ID Cards

Ask to see my ID card and I'll eat it You know what you need on these dark winter mornings, when you get into your freezing car, and you sit there in a state of shivering depression, because the windscreen has been frosted to damnation, and the wipers are too puny to make any difference? I'll tell you what you need, my friend. You need an ID card! Just take one of the new pounds 85 biometric Blunko-cards, and scrape-scrape, hey presto! Frost's all gone. Or suppose you are mandated to take the kiddies for a bracing walk on the heath, and you've had the forethought to bring some cake, but you've forgotten the knife. Well, never mind: say goodbye to no-knife misery with the all- purpose Blunko-slicer. Yes, folks, I bet we can all think of 101 uses for the forthcoming ID cards, not forgetting breaking and entering, or perhaps even using it as a kind of strigil , as they did back in ancient Athens, to scrape off the mixture of sweat and olive oil when you have been for an exhausting run. I am sure that we will all find it a handy, if expensive, addition to our wallets and handbags. But I tell you this. If I am ever asked, on the streets of London, or in any other venue, public or private, to produce my ID card as evidence that I am who I say I am, when I have done nothing wrong and when I am simply ambling along and breathing God's fresh air like any other freeborn Englishman, then I will take that card out of my wallet and physically eat it in the presence of whatever emanation of the state has demanded that I produce it. If I am incapable of consuming it whole, I will masticate the card to the point of illegibility. And if that fails, or if my teeth break with the effort, I will take out my penknife and cut it up in front of the officer concerned. I say all this in the knowledge that so many good, gentle, kindly readers will think I have taken leave of my senses, and to all of you I can only apologise and add, in the words of Barry Goldwater, that extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice, and that I really don't know what I dislike most about these cards. There is the cost: let us be in no doubt that, by 2012, when it is intended that the entire population should be compelled to carry one, the universal imposition of ID cards will amount to a kind of pounds 85 Caesar Augustus-style tax. There is the loss of liberty, and the creepy reality that the state will use these cards - doubtless with the best possible intentions - to store all manner of detail about us, our habits, what benefits we may claim, and so on. Worse than the cost and the bother, however, there is the sheer dishonesty of the arguments in favour. If I understood Her Majesty correctly, her Government conceives of these cards as essential weapons in the "war" on terror. But the maniacs who performed the 9/11 massacre would not have been prevented by ID cards: the problem was not their identities, but their intentions. And if a terrorist really needed a new ID card, it would probably not take long to procure a forgery, biometric or not. All these points I have made these past few years, up and down the country, and the most frustrating thing is that these objections cut absolutely no ice (unlike, as I say, the cards themselves) with good, solid, kindly, gentle Conservative audiences. It seems only the other day that I was in Wolverhampton, railing against the Labour Government for having produced the conditions that made ID cards necessary. "And I tell you this, ladies and gentlemen," I said, "if Labour had not made such a disastrous mess of our asylum policy, we would not now need these ID cards imposed on the entire population." "So what!" the audience shouted back at me. "We want ID cards!" "Er, yes," I said, adding, "I tell you this, ladies and gentlemen, that if Labour had not so recklessly expanded means-tested benefits, so that more and more people have to undergo the humiliation of revealing every detail of their financial circumstances to the state, and so that we have more and more fraud, we would not need these ID cards!" "So what!" yodelled my audience, "We want ID cards! We had them in the war! If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear!" And they started gurgling and drumming their feet like the impis of Chaka, and I hung my head and gave up. There in a nutshell, I thought, you had the eternal tension at the heart of conservatism, between the desire for liberty and the desire for order, and, in the case of ID cards, the frail cockade of freedom has been emphatically crushed by the giant descending rump of matronly authority. My audience were all gluttons for freedom, if by that you meant the freedom to hunt, or the freedom to eat roast beef without the fat trimmed off. But they were perfectly happy to see their own liberties curtailed, if that gave the authorities a chance to crack down on scroungers and bogus asylum-seekers. And there, I fear, the debate has come to rest. To all those who yearn for ID cards, and who would extinguish the flame of liberty in the breath of public panic, I make this final appeal. Read this week's Spectator, with its terrifying account by a man arrested and jailed for having a penknife and an anti-burglar baton locked in the boot of his car, and then imagine what use the cops could make of the further powers they are acquiring to inspect and control. We are told by Labour that we are at "war", and it always suits governments so to scarify the population. In reality, we have a terrorist threat not obviously more persistent than that posed by the IRA, and our liberties are being lost because of the intrusiveness and incompetence of the Government.