Wednesday, September 09, 2009

No 2 ID - And Much Else.


Am just recovering from the excitement of the Bourne Hall "No2ID" public meeting, which managed about three elderly hecklers and and a disgruntled school parent. We might have expected a bit more action at a meeting called to debate and challenge an unpopular government's increasing attack on our liberties - to say nothing of their determination to make us pay through the nose for the privilege - but that's just not the way the British do politics. If you want action, go to a West Ham game. If you want polite and occasionally bizarre questioning and a little half hearted heckling (usually followed by someone else saying "let him speak"), a political meeting on a controversial issue is the way to go. Let's face it, even when the rest of Europe were revolting and chasing their leaders out of office with bloody intent, the British largely stood around signing petitions with false names and asking if they couldn't have a little more democracy please, providing no-one in charge objected.

All the same, the pressure group 'No2ID' should be commended for having the commitment to put this well attended meeting on at all, and they did at least persuade shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling, local Lib Dem Tom Brake, and junior government minister Michael Wills to attend. Michael Wills was a bit of a sacrificial lamb as the only person probably in the entire room who was still prepared to say ID cards were a good idea. The chairman's introduction did him no favours, recounting that Wills voted "strongly" in favour of the war with Iraq, "strongly" in favour of the 90 day detention Bill, and "strongly" in favour of the ID cards he is now responsible for implementing. Wills' cunning tactic, however, was to be so boring that no-one could really sustain the interest needed to properly challenge him, although a few sprightly audience members had a jolly good try.

Grayling and Brake simply needed to proclaim their opposition to the "surveillance state" in ringing tones to get some easy applause, otherwise they were largely unilluminating. In fact, one of the most dramatic and controversial moments of the evening came when a parent in the front row used the opportunity of questions about the "international dimension" of civil liberties to complain that his child was at a school which had recently forced its students to surrender their biometric details to the canteen service in order to purchase food by fingerprint. A relieved minister asked for details of the school to be given to him after the meeting. Wonder which one it is?!

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