There is probably an old rural proverb to the effect that, if you go into a bramble-patch head first, sooner or later you will only be able to get out of it again arse-first.
The continued wrangling between opposition and Government spokesmen on the National Identity Scheme confirms a couple of things: first, that it’s a complex and contentious topic, and second, that having woven further complexity into aspects such as the cost justification and the cost structure of the scheme, it is now extremely hard for the government to back out of any specific area without appearing to be leading with its posterior.
For example, today comes the news that the price of a new passport is to rise by 7%; this is ascribed to a ‘shortfall in revenue because of lower-than-expected demand’. Ah, the traditional market-led response: if fewer people are buying your semi-distrctionary product, the thing to do is bump up the price for those saps who are still your customers. Unfortunately, the price of passports is not market-led: it is, at least in part, tied to plans for the National Identity Scheme… a linkage which has its origins back in the days when the then Home Secretary was keen to hide chunks of the cost of the ID Card among the figures for other credentials.
The current Home Secretary, heckled and harried by Messrs Grayling and Huhne, is being challenged to ditch many of the previous justifications for the ID Card (now that that will no longer be compulsory), and fall back on ‘prevention of identity fraud’ – this being a goal which seems to offer a pay-off to both the individual citizen and the economy as a whole. But do the implications of this position bear scrutiny?
For example, if I suffer from identity fraud (say, someone runs up debt in my name), will the National Identity Scheme stand liable to make good my losses? And will it do so only if I have voluntarily registered for an ID Card, or will it also do so even if I have ‘only’ been involuntarily included on the National Identity Register by virtue of having, say, applied for a passport or other ‘designated document’?
If not (as seems more likely), then who will pick up the ID fraud tab for those who have ID Cards? And for those who don’t but are on the NIR?
The trouble with backing out of a thorn bush is that you encounter many of the same thorns as you met going in… but in a rather more tender part of the anatomy.