Leaked cabinet letters reveal that British Home Secretary David Blunkett is readying the terror card to accelerate the introduction of a compulsory ID system. Blunkett secured cabinet agreement for enabling legislation last autumn, but at the price of making the scheme voluntary for the moment, with the final decision on compulsion being reserved until "later this decade."
Just days after this decision was announced, however, Blunkett stood before Parliament describing a scheme whose timescale and inevitability looked strangely unchanged. Faced with Blunkett's absolute determination to ramrod a scheme through, backed by Prime minister Blair's support, the Cabinet opponents seem to amount to little more than a clutch of powerless bleaters.
The latest leak, to yesterday's Sunday Times, is more of the same. Cabinet members Jack Straw, Alistair Darling, Paul Boateng and Pat Hewitt have written to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott protesting that draft legislation on ID cards to be published before Easter will allow the scheme to be made compulsory on a simple vote of Parliament. The objectors had apparently left the previous Cabinet wrangles with the view that there would be further discussion, and probably a further bill, before compulsory ID was introduced. But the current draft, which Cabinet members have been given early sight of, would appear to be the compulsory ID card legislation already, with an on-switch for flipping as soon as Blunkett thinks he can get away with it.
According to foreign secretary Jack Straw's letter (quoted in The Guardian, "I do not have the minutes of our discussions to hand, but my recollection is the same as Patricia [Hewitt]'s ... a bill of this kind would be seen to be focused on the introduction of a compulsory ID scheme."
Well indeed. But Blunkett's intentions were made abundantly clear last November. He (and indeed Tony Blair) see compulsory ID as inevitable, and he has put together legislation based on this premise, and will no doubt insist if questioned that the draft is fully in line with the Cabinet's views. Then on the next major terrorist atrocity, an outraged Parliament will make the cards compulsory, after the level of balanced debate it customarily deploys in such circumstances (i.e., none).
Blunkett is unshakably convinced that ID cards will effectively combat terror, crime and illegal immigration, and is equally unshakably convinced that he is the voice of the people on this. On the second he's probably right, but on the first he's utterly wrong. It will however likely take another Great British Government IT Disaster to prove this to the people, and David will be gone from the Home Office (please Lord, out rather than up) long before that one works through the system. ®