The Curmudgeon


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It's Your Choice

The new Minister of Snoopery and Supersize Deluxe Bleached Pachyderms, Alan Johnson, has announced that the legacy of Agent Smith and her eminently fit-for-purpose predecessors will be carried forth, in practice if not in headline. The plan to issue compulsory identity cards to pilots and airport workers has been abandoned, and in its place there is to be a "voluntary" scheme to charge young people in north-west England thirty pounds for the dubious honour of carrying them. Doubtless, being young people in north-west England at a time of full employment and rising wages, they can well afford the privilege. Johnson reassured the country that identity cards would not be made compulsory unless a future Government chose to pass the necessary legislation; which is, of course, jolly reassuring. "Holding an identity card should be a personal choice for British citizens," he said; "just as it is now to obtain a passport". Applying for a passport is a matter of personal choice; when you apply for a passport, your details go on the National Identity Elephant; hence, having your details on the National Identity Elephant is a matter of personal choice.

Johnson admitted the regrettable fact that the Government had "allowed the perception to develop that the cards would be a 'panacea' that would stop terrorism". To the extent that the unthinking British public had evolved this dangerous delusion, quite outside the well-meaning but childishly innocent perceptions of Whitehall, it may have been because the Government kept implying that the cards would be a panacea that would stop terrorism, at least if they were permitted to take their place - shoulder to shoulder with ninety-day internment, faith schools and summary police powers of sentencing - on the parapet of traditional British values. Anyway, it now appears that identity cards are not such a panacea; they are only a panacea for "illegal working, people-trafficking and ID fraud", which presumably is why Johnson wants to palm them off on people who are over seventy-five.

The Conservative Minister of Civil Liberties, Chris "Boot Camp" Graybeing, who plans to dump the cards but keep the elephant, accused Johnson of being even more concerned with civil liberties than the Conservative Party: "the home secretary thinks [the scheme] has been a waste and wants to scrap it, but the prime minister won't let him." However, Johnson said he was an "instinctive", as opposed to a reasoning, supporter of the scheme; which is, I suppose, a tolerably plausible explanation for why he might wish to hustle it into more or less the sort of state which a New New Labour press secretary might possibly be able to describe as "operational" while keeping a straight face.


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