Friday, July 13, 2007

A ballroom dancer or snooker professional

Today's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News.

Identity crisis

On Monday a woman Home Secretary took questions for the first time. It was a piece of parliamentary history, but passed off with little comment.

In part this was because Jacqui Smith had already made a statement after the recent attempted bombings. Yet it remains a mystery that, though she has achieved far more, Smith attracts little of the sisterly adulation that surrounds Harriet Harman.

And maybe having a woman in this role will make a difference. The questions covered the usual depressing litany - antisocial behaviour, terrorism, child pornography - but Smith did not promise a single new law in response.

Charles Clarke or John Reid would each have committed themselves to half a dozen new bills before the hour was up.

One problem Smith will have to tackle is one of her junior ministers, Liam Byrne. Dapper and balding, in an earlier age he would have been a ballroom dancer or snooker professional. Today, he is an expert on immigration.

And doesn't he know it? True, he has been doing that job for a while and Jacqui Smith is new to her post, so from time to time it is reasonable for him to whisper advice to her while MPs are asking their questions.

But Byrne does it every time. And he makes considerable efforts to be inconspicuous. In fact, he makes sure that everyone in the House sees how inconspicuous he is being.

So Smith promises to be a breath of fresh air, but don't get carried away. When Nick Clegg asked a full, detailed analysis of the costs of the identity card project from beginning to end, she gave a long, rambling answer that could have been paraphrased in one word: No.

It was good to hear Nick keeping up the pressure on ID cards. There is a danger that we will decide to be "realistic" and endorse the things just as the public comes to realise what they will involved. The long journeys to register and be photographed feel like the sort of humiliation that conquerors inflict upon a conquered people.

The more policies we have that differentiate us from the other parties the better. Long may opposition to ID cards remain one of them.


dreamingspire said...

Identity documents (including ID cards) are one thing, logging all uses of them are another (the risk of ‘we are watching you’, but transaction logging is a natural method in an ICT system, so it must be regulated in a fair and even handed way), and agreeing with the state official labels that each of us will use in interactions with the state are another. So-called Identity Management is the agreement of what that label is and then the whole process of ensuring that the label that I agree with the state is only used by and for me and is the only one that I use. Indeed Identity Management methods are already being used here in the UK, for example to check that a visitor is using the same ID every time that he or she comes here – and numerous people who have tried to get into this country multiple times with different IDs have been rumbled. Similarly, people who use multiple IDs to fraudulently claim state benefits multiple times have also been rumbled. So what are LDs proposing for successful inhibition of deception crime while at the same time avoiding the universal ID Card, and what are LDs proposing to improve the efficiency of the interaction of citizens with the public sector and with those (e.g. banks, solicitors) who currently have to ask me to prove my ID?

Tristan said...


Why should government /have/ to do anything?

I see no reason, except the usual knee-jerk response to any problem - the government must do something!