobial resistance – a threat to animals and humans alike) were singled out by the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, as a possible public good which could be rewarded under the CAP’s successor. Thus, the policy rethink which Brexit fundamentally symbolises, played out in this instance as the re-evaluation of funding priorities, could easily lead to improved animal welfare in Britain.

But potential animal welfare gains triggered by changes to agricultural policy do not stop there. If one considers where the majority of animal welfare abuse occurs, an obvious starting point would be with animals which are reared for their meat. Whilst this is not to tar every livestock farmer with the same brush, examples of animal abuse in the industry are undeniable, and are now frequently appearing in the national media as reporting improves.

And yet, society is today closer than ever before to being in a position where it could virtually eliminate all such suffering. Cultured meat, more commonly known as lab-grown meat, has, of late, made great leaps forward in terms of its commercial viability. The costs associated with producing it have fallen exponentially: one start-up which was producing cultured meat at $325,000 per burger in 2013, had it down to a mere $11 just two years later. Venture capitalists and philanthropists are flocking to invest in cultured meat, with industry figures believing it can become cost competitive in just a couple of years’ time.

So where does Brexit play into this? Unfortunately, the EU gives me little reason to think that it will embrace this potentially game-changing technology with the open arms anyone who is interested in animal welfare (and indeed climate change, biodiversity, and much more else besides) might wish it would. The EU’s long-standing opposition to genetic modification, and more recent hostility towards the much less controversial ‘gene editing’, means that one can be forgiven for being pessimistic about the EU forgoing the hyper-precautionary mindset which it has displayed in the past.

Furthermore, given that we know how successful the farming lobby has been in capturing the EU (at its peak, 71 per cent of the EU’s total budget funded the CAP), there is again good reason to believe it could act as a formidable stumbling block to the EU affording cultured meat a favourable regulatory regime. Already, the European farming lobby has mobilised the European Court of Justice to ban plant-based alternatives from using ‘dairy style’ naming words for cheese and milk substitutes: what’s not to say they won’t do the same for cultured meat?

For the arguments expressed above, I believe that the UK’s leaving of the EU does not jeopardise animal welfare – far from it. Brexit gives the UK a golden opportunity to rethink the frameworks which underpin agricultural and countryside management, to the betterment of animal welfare. It also permits the Government to prevent some of the most flagrant examples animal abuse.

Finally, whilst admittedly unclear at present, if we do indeed witness the same proclivity from the EU to regulate against the innovation of cultured meat as demonstrated with respect to gene editing and genetic modification, being outside of that regime can only be positive for animal welfare.

Howard Flight: The best part of a week on, we can see that last week’s Budget was a popular one

The Chancellor has been fortunate that the public finances have improved substantially at a particularly convenient time.

Lord Flight is Chairman of Flight & Partners Recovery Fund, and is a former Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Philip Hammond has been fortunate that the public finances have improved substantially at a particularly convenient time. Economic growth has been revised up next year to 1.6 per cent; employment has been revised up, with 800,000 more jobs than forecast in 2023; wages will rise above inflation for the next five years.

The borrowing target has been met three years early, with the deficit now down to 1.9 per cent of GDP. The debt target has also been met three years early at a peak of 85 per cent of GDP. Borrowing is £11.6 billion lower than forecast at 1.2 per cent of GDP. This has improved significantly the scope of what the Budget can seek to address.

Overall public spending will increase by 1.2 per cent per annum, between 0.2 per cent and 0.4 per cent less than forecast growth. The improved tax yields have enabled the Prime Minister’s NHS commitment to be fully funded.

The Chancellor presented a pragmatic “micro” Budget, seeking to address virtually all of the issues which came up as needing attention. Yet perhaps its most important ingredient was a significant cut in taxation for the majority next April – increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher rate to £50,000 a year.

Local Authorities are getting an extra £1 billion of funding and business rates for retailers with rateable values below £51,000, will be cut by a third for two years. A further £1.7 billion each year will be provided to benefit working families on Universal Credit with the work allowance – the amount families can earn before losing credits – being increased by £1000 per annum.

A new two per cent digital services tax to insure that large digital firms pay a “fair share” of tax, is expected to raise £400 million per annum. Schools will get a further 400 million this year and defence will get a further £1 billion this year and next. There is also £160 million for counter-terror police. The national living wage will increase by nearly five per cent to £8.21. The national productivity investment fund will be increased to £37 billion and will be extended to 2024. Large roads will get £28.8 billion for 2020-25, and even potholes will get £420 million! PFI will be abolished, leaving a bill for £200 billion to be honoured.

There was a range of extra funding largely for small business – extending the annual investment allowance to £1 million; extending the start-up loans programme for 10,000 entrepreneurs; delivering the lowest corporation tax rate in the G20; keeping three million small businesses out of VAT; reducing the cost of taking on apprentices by halving the co-investment rate for non-levy payers; £121 million to support cutting-edge digital manufacturing; £78 million to fund electric motor innovations; £315 million in quantum technologies and £50 million for new Turing Fellowships.

Measures to help more people into home ownership include abolishing stamp duty retrospectively for first time buyers of all shared ownership properties of up to £500,000; an additional £500 million for the housing infrastructure fund; committing over £7.2 billion to a new help to buy equity loan scheme to support 110,000 new home buyers and the abolition of the housing revenue account cap controlling local authority borrowing for house building.

There are measures for those keen on the environment and more money for the Transforming Cities fund. Remarkably, the Chancellor has addressed virtually all the issues of concern to citizens and, as a result, I think, the best part of a week on, that this has proved to be a very popular Budget. The one important reform it has not addressed is the confiscatory rates of stamp duty on larger properties in London and the South East. This had led to a freezing up of the market – bad for revenues and for economic mobility.

George Freeman: There was much to cheer in the Budget. But now we need an inspiring programme for growth.

At the moment, we are treading water and appear to be relying on popular support for Brexit, and the threat of Corbyn, to keep us in office.

George Freeman MP is Chair of the Conservative Policy Forum and The Big Tent Ideas Festival, and is MP for Mid-Norfolk.

On Monday, the Chancellor announced that “austerity is coming to an end”. Politically, there was a lot to cheer in this Budget – some good news and headlines for struggling high streets, our crucial Universal Credit reform, NHS workers and the vast majority of constituents who rely on public services. Furthermore, there were many helpful retail pledges for colleagues in marginal seats. Given the Brexit divisions and infighting, we badly needed some good news.

But if we are going to end the biggest squeeze on disposable incomes since the war, the central question for our future is this: how can we get back to the 2.5-3 per cent growth that we enjoyed pre-Brexit? Before the EU Referendum, we were one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe and the G7. Now we’re one of the slowest-growing.

The Budget invites the public to judge us on different metrics – no longer on our commitment to balance the books (abandoned) or reduce the debt (still growing), but on our ability to “end austerity”. People will now need to feel tangible improvements and see how Brexit can be a catalyst for much higher growth and prosperity.

Because this Budget won’t be decided on the comment pages of broadsheets. It will be decided on the ground.  By parents chatting at the school gates. Families looking after their ageing relatives in care homes. Commuters stuck in traffic jams because the housing has come, but the infrastructure hasn’t. Or the millions standing on trains every morning who’ve shelled out £2,000 for a season ticket and feel ripped off.

I no longer advise the Prime Minister, but here’s what I’d say if I still did. We need to remind people that every public sector pound has to be earned before it is spent, and that we need a more inspiring programme of business-led growth to drive prosperity and opportunity.  This means some big changes.

First, accelerating our transition from a service economy to an innovation nation.  Innovation is key to our driving up productivity, prosperity, inward investment and exports. We won’t escape debt with growth at 1.5 per cent and low productivity.  We need a renaissance of enterprise and innovation.  Such buccaneers as James Dyson and Richard Branson have done more to transform this country’s prospects than any government department ever will.  We need to stop the business-bashing and promote entrepreneurship and innovation. While the UK is still a crucible of start-up entrepreneurship, the engine is not yet humming: we have too many start-ups that are never scaled up, too little of our innovation funded by the City and too little that is taken global by British companies. We need a new national mission. We must be the innovation nation.

Second, tangible access to new markets for our innovation.We can’t just do research.  We need to innovate, manufacture and trade.  If Brexit means anything, it surely means an opportunity to go global. But that can’t mean importing cheap food and cheap clothes from sweatshops. We need to be exporting our innovation. The UK should be using every tool possible to unlock access to the fastest emerging markets in Africa and Asia.

For 40 years our whole economy has been geared to our being a European services economy. Why don’t we make Brexit the moment to embrace a new global strategy for higher growth through exporting technology and innovation into emerging markets? If the opportunity is properly seized, we could use our Industrial Strategy and public sector innovation to make Britain a crucible of new technology scale up and financing through the City.

We could then use our aid budget and global soft power in emerging markets to grow our exports and trade links with the fastest growing economies. Why don’t we offer some of the fastest emerging countries where we have a strong historic links a deeper Aid, Trade and Security Development Partnership?

Third, harnessing the public sector as a test bed of innovation. We’ll never export our innovation if we’re not using it ourselves. Innovation can’t be just about making a lucky few in the City rich beyond their wildest dreams. In order for us to be a test bed for new technology, we need to put enterprise and innovation at the heart of the public sector.  If we want to lead the world in digital health, we won’t do it unless the NHS is already a pioneer. You can have as many digital health clusters in Shoreditch as you like. But if the NHS isn’t testing and buying it, we will never become the innovation nation we need to be. Building, financing and growing these little start-ups into serious businesses of scale. The problem of the austerity era was thinking that our problems could be solved by cutting things. Actually, the only way our problems can be solved is by growing things.

Fourth, empowering local leaders to innovate more. Innovation can’t be ordered from on high. It comes from people having the power to make decisions themselves. That’s why we need to embrace bolder economic localism. Let’s remember that our national economic performance is made up of hundreds of local economies, all of which need to be growing faster. Another five years of ever-tighter spending controls from the Treasury risks undermining local growth and innovation.  Instead of delaying essential local infrastructure holding our growth hubs back, why not let them raise infrastructure bonds in the international capital markets and embrace bold ideas like integrated track and train mutuals which invests users money into better services?

Fifth, a new model of Treasury incentives. Too often, Whitehall’s funding orthodoxy rewards failure.  If you deliver more for less in the public sector we give you…less!   And give more to those failing.  If you ran a business like that it would be bust.  And depressing to work in. It’s no wonder that public sector leaders are so dispirited.  Many are leaving.  We need them to stay.  So why don’t we send a signal to encourage them, be bold and embrace a new model of incentives-based funding which rewards successful local service leaders for delivering efficiency and productivity? We need a new approach based on a radical idea: if an area reduces the deficit quicker than Whitehall’s average we should let them keep 50 per cent of the savings to re-invest.  Why not the same on growth? If councils grow their tax base, why not let them keep 50 per cent for local services?

Our choice as a nation is clear. Do we timidly manage our decline? Or do we set out a bold plan a brighter future? At the moment we are treading water and appear to be relying on popular support for Brexit, and the threat of Jeremy Corbyn, to keep us in office.

For a majority of voters, keeping Corbyn out and delivering Brexit are not good enough answers.  We need to show voters that this is the path to something more inspiring.  We need to start setting out a bold vision for Conservatism in the twenty-first century.