Monday, December 20, 2004

ID cards -- a rethink in the UK?

Will the ID card plans of the British government -- that I mentioned in an entry about two weeks ago -- go through after the resignation last week of Home Secretary David Blunkett, or will his successor Charles Clarke have to change or even abolish the bill?

As the BBC writes here, Labour Party backbenchers threaten to rebel against the bill. Clarke has already accused opponents of the bill of “liberal woolly thinking and spreading false fears” (in a piece in today's The Times) and has ruled out pausing the bill. He is though expected to lower the price for the cards for the elderly and those on lower incomes from the initial £85. Time will tell whether this will remain his only concession.

Interestingly, Conservative leader Michael Howard, who promised the government support for the ID cards bill also faces a backbench rebellion from some of his supporters who oppose the government's alleged authoritarianism in this. The Liberal Democrats -- the third major party in the British parliament -- are the only party who are united in opposition to the ID cards bill.

This demonstrates again the interesting politics that characterize privacy issues -- with a split between the more “libertarian” and the more “law enforcement” minded wings in both big parties. It is a topic which does not easily align with the normal party geography -- which is of course what makes it such interesting stuff for a political scientist...

Update: The vote in the House of Commons produced 385 to 93 in favour of giving the bill a second reading -- the rebellion, in short, did not materialize. It seems that only 19 Labour MPs, 10 Conservative MPs and all Lib-Dem MPs voted against it, in addition to about 150 MPs not turning up for the vote. Apparently the Labour government is firmly in control of its backbenchers, which shouldn't be too much of a surprise given the forthcoming election which will probably take place in early May 2005.


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