The No2ID launch was held in the basement bar of The Corner Store in Covent Garden, a spacious restaurant/pub catering for the tourist trade. The attendance was good, with more and more interested parties walking in as the clock crept past midday until the small room was overflowing.
The two speakers were Neil Gerrard, Labour MP for Wolverhampton, and Debbie Chay, the Chair of Charter88, representing the civil liberties movement, now repackaged as civil libertarianism, to distinguish itself from the Real Thing. Both provided telling anecdotes on the idiocies and dangers that an ID system would represent. Nevertheless, there was a telling gap in their analysis. Both were unable to provide a convincing story as to why the government was introducing this measure. Without understanding the motives behind the development of the ID scheme, it will prove far more difficult to halt or reverse.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Guy Herbert, a name not so unfamiliar here. His own fear was that the ID scheme will depend upon the establishment of databases that will require a far greater intrusion into the private lives of citizens if the state is to monitor them effectively.
My conclusions on the meeting were hopeful and fearful. As with any new campaigning organisation, there is a lot of work to be done in order to achieve the aim of defending civil liberties in the UK. Mark Littlewood, their National Coordinator, quipped that there were few organisations which could boast the Libertarian Alliance and Globalise Resistance as supporting organisations. Yet, as I talked with a couple of campaigners from the Left, they proved unresponsive to my thesis that they had to attract the middle classes: people who read the Daily Mail or supported the Countryside Alliance, if they wished to succeed. Since most of the activists were Left rather than Right in orientation, this may skew the activities and demands of No2ID.
Secondly, the lack of analysis may prove a boon for libertarians. Neil Gerrard asked “why anyone would wish to introduce ID cards?”. The answer is complex: strategies to control the individual by the state, which has an increasing need to obtain information (once deemed private) in order to further this end. Boondoggles such as the evil machinations of private capitalists who could make vast profits from any contracts awarded by government should remain a sideshow. They will not convince people fearful of a terrorist bomb. Libertarianism provides the strongest resource for crafting a message that can appeal to all of those affected: from men with the wrong colour of skin who will be stopped even more often and asked for some form of ID to the yound, single professional who never encounters the state, until this drops through their letterbox.
However, if there is a bomb in the United Kingdom on the scale of Madrid or the WTC, all bets are off. The government will argue that a terrorist atrocity requires the development of the surveillance state, backed up by authoritarian laws.
Crossposted to Samizdata