After considerable infighting the Tory Party has come out in favour of ID cards, but with sufficient hedging for the party, if not Tory leader Michael Howard, to press the eject button should the ID scheme turn out to be not such a good idea after all. The support, which will mean the party votes in favour of the ID card bill on Monday, can be put down to Howard being a long-term supporter of ID cards, but a significant proportion of the party opposes them, and this includes shadow cabinet members.
Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin, Tim Yeo at Transport and Home Affairs spokesman David Davis have all expressed reservations, and Davis reportedly fought hard against a commitment to support the scheme. Davis was expressing scepticism as early as the Mistaken Identity public meeting in May (speeches available here), where he also displayed a commendable grasp of the database lash-up the Government currently presides over. If he plays his cards right, a combination of honourable, loyal support for his leader and realistic scepticism about the viability of the scheme is unlikely to do his leadership chances any harm.
BBC's Today programme this morning meanwhile claimed that seven Tory front benchers had been excused attendance on Monday, so that did did not feel obliged to vote against the party line. With support already looking this unconvincing, Howard looks set to find himself still being accused by the Government of presiding over a party that is soft on terror.
The Tory escape hatch lies in "five tests" to be applied as the bill passes through Parliament. The exact purpose of the scheme must be made clear, it must show that it can meet its objectives, the Home Office must prove it is capable of delivering them, it must be seen to be cost-effective and proper protection for privacy must be provided. Under the circumstances then it's kind of difficult to see why they don't just go ahead and oppose it now.
Privacy International commented that the Tories are now the only opposition party supporting the scheme, with director Simon Davies saying: "The Tories have taken one their biggest political gambles for many years. If public opinion turns against the ID scheme as dramatically as it did in Australia they will inevitably fall to third place in the forthcoming elections.
"The decision will cause a crucial divide between the authoritarians and the libertarians. The liberal minded members with conscience will ultimately oppose the decision." The major Parliamentary opposition to the scheme currently rests with the Liberal Democrats, who could do well in the forthcoming election if, as Davies predicts, public opinion turns against ID cards as people become more informed about what they entail. Privacy International has also produced a comprehensive guide and analysis to the ID card bill, and this we recommend as essential reference. Meanwhile Spyblog has set up an ID bill blog in order to promote clause by clause discussion, which again will be useful in unpicking the beast. ®
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