openDemocracyUK

Tories hit Bristol: is freedom now safe?

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
29 March 2010

OurKingdom contributor and No2ID campaigner Christina Zaba popped a question to David Cameron when he was down in Bristol and filed this report in the brilliant on-line Bristol 24-7.

David Cameron has pledged to the people of Bristol that he would repeal the Identity Cards Act if he became Prime Minister.

Speaking to a packed audience of 200 people at Horfield C of E primary school last night, he described the Labour Government’s Identity Cards scheme as “a giant waste of money. We will get rid of the whole thing.”

The National Identity Management System proposed in the 2006 Act plans a voluntary biometric ID card linked to a vast personal database, called the National Identity Register.

Those who get an ID card or biometric passport will be issued with a personal identifying number, under which all the information is to be gathered about them in the database.

Privacy groups warn that, under the legislation, Identity and Passport Service staff will be able to supply personal information without consent from the National Identity Register to many Government departments and agencies, including the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Transport, the police, GCHQ, and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

But a Home Office spokesman said: “Only around 100 vetted Identity and Passport staff will have access to the database. Other organisations, including other government organisations, will only be able to ask for information to be verified. They will not have access to the database. No other government databases will be linked to the National Identity Register.”

Mr Cameron, however, said the issue was enough for him to reject the plan. “Gathering all that data together is dangerous. It’s not about the piece of plastic, it’s the database and the sharing of data that is the issue.”

An ID card currently costs £30. However, once entered on the National Identity Register, from which people cannot be removed, an individual faces a £1,000 penalty if information on the card, such as change of address, is not kept up to date.

The Labour Government originally estimated the cost of introducing the scheme at £5bn. But as long ago as 2005 a distinguished panel of experts from the London School of Economics put the likely cost at closer to £19bn.

Identity cards are already being issued to residents in the north-west of England, supported by a £1.3m Government-funded advertising campaign, including a mailshot through every door, advocating take-up of the cards.

Although the Tories have said before that they would scrap the cards and the National Identity Register if they came to power, to repeal the Act would imply a much wider dismantling of the entire system of linked government databases currently being built in Britain by largely overseas computer companies such as US giant IBM, who engineered the database of Jews for Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

The Conservative leader went on to outline his vision for a “responsible society”, saying: “We’re about giving people power and control, about empowering them and trusting them. That way, people will be stronger, happier, more contented.”

Today, the paper has this report from a David Davis meeting by Neil Fraser:

Transforming the economy, increasing social mobility and preserving individual freedom should be the main priorities for the next  Government, according to leading Conservative politician David Davis.

The former Shadow Home Secretary, who stood against David Cameron for the Tory Party leadership, told business leaders in Bristol that the UK was at a historic crossroads.

Mr Davis was guest speaker at the Bristol Chamber of Commerce annual dinner, held at the Marriott Hotel City Centre. Among the guests were Mary Prior, the Lord Lieutenant of Bristol, Lord Mayor Councillor Christopher Davies, and John Savage, managing director of GWE Business West.

“When times are tough, that is when we as a nation do the most extraordinary things,” said Mr Davis.

“Attlee created the modern Welfare State at a time when the country was bankrupt after the war. Mrs Thatcher transformed the country after 1979 when it was at its lowest ebb. We are now in similar circumstances.

“For far too long we have allowed manufacturing in this country to decline and relied too much on the growth of the financial sector. We need to change our attitude to making things – if Germany can do it, we can do it.

“The second area of concern is social mobility. Youngsters from poorer backgrounds have less chance now of making their way in the world than ever before. Despite everything, more of the top jobs in our country are being taken by people from public school backgrounds. If we are to compete in the 21st century, we need to give maximum opportunity to everyone.

“Thirdly, I believe we have seen a serious erosion of our liberty over the last decade. Successive Governments have limited our individual freedoms, sometimes with the right motives, but that should not deter us from sweeping away these new barriers.

“As we look ahead to the next decade the next Prime Minister, from whatever party they come, will need a huge amount of courage and conviction to achieve all of these things.

Is there something good in the water in Bristol? Davis didn't need to be asked the question to put liberty at the top of the agenda. He gets taunted for his reply by James Macintyre in the Staggers, who doesn't regret that no senior Labour figure could make the same case.

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