When Labour was swept to power in the first landslide victory in 1997 “Cool Britannia” was the buzz-word of Blair and his cronies. Blair’s spin merchants crowed about the wonders of “New Labour” that would herald a new age for the British people. Now we see what they really mean and what they really want.
Not content with aligned themselves with the most venal, aggressive and reactionary elements within the British ruling class and in the United States the Blair government is now trying to steam-roller the most reactionary domestic legislation seen for a hundred years.
Identity cards were introduced during the Second World War. Then they were just cards that gave you a unique number and later your NHS number and recorded your date of birth. Public distaste led to their withdrawal in 1952.
The proposed new microchip card bears little resemblance to the old or indeed to any currently used in the rest of the European Union. The biometric information contained – fingerprints, iris or facial scans – is an expensive addition that the people are expected to largely fund themselves with talk of a card, renewable every 10 years, costing the citizen between £70 to £90.
The cost has raised public awareness in recent days following the publication of two adverse independent studies but the real threat is the cost to civil liberties. Though the Government claims that people will not be obliged to carry their ID cards on the street, which is the case in some European countries, it is difficult to see how this can be avoided if the ID card is compulsory. The proposed bill included penalties for those who fail to register and if an ID card is compulsory then the police would have every right to demand to see it, when and if they chose.
The rigmarole of registering with the police every time you change your address which is the only way ID card systems can work has not been spelt out. The link with the Government’s other new obsession – black-box car monitors to enable road congestion charging – is obvious but not discussed. But it is clear that if all these schemes come to pass the police and the security forces would be able track everyone in the country.
The Government trots out the old “only the guilty need fear” line when challenged. But in fact it’s the “innocent” who will be in jeopardy not the criminals, “terrorists”, illegal immigrants and international fraudsters, who will easily find ways of circumventing these cards as they clearly do in countries that already have similar schemes.
It is the innocent who may face the unwelcome attentions of a racist or simply bored cop demanding to see “your papers”. It is the militant trade unionist who will find it impossible to avoid the employers’ blacklist when his ID is demanded. It could be anyone in the future who opposes the government of the day.
“If, 10 years ago, I had gone on the radio and said that within a decade a Labour government would try to do away with jury trial, remove Habeas Corpus, eliminate the presumption of innocence, introduce punishment without trial and put house arrest on the statute book, they would have locked me up,” Tory Shadow Home Secretary David Davis declared in the House of Commons Tuesday night. It’s a pity more Labour MPs didn’t join the Tories and Liberal Democrats in kicking this atrocious Identity Card bill out at its first reading.
Some did take the principled stand cutting Labour’s majority from 67 to 31. This proposal can still be stopped. The labour and trade union movement must mobilise now to fight to ensure that this loathsome proposal never becomes law.