Opinion: Selling ID cards is uphill fight for Labour

When then home secretary Michael Howard announced an ID card scheme to the cheering mob at the Tory Party Conference, the Labour Party was quick to condemn it. I should know: I was part of the spin machine that rubbished the idea and talked about a 'Big Brother' state. Who would have thought that a decade later the ID Card Bill was to be the jewel in the crown of Labour's third term?

Word from Westminster is that the bill will pass its second reading with a small majority. All week the whips have been telling potential rebels they have to support it because it was in the manifesto. They conveniently forget that tuition fees were in the last one, only in that case Labour ruled them out. You know the vote's going to be tight when you read headlines such as 'Rebel MPs to get price promise for poor on ID cards'. The Government is certainly rattled and every trick in the book will be used. It may well win the vote in the Commons, but it certainly hasn't won the PR battle.

David Blunkett, a self-styled populist, got public support for his ID bill by playing the terrorist card. The Tories went along with it because they didn't want to appear soft on terrorism - and because a certain Howard was now in charge.

But with Blunkett out of the Home Office and Howard on his way out altogether, public support for ID cards is haemorrhaging.

Another key change is that the price of ID cards will probably be astronomical.

While people seem fairly happy if it stops benefit fraud and 'scrounging foreigners', they won't be if it costs them a fortune (punting the idea that the cards will stop terrorists has largely been dropped; far better to play on prejudices).

With the LSE reporting that ID cards could cost £19bn, the Government has been forced onto the back foot. It may talk about 'fabricated figures', but to most people the independent estimates ring true. So does the idea that the Government will 'sell' ID card data to companies.

It's now all looking very messy, and comparisons with the costly Dome and the poll tax don't seem far off the mark. With leadership favourite David Davis pulling the Tory strings, they have performed their own U-turn and are opposing the bill. The Tories can't say it, of course, but what if millions of us simply refuse to pay for, or carry, our ID cards?

Like the poll tax they could generate a huge uprising. There is one man who won't let it happen, however. Gordon Brown has no intention of funding the ID card, so don't be surprised if once the bill is passed, the cards never see the light of day.

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