'Non-compulsory' ID cards poised for a makeover?
Kinder, gentler, don't mention the database
Analysis It's straight out of the New Labour Labs spin book. The Home Office executes a U-turn on compulsory ID cards, while the Home Secretary does the rounds of the media insisting that they were never compulsory in the first place, and that he is affirming his commitment to them by accelerating their rollout.
But there's a surprising amount to unpick from Alan Johnson's non-announcement this week, and although the actual change is small (backing off from a messy and pointless confrontation with the airline unions), the 'accelerated rollout' provides a few pointers as to where Johnson may be planning to take the project.
Sue Sample, Home Office sweetheart
Although certain attention-challenged outlets described Johnson's announcement that ID cards would not be compulsory as "a significant Government climbdown", the Home Office actually let this be known three months ago. It's also not the case, as some have reported, that Johnson announced the abandonment of the trial of ID cards for airport workers - he removed the compulsory aspect, but the trial remains in place, at least theoretically, on a voluntary basis.
Which is significant. Take him at face value when he claims to be an "instinctive" supporter of ID cards, but take into account that he's smart enough not to keep on banging his head against a brick wall (something of a first for recent Home Secretaries), and that coming on as the sensible one while getting the Labour Party off this particular toasting fork may come in handy if there's a leadership election in the next year or so.
By making the meaningless (because he can't commit future Governments) statement that ID cards will never be compulsory for UK citizens, he defuses the ID bomb to some extent, and moves the emphasis onto making them popular, useful and necessary. No, don't laugh - in some senses they could be useful and popular, and in some senses they could become necessary, the continuation of compulsion by other means. And if Johnson plays his cards right and doesn't make Smith- or Byrne-style demented claims, it needn't actually matter to him if people don't start volunteering for ID cards.
They're not his baby, and that only changes if he decides to make it change.
Next page: Ticking the boxes
A lesson from history
Ask a German jew about ID cards. You might, of course, have trouble finding one today.
In 1871, the German state came into existence. It was a modern, forward-looking, liberal state, that most of the inhabitants of the former German confederation looked forwards to becoming members of. And so they queued up to obtain their membership cards and new passports. The state didn't ask for a lot by modern standards. The obvious things that "everyone" knew. Name, Address, Date of birth, Religion ....
Scroll forwards 70 years, and these people's children and grandchildren who had not even been born at the time were being rounded up for a one-way trip to an extermination camp. A major reason so few German jews survived, was that the German state had all the records it needed to find them.
ID cards and the database of evil are at present as undead as vampires, and much less desirable. I will be voting Tory at the next election, and not even bothering to consider any other issue, because this is the last chance we have to preserve some vestige of liberty. If ID cards and the database behind them are not scrapped, shredded and buried in concrete, it is only a matter of time before we, who failed to learn the lesson of history, come to re-live it.
I no longer hope just to see the Labour party defeated. I hope to see it wiped off the political map forever, for it to join the Whigs in the history book. Anything less, and the state control freaks will soon be back, blindly (and possibly even with good intentions) building the road to hell.
Interesting how, when I want a statement to apply for ever, then apparently you can not tie future governments to things. But when something exists which I don't like, then it's a case of, "oh we gave our word we can't go back on it", or "oh we've signed up to it now, no getting out". It's probably the old con of if we are having problems inflicting something on you, then we reserve the right of a future government to try again, but if we are already messing you up, then you 'don't have a leg to stand on', and can't do anything about it.
And remember! the people behind these cards are going to be the ones who get your information in a database! Fun fun! Oh, until there's an election, and then WHO KNOWS who'll get your info.