Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Johnson has his card marked by Brown

The home secretary wanted to ditch ID cards, but Gordon Brown vetoed that. So a Conservative government will kill the scheme

What a fiasco. The government has announced it is abandoning all compulsory elements of the ID cards – while accelerating the implementation of a voluntary scheme. The government is playing party politics with our civil liberties – and that's not on.

The rumours have been running round ever since Alan Johnson became home secretary. It's a classic Labour trick – and one he's always been keen on. Scrap ID cards – remove one of the key issues of difference between the government and the opposition and, in doing so, reduce their political room for manoeuvre.

Oh, and save a few hundred million pounds in doing so, which will help fill the gap in the Home Office budget following Gordon Brown's raid around Whitehall departments to find the cash to pay for his latest relaunch.

The trouble is, No 10 didn't buy it. Despite the best efforts of Mr Johnson and his Home Office team, the word on the street is that the prime minister wouldn't let them get rid of what is still one of the government's flagship schemes.

Apparently, the PM wants to hang onto ID cards because he wants to be able to look tough on terror and paint his opponents as weak liberals who don't take the security of the country seriously.

So Alan Johnson's plans were scuppered at the last minute. Instead of being greeted by a ground-breaking new announcement, the assembled Home Affairs correspondents found themselves listening to something rather more anodyne.

No more compulsion ... that is, no more compulsion for airport staff at Manchester or London City airports. And, er, well, that's it!

So the new home secretary has fallen at the first hurdle. What he's been left with is neither fish nor fowl. The ID card scheme is now purely voluntary for British citizens. And for now, it's only happening at all for airline industry workers at a handful of airports and, bizarrely, for the residents of Manchester.

As if any sensible Mancunian is seriously going to wake up one morning and say to themselves, "I think I'll skip the curry tonight, go down to Boots and spend the money on an ID card instead." Or realise that the airside security card that they have already been issued with isn't good enough, and that it might be useful to spend the cash on an extra form of ID as well.

It's just pure fantasy – and it comes at a price of hundreds of millions, if not billions, of pounds. And it's another example of why this government has run out of steam. Introducing ID cards isn't a matter of great national security importance. Since becoming shadow home secretary, I have talked to numerous experts on the terror threat we face. Not one has argued to me that we are wrong on ID cards. Not one has tried to persuade me to change the Conservative party view, and adopt ID cards as a policy.

ID cards have become a totem for the prime minister – against the wishes of many of his colleagues. A former home secretary, David Blunkett, now says the project is too ambitious. Chancellor Alistair Darling has cast doubts on the scheme. Now, we know the current home secretary would like to ditch the plans. But he isn't being allowed to, on strict orders from the Downing Street bunker.

So people will have to wait – just a few months – for the chance to vote in a Conservative government that will scrap the project immediately.

And if you live in Manchester? Well, personally, I'd rather spend the money on a pint of lager, some poppadoms and a prawn biryani.

Source: The Guardian

No comments:

Post a Comment