The whole ID card debate surely has to be one of the most misdirected debates in recent political history. On the one hand there are those who insist that they are invaluable weapons against terrorism, and thus conveniently forget the Madrid bombings, – all Spaniards are required to carry ID cards. And on the other there are those who point vaguely (and for most people, unconvincingly) at threats to civil liberties. The latter are then reminded that ID cards are the norm throughout Europe, so what’s the problem?
The answer is not that ID cards are a problem in themselves. But what has happened in this case is that every other piece of supposedly anti-terrorist legislation we have had so far has been abused. People are being bugged by local councils to see if they are fly-tipping. Elderly hecklers are bundled out of the Labour party’s conference under anti-terrorist legislation. Now an Opposition MP is being arrested under similar legislation for leaking Home Office information – which is to say, for a practice at which the current Prime Minister boasted of excelling when he was in Opposition. And so on.
The fact is not that ID cards are a problem. Had we had them for a century, no one would worry. But we are having them now, which means that they are being introduced by a government and police system that we simply don’t trust. We’re more afraid of them than of terrorists.
Well done, New Labour: you have finally created a situation in which the devil you know is worse than than the devil you don’t.