People ask: Can this be happening in Britain? Surely not.
A centuries-old democratic constitution cannot be swept away. Basic human rights
cannot be made abstract. Those who once comforted themselves that a Labor government
would never commit such an epic crime in Iraq might now abandon a last delusion,
that their freedom is inviolable. If they knew.
The dying of freedom in Britain is not news. The pirouettes of ambition of
of the prime minister and his political twin, the treasurer, are news, though
of minimal public interest. Looking back to the 1930s when social democracies
were distracted and powerful cliques imposed their totalitarian ways by stealth
and silence, the warning is clear. The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill
has already passed its second parliamentary reading without interest to most
Labor MPs and court journalists; yet it is utterly totalitarian in scope.
Presented by the government as a simple measure for streamlining deregulation,
or "getting rid of red tape," the only red tape it will actually remove
is that of parliamentary scrutiny of government legislation, including this
remarkable bill. It will mean that the government can secretly change the Parliament
Act and the constitution and laws can be struck down by decree from Downing
Street. Blair has demonstrated his taste for absolute power in his abuse of
the royal prerogative, which he has used to bypass Parliament in going to war
and in dismissing landmark High Court judgments, such as that which declared
illegal the expulsion of the entire population of the Chagos islands, now the
site of an American military base. The new bill marks the end of true parliamentary
democracy; in its effect, it is as significant as the U.S. Congress last year
abandoning the Bill of Rights.
Those who fail to hear these steps on the road to dictatorship should look
at the government's plans for ID cards, described in its manifesto as "voluntary."
They will be compulsory and worse. An ID card will be different from a driving
license or passport. It will be connected to a database called the NIR (National
Identity Register), where your personal details will be stored. These will include
your fingerprints, a scan of your iris, your residence status and unlimited
other details about your life. If you fail to keep an appointment to be photographed
and fingerprinted, you can be fined up to 2,500 pounds.
Every place that sells alcohol or cigarettes, every post office, every pharmacy,
and every bank will have an NIR terminal where you can be asked to "prove
who you are." Each time you swipe it, a record is made at the NIR. This
means that the government will know every time you withdraw more than 99 pounds
from your bank account. Restaurants and off-licenses (liquor stores) will demand
that the card is swiped so that they are indemnified from prosecution. Private
business will have full access to the NIR. If you apply for a job, your card
will have to be swiped. If you want a London Underground Oyster card, or a supermarket
loyalty card, or a telephone line, or a mobile phone, or an Internet account,
your card will have to be swiped.
In other words, there will be a record of your movements, your phone records
and shopping habits, even the kind of medication you take.
These databases, which can be stored in a device the size of a hand, will be
sold to third parties without you knowing. The ID card will not be your property,
and the Home Secretary will have the right to revoke or suspend it at any time
without explanation. This would prevent you drawing money from a bank. ID cards
will not stop or deter terrorists, as Home Secretary Charles Clarke has now
admitted; the Madrid bombers all carried ID. On March 26, the government silenced
the last parliamentary opposition to the cards when it ruled that the House
of Lords could no longer block legislation contained in a party's manifesto.
The Blair clique does not debate. Like the zealot in Downing Street, its "sincere
belief" in its own veracity is quite enough. When the London School of
Economics published a long study that effectively demolished the government's
case for the cards, Charles Clarke abused it for feeding a "media scare
campaign." This is the same minister who attended every cabinet meeting
at which Blair's lies over his decision to invade Iraq were clear.
This government was reelected with the support of barely a fifth of
those eligible to vote: the second lowest since the franchise. Whatever respectability
the famous suits in television studios try to give him, Blair is demonstrably
discredited as a liar and war criminal. Like the constitution-hijacking bill
now reaching its final stages, and the criminalizing of peaceful protest, ID
cards are designed to control the lives of ordinary citizens (as well as enrich
the new Labor-favored companies that will build the computer systems). A small,
determined, and profoundly undemocratic group is killing freedom in Britain,
just as it has killed literally in Iraq. That is the news. "The kaleidoscope
has been shaken," said Blair at the 2001 Labor Party conference. "The
pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder
this world around us."