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Axeman Chancellor toes the line on ID cards

Just do it, Darling

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Alistair Darling is making a habit of taking an axe to the projects of his ministerial colleagues in media interviews, if this weekend's press is to be believed.

Last week he forced health secretary Andy Burnham to give an emergency statement in the Commons by waxing confusedly lyrical on the Andrew Marr Show about how the NHS National Programme for IT, or parts of it, or something, wasn't necessary and would be scrapped. It turned out that savings of £600m - less than 5 per cent of the total budget - are planned.

Now the Chancellor has given an interview to the Telegraph. This post-pre-Budget report report, as it were, has again prompted suggestions that a massive government IT programme will be binned.

Selected remarks from the interview were dressed up for the news story, "Alistair Darling signals death of ID cards".

Except he didn't really. He in fact stuck to the current government line that compulsory ID cards are unnecessary, because we'll all have biometric passports anyway.

"Most of the expenditure is on biometric passports which you and I are going to require shortly to get into the US. Do we need to go further than that? Well, probably not."

The interviewer interpreted this as a policy announcement by Darling, perhaps understandable given his newsworthy mutterings over the NPfIT. "He does seem, however, to sound the death knell for ID cards," she wrote.

By the time the story had been copied for Saturday's Times, however, that interpretation had magically teleported from the world of reasonable journalistic speculation and into the mouth of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The Times wrote: "Darling went on to say that while his decision was not going against any existing plans, he acknowledged that his intervention would probably sound the death knell for ID cards."

No, he didn't. His comments are easily within the bounds of the non-compulsory U-turn policy shift executed by Home Secretary Alan Johnson in June. There will be no sheepish explanation to the Commons this time. There might be in the Times newsroom.

But, of course, even if Darling had made an announcement on ID cards, these days it would probably be completely academic. The Tories are pledged to scrap the scheme, and the accompanying National Identity Register, if they win the election. ®

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