Friday, January 20, 2006

So on message it hurts

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Waste not

I fear for Hazel Blears. The other day she admitted to doubts about the government’s anti-terrorist legislation: “In my deepest, darkest moments I do struggle with some of this.” When one of Stalin’s henchmen caught himself thinking like that, it was not long before he arrived at a Politburo meeting to find there was no chair for him.

It would be sad to see Hazel Blears exiled, if only for her place in cinema history. She can be seen, in kilt skirt and bunches, in the kitchen sink classic A Taste of Honey. Her brother sings “The Big Ship Sails On The Ally Ally O” – as children did in those days.

But if Blears is sent to the New Labour equivalent of Siberia, they will still have Andy Burnham. He is so on message it hurts.

After the government’s Lords defeat on Monday, he claimed it would be “foolish in the extreme” to reveal how much the identity card scheme would cost. There was no need: KPMG had approved it. And besides: “We can’t just put all the figures out in the public domain because that may lead us not to get the best deal for the taxpayer.”

The people’s representative cannot be shown figures the accountants have seen. And the way to ensure efficient government is to hide it from public scrutiny. You can see why Burnham will never be sent to Siberia.

Meanwhile, the public has to make do with rubbish like the Cabinet Office publication Transformational Government Enabled by Technology. The title is bad, but it’s worse if you open it:

“Government will create an holistic approach to identity management, based on a suite of identity management solutions that enable the public and private sectors to manage risk and provide cost-effective services….”

New Labour used to know better. In the Lords on Monday, Andrew Phillips quoted what Tony Blair said in 1995 when Michael Howard tried to introduce a similar scheme:

“Instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demands, let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local communities.”

Mr Blair was right in 1995, and he would be even more right today when the waste runs into billions.

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