You can't say that Shirley

11 November 2007

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I was listening to Radio 4's Any Questions yesterday, in the way one does while chopping onions. Towards the end of the programme ID cards came up. Shirley Williams said that, like the two contenders for her party's leadership, Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne, she would refuse to carry or register for a card and would go to jail if necessary. As she emphasized that her civil resistance would be non-violent, Tory shadow minister Alan Duncan MP exploded with indignation. "You can't!". It was "very sad moment", he declared, "You are a legislator!".

As a maker of the law you must not break the law, was the gist of his imperative. Jonathan Dimbleby was too busy trying to make sure everyone had a say in time, to see that a a whale of an issue, had raised its head and spouted a a great new geyser into the political debate - an issue which is also further evidence of the collapse of the British constitution.

In the traditional sense, Duncan was right. A legislator has to believe in the rule of law and by entering parliament in effect accepts that what parliament makes as law is the law. To openly proclaim that they don't like it and won't obey means the end of everything the system is supposed to be about. Could an MP say he or she won't pay a tax they dislike on principle? The whole point of standing for parliament is a pledge to the public that the way to alter the law is by parliamentary means. Duncan's explosion of concern was entirely justified.

Yet here is perhaps the most law-abiding of parties defying this foundational convention of our uncodified constitution.

Shirley's defence was simple. The ID card database usurps a principle even more fundamental than that of parliamentary sovereignty: the liberty of the individual. She pointed out that th State's database would be integrated with unspecified commercial and business interests to track people without their knowing.

David Blunkett was also a panelist and as a former home secretary had played a role introducing ID cards. He denied there would be any such opportunity for business or that it would be possible to become a martyr by resisting them. I doubt the latter point, and as to the former, Guy Herbert's post here in OK links to the government's National Identity Management Scheme. Just look at the point about the private sector "driving innovation in the use of these services",


65. When you enrol into the Scheme, your

fingerprint biometrics (all 10 fingerprints) will

be recorded and stored in the National Identity

Register. A subset of these will be held on

yourID card or passport, in linewith

International Civil Aviation Organization

standards. The introduction of iris biometrics

also remains an option.

Private sector

66. As the Scheme grows, we will continue to

engage with the private sector. The identity

checking services that you will be able to use to

prove your identity will grow in scale, and the

range of channels through which they will be

made available will also be increased. We expect

the private sector to play a key role by driving

innovation in the use of these services. Our first

steps can be seen in our work on joint ventures

(see Chapter 6).

Expose the ‘dark money’ bankrolling our politics

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