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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

I am not a number, I am a free man

The Conservatives have made a monumental error over ID cards. As I have said time and again on this blog it represented an ideal opportunity to define what the Party stood for and to put clear space between ourselves and Labour, on an issue fundamental to traditional British civil liberties. It would have allowed the Party to put itself on the side of reducing Government interference not increasing it, and carve out a real strategic position of freedom from the state for your pocket and your personal life.

As it is, the once great Conservative Party is a pale and opportunistic echo of an irritating, nosey and nannying Government. I see no medium-term strategy now, other than damage limitation to get us through the next election before seriously looking at fighting the next, accompanied with a "'go below the radar' campaign and hope Lab and Lib votes fall the right way to give us a glimmer of sneaking in" tactic. We should oppose a Government playing a greater role than necessary in our lives. Unfortunately today's Conservative Party does not seem to have the calibre to do that. The tectonic plates of political argument are shifting. The great strength of the Tories has always been the ability to adapt first and fastest to this. Today they do not seem to have the skill to respond at all. Worst of all they don't even have the self-belief to stand up and say that there is nothing wrong with having "Conservative" views - and that they are proud to be right.

I could be begin to consider ID cards if I had seen anything to suggest they would have a positive impact on any aspect of our country. If I thought they would actually reduce benefit fraud, I could envisage thinking about them. If I could see one argument to suggest they would make us more secure from terrorism, I could countenance considering them. If I had been shown one way they would reduce identity theft, rather than making it easier to steal identities in a more wholesale way, I could begin to look at my reasons for opposing it. Unfortunately I do not see they will do that at all.

I am not a number, I am a free man. I should not have to register on a National Registry, disturbingly similar to the Sex Offenders' Registry, in order to be recognised in my own country. I should not have to have an ID card in order to freely walk about the streets and footpaths of this country minding my own legitimate business. Why should I have to prove who I am as I go around minding my own business in my own country? Why should there be a presumption, which I would have to displace by showing my card, that I am doing something wrong? Furthermore why should I have to pay for the privilege of this reversal in the presumption of the law?

I thought the Tory Party was my natural home. I thought they believed in these values and questions, which I hold dear. It appears it no longer does. It is a sad day for freedom, and a sad day for non-lefties in the UK.


UPDATE: This has caused quite a furore across the right-of-centre/broadly-libertarian blogging world. See the '1952 Committee', Andrew, Public Interest, 'The Candidate' and assorted other droplets of sense. There's a more thoughtful, and, probably because he feels slightly less strongly about it, more reasoned article I wish I had written by Blimpish. Where he is absolutely correct is that the Party flutters between good old Tory libertarianism, and times-of-strife Tory authoritarianism from policy to policy and day-to-day. Nobody thinks there are any gut convictions there. The greatest concern must be that the 'mods' (read, 'full of sound and fury signifying....nothing) will wrest control of the wheel on the rudderless ship. What they need is something totally new.

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