Wednesday, June 29, 2005

 

From the folly of Prohibition to ID Cards

One of the most difficult things in politics is deciding if a new measure will be acceptable to the public. Think of the Volstead Act passed in 1919 to prohibit alcohol in the USA. It proved anathema to the voters, gave a lease of life to gangsters and eventually was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933. Similarily with the even shorter lived Poll Tax, introduced to a cacophany of camplaint in 1989 and repealed in 1991. In retpospect it seems amazing that anyone could have contemplated passing either law. Yet stranger laws have been passed and accepted. Ireland's smoking ban was accepted by a famously argumentative nation with great complacency and approval if not exactly enthusiasm. Which brings me to the Identity Card issue.

This is supposed to be introduced gradually until 2013 when it is planned it will become compulsory. The idea is that it will help prevent and identify social security frauds and terrorists. But in advance the arguments against it are couched in terms of: efficacy, civil liberties and cost. There are those who argue ID cards did not stop the Madrid bombings though Charles Clarke insists they helped round up the culprits. Suicide bombers though do not respond to threats in the normal way.
Others claim any system of labelling every citizen using high tech means is doomed to failure as experience with computerization in the NHS, Passport Office and Criminal Records has amply demonstrated. Critics also claim the government has no need to know such a raft of intimate details as the data suggested as appropriate for the card's content.
Finally the cost. This was initially estimated at a billion pounds in 2002 when Blunkett's initiaol proposal was made. Now estimates vary between seven to twenty billion and some suggest it could be even higher if things go wrong, as they inevitably will. Pretty good grounds for abandoning the idea it seems to me yet the government seems intent on persevering with this cockeyed plan and ignoring the reasoned opposition with the Conservative and Lib Dem parties, not to mention the great unease in its own.

Comments:
Spot on Bill.

I like the analogies with prohibition and the poll tax. Governments do lose their heads sometimes. We should be grateful it is only on a money wasting, bound to fail scheme like this.
 
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