Churchill rejected ID cards and so should Howard

He seems driven by the fear of being on the wrong side of public opinion

Share

On 7 December 1950, Clarence Willcock, a dry cleaner from north London, was driving his car before being stopped by a policeman, Harold Muckle, who ordered him to show his identity card. He refused. The case Willcock v Muckle ended up in the High Court the following year, with Lord Chief Justice Goddard saying that the continuation of ID cards was an annoyance to the public "and tended to turn law-abiding subjects into law-breakers". Mr Willcock was sent on his way.

On 7 December 1950, Clarence Willcock, a dry cleaner from north London, was driving his car before being stopped by a policeman, Harold Muckle, who ordered him to show his identity card. He refused. The case Willcock v Muckle ended up in the High Court the following year, with Lord Chief Justice Goddard saying that the continuation of ID cards was an annoyance to the public "and tended to turn law-abiding subjects into law-breakers". Mr Willcock was sent on his way.

Yesterday I bought a 2005 House of Commons diary which contains a nugget of anniversary information for every day of the year. At the bottom of the column for Monday 21 February it says: "Identity cards abolished in Britain, 1952". The Tories, under Churchill, had been elected to replace the Attlee government just four months earlier on a programme to "set the people free". Mr Willcock became a national hero and the final inspiration for the Tory view that ID cards had no place in their philosophy.

Churchill's government recognised that their abolition, along with that of rationing, was part of the symbolic transition from the command and control of the people necessitated by the exigencies of war. Their demise signalled the release of the people from the strictures of the state. So it seems fantastic that, nearly 53 years later it should be the Tory party that looks like enabling another Labour government to restore ID cards.

But this is the one session of Parliament, destined to be truncated in the event of a 5 May election, where the Opposition can veto the legislation. The question is whether or not Michael Howard has avoided or fallen into Labour's trap. He has decided he would rather go against the natural instincts of his party because of the fear that Labour would accuse him of blocking their bill. He is also hobbled by his past when, as Home Secretary decade ago, he brought forward his own ID card proposal which was promptly rejected by his own side.

When Mr Howard spoke during the debate on the address three weeks ago he did not allow the words "identity cards" to pass his lips. And in the Tories' alternative Queen's Speech, there was no mention of ID cards either. In the event it seems that he was simply buying time before settling the internal debate within the Shadow Cabinet and among backbenchers. It is known that David Davis, the shadow home affairs spokesman, has long had reservations about the principle of ID cards, and made the case for opposition at second reading. Rumour has it that it was actually John Redwood rather than Tim Yeo who supported Mr Davis in the crucial Shadow Cabinet meeting earlier this week. Mr Davis at least probably also recognises that public opinion is fickle and liable to change dramatically once the full implications for individuals become more widely known. Though it will be embarrassing for Mr Davis when he stands up in the Commons debate next week, his personal opposition may eventually turn out to be a considerable asset to his long-term political ambitions.

Mr Howard, however, is not driven only by the immediate concern of the forthcoming election. He seems to be driven by the fear of being on the wrong side of public opinion that, at the moment is heavily in favour of ID cards. It has probably not helped rational discussion either, at the highest levels of the Tory party that, in his interview with his biographer, David Blunkett heaped praise upon Michael Howard's tenure at the Home Office and contrasted it with his criticisms of Mr Howard's successor, Jack Straw.

Flattery from political opponents can be a dangerous thing. Mr Howard is in danger of enjoying Mr Blunkett's backhanded compliments rather too much. ID cards are encouraging Mr Howard to be at ease with his past, thereby reinforcing the image from which he needs to escape. When he became leader, a year ago, he seemed happy to want to escape from his past, with a series of "I believe" advertisements setting out his new credo of "I believe the people should be big and the state should be small". This gave him the chance to lose his previous baggage and should surely have led him naturally to renounce his previous hankering for ID cards.

The biggest pragmatic case for Tories backing the legislation comes down to a simple fear that the Government will make capital out of the opposition being on the wrong side of current public opinion. But the idea that more voters might have turned to Labour had the Tories opposed ID cards seems risible. ID cards will not feature as an issue at this election, but they could certainly have been used by the Tories in their more general campaign against the increasingly meddlesome "nanny state" attitude. By the following election in 2009-10, the Tories will have dumped this policy, but in the meantime Mr Howard has sacrificed a great Tory principle. Churchill and Mr Willcock will be turning in their graves.

mrbrown@pimlico.freeserve.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Cloud Support Engineer

£25000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a team player who likes...

Recruitment Genius: Skilled Machinist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of additional skilled machini...

Recruitment Genius: Toolmaker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of additional skilled toolmak...

Langley James : Head of IT; e-commerce; Blackburn; up to £55k

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Langley James : Head of IT; e-commerce; Blackburn; ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Sting may be in for a shock when he tries to save his Broadway musical

David Lister
 

David Cameron’s immigration speech: I broke my promise; this time will be different

John Rentoul
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game