Remembering ID cards on election day with The Register

Card declined, a book about ID cards in Britain by SA MathiesonThe Register covered ID cards as thoroughly as anyone over the years – partly through running stories from Guardian Government Computing (and sometimes we just tipped them off), as well as dozens of its own articles.

I’m proud to say it is serialising my book on the subject, Card declined, to mark three years since the election which brought the scheme to an end. (You can tell it’s election day today – the BBC is leading on interest-only mortgages. Election day is a great day to get attention for non-political news, given politicians are off the airwaves until 10pm.)

The serialisation kicks off today with an introduction by me:

In the general election held three years ago, every party except Labour and the Monster Raving Loony Party (which just may have been having a laugh) had ID card abolition in their manifestos, including the Conservatives, Lib Dems, Scottish Nationalists, the Pirate Party, Cornish separatists Mebyon Kernow and the BNP. […]

Democracy has a habit of getting to the right answer, but this also often means working through the wrong ones. Often at length.

I also argue that ID cards have a habit of tarring nearby politicians with farce. So many examples, but The Register took particular advantage of that during the scheme’s Mancunian years, when the residents of the world’s first industrial city doubled as lab rats for the scheme. This produced several memorable episodes, including local journalist and ID card enthusiast Angela Epstein comparing her new card to her newborn daughter (both pink and small); and Salford ID card holder Norman Eastwood being refused a passage to Holland (the cards were meant to act as replacements for passports within Europe – no-one told P&O’s staff in Hull).

The period also inspired some classic Reg headlines, included ‘Manchester united against ID cards, ID minister finds’ – subheading: “All the supporters live somewhere else apparently” – and my favourite, ‘Manchester ID staff suffer isolation as new dawn fades’, which manages to cram the names of two tracks by Salford band Joy Division into a nine word headline that still more or less makes sense.

Such larks are more common than you might think.

Extracts on The Register

Yet another Cabinet-level ID card farce: Major era ID plans found in junk shop