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The Tory MP Porn Drama Is Proof Some MPs Need '2017 Training'

Why the Damian Green porn debacle is a bigger deal than it seems.

Phil McDuff

First Secretary of State Damian Green (Mark Thomas / Alamy Stock Photo)

I used to believe that the people in charge of running things were basically competent and well-informed. Sure, I might have disagreed strongly with whatever it was they were doing, but in my youthful naïveté I told myself: "These people aren’t actually stupid. You can’t get as high up the ladder as they have by being stupid."

I’m not sure when the scales fell from my eyes on this one, but every week for the last two years has ensured I could never again hold such a touchingly optimistic belief. What we have is a government run by overconfident Dunning-Kruger case studies: we’re ruled by dunderheads who don’t know how little they know.

The transformation of the Damian Green story from moderately embarrassing porn browsing to deeply terrifying revelations that MPs don’t have any computer security fits squarely into this box. As scandals go, the First Secretary of State’s browser history having legal porn in it in 2008 is embarrassing, but that’s about it. Yes, Green would probably have had to resign, which would be a blow to the already embattled Prime Minister, but it would have been contained to Green himself – and the accusations go back to 2008, so there was every possibility that he would have extricated himself from the situation soon enough.

But in what, I’m sure, seemed like a genius plan to save him, Nadine Dorries and Nick Bowles both took to the internet to say that you can’t know for sure that it was Green himself browsing for porn because anyone could have been using his PC login credentials. After all, that’s common practice and everyone does it, right? Dorries said she was sure the computers of "all MPs" would have porn on them, and in "all cases" no access records to show who had downloaded it. As alibis go, this is a bit like criminals saying they couldn’t have been selling drugs that day because they were busy holding up a corner shop, giving up their accomplices as eyewitnesses to prove their innocence, then sitting back with grins on their faces because they’ve totally managed to pull a fast one on the cops.

Both MPs admitted on Twitter that they often forget their passwords and have to ask their staff what it was, with Dorries going so far as to say that everyone – "including interns on exchange programmes" – logs in under her own personal username. What was most staggering about this was not simply admitting straight up that their offices are huge vulnerabilities for malicious access, but that they apparently saw absolutely nothing wrong with saying so in public.


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The thing is, we shouldn’t be surprised by this. We expect MPs to run their constituency offices as local small businesses, and local small businesses are often badly run with terrible IT practices. They’re also quite often run by the sort of person who, as John Band put it on Twitter, "would rather spend six months arguing about a bill, ruin their customer relationship, and eventually pay it, than just fucking pay it". These hyper-authentic characters are the Tory lodestone. It makes total sense that a party which focuses on the petty grievances of people who think their moderate success in the plumbing supplies wholesale business makes them experts on macroeconomic policy should be full of people who are aggressively opposed to learning about all this nerdy computery stuff.

It's time to modernise the MP. When we get a new Prime Minister, they move into Number 10 Downing Street, with a staff and a system already in place. We don’t get the PM to hunt around for new digs, buy her own furniture and hire all the admin staff. The same should be true for MPs. Make MPs' offices permanent, like Downing Street. There’s no good reason it shouldn’t be done like this already, aside from the institutional inertia of "it’s always been this way".

Such a reform wouldn’t fix every problem with MPs thinking they’re too important to pay attention to dull stuff like "not turning my office into a Russian botnet". However, having permanent civil servants on staff, with their rigorous "don’t do this or you’ll get sacked" training, might ensure the next time some alarmingly ill-informed MP sits down and yells to the whole office "what’s my password?" that someone helps them reset it rather than shouting it back at them. Hopefully to something other than "password1".

@Mc_Heckin_Duff