Friday, May 27, 2005

DD on Identity Cards

Back to positive DD coverage, with the article he's penned for the Evening Standard:

'Labour's identity cards scheme is dubious in principle. Objections to the plan are already well aired - such as the threat that ID cards pose to our civil liberties. But Labour's scheme is also dangerous in practice. Less attention to date has been paid to these practical problems. Yet they are no less formidable.'

And he proceeds crisply to enumerate the gaping practical holes in Labour's ramshackle scheme- huge costs, dubious technical viability, poor project management skills at the Home Office, and lack of proper security.

Three things are noteworthy.

First, as an ex-Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Davis speaks from hands-on experience of how the public sector- particularly under this Government- can blow vast sums on half-baked projects like this.

Second, this is a man to whom the language of small government comes naturally:

'The Government's ID cards scheme seems likely to illustrate one of the laws of life: the law of unexpected consequences.

First, the Government announces a scheme - often to applause. Second, it tells us that there is overwhelming public support for that scheme, and dismisses critics.

Third, practical problems emerge, and the victims of those problems are not terrorists or criminals, but the innocent, hard-working and over-regulated public. The initial applause for the scheme is drowned out by a storm of protest. The Government backs down, and the inevitable public inquiry follows - at the taxpayers' expense.'

And finally, he's demonstrating how you get out of a political cul de sac, without having your pants catch fire. We all knew it was a mistake to back Blair's ID scheme in the first place, but Howard- or somebody- insisted on it.

It's taken Davis to deal with it, and get us back to a position that chimes with our fundamental beliefs.

I'm sure we can all think of one or two other little matters where we need to be equally adept.

Update: Matthew Parris has an interesting commentary on the practical politics of opposing the ID scheme. He picks up a Mary Ann Sieghart piece and adds:

'She has identified precisely how the argument will in practice run. Were I David Davis, or the Opposition Chief Whip, I would recommend her column as the best highest common factor around with which to rally the ragbag of people who must organise the resistance.

It would be a strategic error for the Conservative Party to declare itself opposed in principle to ID cards, for it need not go nearly so far. Enough to argue that this plan, this time, in these circumstances, today, is ill-starred. Enough to suggest that we leave other countries to pilot these ideas, and learn from their mistakes. Enough to promise to look at it again in a few years’ time.

“Steady on”, “not so fast”, “more information please” and “not yet” should be the watchwords of the anti-ID cards campaign, which, like Mary Ann, I think stands a good chance of winning the day.'

Yes, we know this strategy feels sort of second-best- grubby even- against the pure white light of bearing any hardship in the pursuit of liberty. Or as Matt says:

'I shall not be proud of joining this campaign. Michael Foot once reminded me that any competent debater can tackle the weak arguments in his opponent’s case, but that a great debater confronts its strengths.'

Yeah. But while Foot was (allegedly) a great debater, he sure wasn't an effective politician.

Thank goodness we've got DD. Someone who actually knows how to get things done.


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