Leading Labour’s pre-election push on the ID card is Home Office minister Meg Hillier, a former mayor of Islington and an MP since just 2005. According toTheyworkforyou.com, Hillier has voted strongly in favour of a smoking ban, replacing Trident, terror laws and – naturally – ID cards, while voting against an investigation into the Iraq war and climate change laws: so, a bright New Labour high-flyer who balances her busy political life with the demands of a young family, or a dreary knuckle-dragging authoritarian, according to your point of view.
Hillier’s attempt to embed the ID card into British life has a desperate ingenuity about it. First the Home Office tries – without much success – to persuade young people that the card is a hip accessory that will allow them to prove their age when buying alcohol or clubbing, now Hillier targets old people with a suggestion that the ID card willreplace the bus pass, as part of a plan where the elderly are given the card free.
The efforts to roll out the £5bn scheme when government departments are so strapped for funds tell us much about the deep, pathological needs of the state when it comes to “identity management”. The Home Office has responded to the widespread hostility to the card by identifying different groups’ needs and devising ways of subtly implanting the card and making it seem indispensables. As I have written many times, the primary motive is not to allow you to identify yourself, but to allow the state to identify you and furthermore track your life in the records accumulated by the National Identity Register.
Phil Booth of NO2ID may be right when he says in response to Hillier’s latest idea that the government has reached the end of the road on the policy and that “the minister is indulging in wild fantasy and speculation”, but he knows well how determined the Home Office is to get the universal ID card and if it does, as night follows day, police officers will eventually be allowed to demand to see someone’s card on the street.
You only have to look at the abuse of Section 44 to understand that, or read this young man’s story about being stopped by police with sniffer dogs on the way to work and being told that the fact that he had been searched would appear on a database, although nothing was found. Without protest we already accept incredible curtailment of our freedoms. Think how it will be with the ID card.
The particular gleam in the eye of Hillier and IPS officials at the moment is the prospect of putting an electronic identifier in a person’s mobile phone – which they seem to have forgotten is one of the most frequently stolen items. Typically, this was presented as satisfying the needs of another social group – the poor. At a Social Market Foundation event recently, Hillier talked of the needs of the “socially disadvantaged” in her constituency who had no other form of identity documents.
In response to a councillor at the event who asked why the government kept on changing its argument for the ID card, she said that “9/11 has put the cast on the ID card”, but that the card had always been a multifaceted project. Whatever that means, the government has failed to make the case for the card and every time it thinks of a new reason is soundly beaten by the logic of civil liberties groups. So now the policy is not to make the argument but to insinuate the card into national life. Well, at least we have a chance to say something about that in a few weeks’ time.
• Following the success of an event last week to launch Keith Ewing’s book on Labour’s attack on liberties, it has been suggested that such an event would go down well outside London. If there are groups, who during the election campaign, would like to hear about the experiences of people who have fallen victim to New Labour’s authoritarian laws, or from speakers of all persuasions who appeared at theConvention on Modern Liberty, let me know at email@example.com, and Professor Ewing and I will see if we can put something together.
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