Margaret Thatcher, politicians and ID cards

I have written a blogpost for the Manifesto Club, which campaigns for freedom in everyday life, about the politics of ID cards – as promoted by both the Conservative and Labour parties, including that promoter of liberty and preserver of the NHS Margaret Thatcher – including some thoughts about what stage the national identity scheme would have reached:

By now, the link between passport applications and joining the national identity scheme should have been in place; it required a further act of Parliament, but the 2008 target date was 2011/12. So getting a passport would mean providing your fingerprints and a wide variety of personal data. Home secretary Jacqui Smith made the physical card optional in 2008, but left the databases – including the ‘audit trail’ that would track each individual’s usage – intact. The police hoped to be able to identify anyone on the system through their fingerprints (if the biometric technology worked properly, a debateable point). Not your papers please, but your fingers please. Continue reading “Margaret Thatcher, politicians and ID cards”

Margaret Thatcher, preserver of the NHS. Yes, really

Spitting Image Margaret Thatcher
(Fairly) safe in her hands: a Margaret Thatcher Spitting Image puppet in Grantham Museum. © Copyright Richard Croft. Licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.

Today sees the funeral of Baroness Thatcher, the prime minister who saved/crippled Britain, giving new hope to/tearing the soul out of its communities and reforming/undermining the public sphere, delete according to preference.

But it’s more complicated than that. If it wasn’t, the NHS would not have survived her leadership in its current form. It turns out that, when Margaret Thatcher said “the NHS is safe in our hands”, she was pretty much right. She changed it, but not nearly as much as you would have expected. Continue reading “Margaret Thatcher, preserver of the NHS. Yes, really”

Don’t blame Sir Humphrey for ID cards, he mostly said yes minister

I have written an article for Guardian Public Leaders Network on the civil service and ID cards, based on the research I did for my book on the subject Card declined. Identity systems appear in two separate episodes of Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister – and in both Jim Hacker gets his own way, at least to some extent. And while Home Office officials appeared keen on reintroducing ID cards – we have that from David Cameron in 2004 – my conclusion is that ministers, not the civil service, were in the driving seat:

Home secretary David Blunkett, who lobbied for a new ID card scheme in 2001 according to Alistair Campbell’s diaries, claimed that the use of biometrics including fingerprints would make identity theft completely impossible – a foolish claim of perfection which a crafty civil servant would have warned him off, if one had been secretly running the show. Continue reading “Don’t blame Sir Humphrey for ID cards, he mostly said yes minister”

ID cards and the NHS: separated soon after birth

It was only two years, one month and eight days ago that Damian Green fed the last pieces of Labour’s ID card scheme into a giant industrial shredder in Witham. The coalition, on getting into power, promised to destroy ID cards and protect the NHS. Although some think the government is putting the NHS through a metaphorical shredder with the changes that take effect on 1 April, that is overdoing it. In general, the coalition has kept its promises on these two issues.

What is not widely know is that, on its foundation in 1948, the NHS was completely tied to ID cards – you had to use a card to get treatment. Furthermore, the link survives to this day. Continue reading “ID cards and the NHS: separated soon after birth”

Chris Huhne meet Clarence Willcock: speeding Liberals against ID cards

Card declined, a book about ID cards in Britain by SA MathiesonChris Huhne will today be sentenced for perverting the course of justice, as will his then-wife Vicky Pryce, after she agreed to accept his speeding points a decade ago.

He is part of a Liberal tradition of both being arrested for speeding and helping to abolish ID cards. The instigator of this is someone who (I think) was quoted yesterday at the Liberal Democrat spring conference in dramatic circumstances.

In December 1950, Clarence Willcock, twice an unsuccessful Liberal candidate for Parliament, was stopped for speeding in Finchley. The police constable asked to see his ID card: the wartime identity card scheme had been retained and expanded by the post-war Labour government. Mr Willcock replied: “I am a Liberal, and I am against this sort of thing.”

Yesterday, Jo Shaw resigned from the Liberal Democrats over the party’s support for secret courts, saying: “I am a liberal and I am a democrat and we are against this sort of thing.” It would be surprising if she wasn’t remembering him.

Mr Willcock took his case through the legal system, eventually reaching the High Court – as you can read in Card declined, my new book on the history of identity cards in Britain: Continue reading “Chris Huhne meet Clarence Willcock: speeding Liberals against ID cards”