Sunday, November 20, 2005

Random thoughts about the mood of the nation & ID cards

My dear friend Ian Brown offered to me the opportunity to post some guest musings on this blog. Thanks Ian. As it turns out I do have a few thoughts that are way too unstructured even for publication in the Guardian. So, here goes...

I figure that anyone hanging around a pub these days will know that ID cards are about as popular as tepid Carlsberg. True, there was a time when the "nothing to hide, nothing to fear" brigade was omnipresent. Now you'd be hard pressed - even beyond the realm of the chattering classes - to find that level of blind support.

For three years now the government has insisted that 80 per ccent of the UK public support their proposal. This, even when all the credible polsters (ICM MORI et al) were showing a support of 45 to 50 per cent, even after the London bombings. And of course the figure drops to about ten per cent when people hear about the costs and implications of the plan.

Last night I was interviewed on the popular radio station "Talk Sport". I'm not proud of the fact, but it was a Saturday night and, well, someone had to do it. What amazed me was that the rampantly indignant pro-ID ranting for which the station was once famous has largely disappeared. It used to be that swarms of indignant listeners would call up the studio, frothing about how "idiots like what youz got there" are enemies of the state. Now in the same tone they deride politicians and self-interested business and express quite passionately how the ID card is an enemy of the state. Or, at least, an enemy of the people.

The presenter, a personable guy called Mike, was indicative of this shift. He started out at 23.00 hrs completely disengaged from the subject of ID cards. By 23.35 hrs he had decided the proposal was a sham, and a dangerous one at that.

The government blames my colleagues and I at the LSE for destabilising public confidence in their plan. They say we fabricated cost estimates for the card scheme and conned the public into opposing them merely on the basis of the unit price. But if Talk Sport is any litmus test of opinion I'd say cost is likely to recede as an issue. Privacy, liberty and individual rights are waiting to terminally trample over these plans like a rampant elephant - and not the rampant elephant associated with the Home Secretary. See if I'm right. Within three months the rising indignation of the public will increasingly be founded on the pillar of privacy.

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