14 October, 2003: His Master's Voice

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Spot the difference:

  1. ``I'm going to be examining over the next few weeks how it is that we've got 36,000 more police than we had thirty years ago and we've got fewer of them on the streets.'' (David Blunkett, on Today this morning)
  2. ``Over the last twelve months we have made a step change in how we set about tackling anti-social behaviour with a dedicated Home Office unit [new bureaucracy] to lead the way bringing in tough new powers, helping local agencies [more new bureaucracy] to work together with the community.


    ``We have increased the numbers of police officers, community support officers and neighbourhood wardens across the country and given them more tools -- improved ASBOs [anti-social behaviour orders, i.e. more paperwork], acceptable behaviour contracts [more paperwork] and fixed penalty notices [yet more paperwork].


    ``Local authorities and communities need to use these tools [i.e., bureaucracy and paperwork], to ensure that the tiny minority are not allowed to continue to blight the lives of the law abiding majority.'' (David Blunkett, speaking at the `the Home Office Anti-Social Behaviour Conference' -- i.e., a talking-shop)

(Obviously it would be inappropriate to judge the likely effectiveness of this new Home Office gimmick^W policy on this basis. It may well be that bureaucracy and paperwork are the best ways to tackle anti-social behaviour. On a slight tangent, a recent report suggested that police officers on patrol aren't much help, but in fact that research was so statistically naive that it wouldn't be safe to conclude anything from it.)

On a different tangent, I was interested to see reports in the Sunday newspapers about Blunkett's ID card scheme going aground in the face of opposition from his Cabinet colleagues on the surprisingly-practical grounds that the cards will be expensive and useless. Of course, you can't believe anything you read in the Sunday papers. Anyway, this morning Blunkett resorted to the time-honoured trick of invoking the vox populi:

``... over the summer and in this autumn, even when I've been travelling, people have come up to me again and again and said `stick to your guns, we know that if we're going to sort out clandestine entry, clandestine working and illegal use of our services, we need some form of identity card: a modern, biometric card that can't be forged.''

... as ever, the idea of a card that `can't be forged' would be hilarious except for the fact that Blunkett apparently believes that it's a practical possibility. As for biometrics, I'll let my previous comments stand.

Of course, objections on practical grounds won't necessarily have much effect, and bringing in ID cards wouldn't exactly be the first time this government has funded something expensive and useless. And if Blunkett is taking his job seriously -- by which I mean trying not to foul anything up too badly at the Home Office while pushing through some big headline-grabbing project or other in order to maximise his chances of being the next Prime Minister -- then ID cards are an invaluable asset. Unlike Jim Hacker, he can't go to work on a sausage; but maybe an ID card will suffice. If his reading of the vox populi is true and people in this country really do want to spend 40 to 400 each on a useless piece of plastic tat then I suppose picking a fight with Gordon Brown over the cost of the thing is probably a good idea.

Update: I should have linked to this Sunday Times story, which also has the text of leaked letters from Jack Straw and Paul Boateng. It's interesting that the list of Straw and Boateng's concerns -- that the card can't be demanded compulsorily in order to get access to services, since not everyone entitled to use the services will have a card; that the payment for the card may be classified as a tax; that the introduction of the card will decrease revenue for the Passport Service and introducing biometrics will increase costs; and that there are legal problems with how the card would interact with travel within the EU -- are quite different from the objections of informed members of the public -- namely, that the card will be expensive, won't solve any of the problems claimed, would infringe civil liberties, and is un-British. The letters assume that the card might be some use; that biometrics are a useful security feature not a gimmick; and, in general, that the card is actually a reasonable idea with some practical problems in its way.

Copyright (c) 2003 Chris Lightfoot; available under a Creative Commons License.