The government’s bill clearing the way for compulsory biometric ID cards linked to a national identity database narrowly passed its second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday night.
Some 20 Labour MPs rebelled against the government — not enough to prevent the bill from passing with a reduced majority of 31. The bill will now pass to a committee stage, where it is expected to come under further criticism and revision.
The Labour MPs who rebelled were mostly left wingers and strongly anti-war. However the vast majority of Labour MPs loyally followed the government’s line — showing up the weakness of the Labour left in its first big parliamentary test.
Activists from the NO2ID anti-ID cards campaign held a protest outside parliament as the debate took place. They are planning to build a mass campaign against the bill over the coming weeks.
Public opinion is turning rapidly against New Labour’s ID plans. The government’s own information commissioner, Richard Thomas, has attacked the bill as “excessive and disproportionate”, claiming it will take us further down the road to a “surveillance society”.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, attacked the scheme as a “dangerous white elephant”. “Fears for race relations and personal privacy warrant ending its rampage even before costs spiral completely out of control,” she added.
The costs of the ID card plan are another concern. A report released earlier this week from the London School of Economics estimated that each ID card could cost around £170 — well above government estimates.
Charles Clarke, the home secretary, responded to this report by promising to “cap” the costs of ID cards to individuals — though he refused to set a figure for this cap.
It is possible that cosmetic “concessions” such as these will be enough to buy off Tory or Lib Dem opposition to the bill, or persuade potential rebel MPs to stay in line.
That is why it is so important to build a mass campaign against ID cards that draws together all those opposed to New Labour’s attacks on civil rights, and hardens public opinion against this latest piece of authoritarian legislation.
Respect MP George Galloway voted against the bill. The rebel Labour MPs were: Diane Abbott, Katy Clark, Frank Cook, Jeremy Corbyn, Gwyneth Dunwoody, Mark Fisher, Paul Flynn, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Glenda Jackson, Lynne Jones, John McDonnell, Bob Marshall-Andrews, Linda Riordan, Clare Short, Alan Simpson, John Smith, Robert Wareing, David Winnick, Mike Wood.
For more information go to www.no2id.net