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Not delayed, not sleeping, dead - UK ID card scheme goes under

Damned with indeterminate schedules...

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Although the fat lady (or possibly more appropriately, the portly former Home Secretary) has yet to sing on the subject, yesterday's statements from the Home Office make it a racing certainty that ID cards are dead in this parliamentary administration. The portly former Home Secretary meanwhile has been busy singing denunciations of John Reid's misdeeds in other areas, but will no doubt warble on the sad end of ID cards just as soon as he gets a minute in his busy schedule.

The key points to note are, as we pointed out on Sunday, schedule-related. Yesterday the Home Office said that the introduction of ID cards would be dependent on the review of Home Office operations being carried out at the behest of new Home Secretary John Reid, and a BBC report last night quoted Home Office sources as saying that within this, tendering had been postponed indefinitely. Which is actually saying pretty much the same thing as the official Home Office line, but narrowing the focus - no tendering until the review is complete, nature of tenders to depend on nature of project, nature of project redefined by review - right?

The damage control statements from the Home Office say there's no longer a fixed date, but it's important to get it right and the rollout was always intended to be "an incremental process". This is smoke.

The key aspects of the devastating email leaked on Sunday were that it described a barely achievable design and tendering process aiming for a 2008 date, and that it revealed a half-baked plan for a "variant card" that seemed more likely to wreck development than keep it on the schedule. The schedule described in the email depended on ministerial decisions to be made this month (now not happening) a clear definition of the variant card and associated Temporary National ID Register (not happening), OGC clearance of associated business cases in early 2007 (not happening, no plans, no business cases), advertisement of procurement in the EU Official Journal in March 2007 (nope), with the first cards shipping in 2008. That's clearly not happening either, but it's not just a case of not happening as in missing it by a month, six months, slipping to 2009, but screwed, gone, off the radar unless somebody comes back with a spec for a viable project.

Now, sync the derailed schedule into wider matters. The next election is likely to be in 2010, and even if the men in white coats don't get him sooner, Tony Blair has undertaken to be out of the picture beforehand. So 2009 at the very latest, and Gordon will be really unhappy if it turns out to be that late. The weird variant card was clearly a 'tell you what' measure driven by Blair's absolute determination in the face of all the evidence to have ID cards and to ship them in 2008, and only a further bout of Blair shouting is going to induce the people running the project to even pretend to try to get the first cards out before Blair goes.

So outcomes - Blair accepts he's been overwhelmed by the facts and backs off, or Shouty Blair resumes and a rebodged version collapses some more in the run-up, or even as a contributory factor to, his departure. Whatever, ding dong, the megaglitch is dead.

And next? A more sensible, and desirable Government approach to identity management now has a chance at a look in. And if the ministers who've tagged the LSE Identity Project as Satan's Spawn have all gone, then it might even be possible for their replacements to read and understand the LSE's proposals, and figure out they might be quite helpful. Meanwhile, there may be something in the department of odd coincidences. The Sunday Times claimed senior Treasury sources had passed on the killer email, and it was the representative of the OGC, a Treasury operation, who had the hardest things to say about the state of the ID project. So an assassination, maybe? And yesterday, Chancellor Gordon Brown announced the appointment of the chair of the Public-Private Forum on Identity Management, which will "examine evolving technologies" and produce a "preliminary report" for Brown and the Ministerial Committee on Identity Management by "Easter 2007". Factor that one into the schedules, too.

Reidwatch Many things are missing from the Home Office's recent counter-terrorism strategy document, including, in our estimation, anything you could possibly describe as a coherent counter-terrorism strategy. Remarkably though, it doesn't mention ID cards at all, and the only mention of biometrics is in the context of a brief and lukewarm section on biometric visas. Which tells you something about the likely future of ID cards, and maybe indicates that the e-borders train-wreck should be pencilled into diaries.

Blunkettwatch The former Home Secretary we prepared earlier has been having memory trouble again. Soundbiting to BBC radio last night, David Blunkett said that a staged rollout had always been the intention (yeah yeah...) and that it would make sense to issue cards to immigrants and citizens of other EU countries as a first stage. Now, as a former Home Secretary intimately involved in (steady...) the planning of this whole mess, David Blunkett should know that citizens of other EU countries need to be treated equally with UK citizens. Thus, you can't start carding them unless at the very least you've got carding UK citizens scheduled too. Which is, we submit, the current problem, right?

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