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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A climate of fear

The Guardian reports that one of the casualties of a General Election being called for 5 May is that legislation to introduce I.D. cards will fail for lack of time. This is good. These proposals are part of a general erosion of civil liberties being introduced on a semi-manufactured climate of fear. When the Assembly debated the Queen's speech back in December I set out my views on this state of affairs:

Anybody who has seen Derek Jarman’s film Jubilee will be familiar with its portrayal of a derelict, morally bankrupt, lawless Britain. If you throw in the paranoid State of George Orwell’s 1984, then I believe that you have got a good picture of New Labour’s vision of what Britain is like in 2004.

Although there are clearly problems in many communities around the UK, the caricature created by the measures in this Queen’s speech is not a Britain that I recognise nor is it one that exists in real life. Many of the measures to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour are of course welcome, and, in their own right, will help to marginally improve the quality of people’s lives particularly in urban areas. But we must view them in context – and that is of a society where crime is in fact falling, where prosperity is growing and where people feel more and more comfortable in their communities.

The only conclusion that can be drawn about Labour’s programme therefore is that the nightmare vision it seeks to paint is a deliberate fabrication designed to tap into people’s fears. That in doing so it is seeking to distract people from other issues such as the ill-advised war in Iraq and the growing fog of sleaze gathering around this government, and that it is doing so in an attempt to frighten people into giving Labour a third term.

This campaign of fear and the propaganda of blame and smear associated with it would be a worthy product of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. The deliberate confusion of terrorism and low level nuisance crime is a disgrace, whilst the absence of real reform to empower people rather than to terrify is a sign of a bankrupt and socially irresponsible Government.

Specifically on identity cards I called on the Welsh Assembly Government to follow Scotland and declare that they would not be required to access services:

The Queen’s Speech includes a commitment to introduce ID cards. We oppose this. Compulsory ID cards are unnecessary and intrusive and could infringe peoples’ civil liberties. Most countries with ID card schemes have a written constitution, which guarantees the rights of the citizen against an abusive government. We do not.

The Government has claimed that entitlement cards will help to combat terrorism, fraud and crime. The 9/11 terrorists carried valid ID cards; most benefit fraud involves people who misrepresent their circumstances rather than their identity; and the difficulty in clearing up crime is almost always that the criminals are not caught, rather than not identified.

It is also likely that members of ethnic minority groups will be stopped and asked for their ID cards much more often than white people are. This could lead to a serious deterioration in relations between ethnic minorities and the police and other sections of the community.

To add to this injustice by requiring the ID card to be used to access public services will rapidly lead to a situation whereby the card is voluntary for most of the articulate middle classes and compulsory for those who use public services and/or can’t argue and resist the need for the card. This is one injustice the Welsh Assembly Government can resist and I urge it to do so.

This issue may well return after the General Election. We need to be vigilant and fight hard to defeat any new proposals.


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