The Sketch: Clarke's three-pronged defence of the indefensible

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The Independent Online

The Bill looked like the French fleet four hours after Nelson got started on it. The Home Secretary's rigging was all over the Bay of Biscay and his crew was in a state of mutiny. No doubt a bit of flogging will make the difference by the time of the vote. But in the meantime, the argument has gone against him so much that David Davis can use the term ''plastic poll tax" without being laughed out of the chamber.

The Bill looked like the French fleet four hours after Nelson got started on it. The Home Secretary's rigging was all over the Bay of Biscay and his crew was in a state of mutiny. No doubt a bit of flogging will make the difference by the time of the vote. But in the meantime, the argument has gone against him so much that David Davis can use the term ''plastic poll tax" without being laughed out of the chamber.

What was new? It's definitely going to be compulsory as soon as they can get on top of the practicalities. Penalties for not carryinbg the card when it is compulsory are outlined in this Bill. Fifty-one separate pieces of information are to be kept on the card. It will probably be means tested. It will help us identify victims of terrorist outrages. Its biometric eye-scanning capability will be an essential addition to library services (but only for taking out Iris Murdoch). And - best of all - a national identity card will prove to be a "bulwark against a Big Brother society". That provoked much laughter all round the House.

The Home Secretary has three argumentative techniques. One is arguing a lot, and he has a talent for it. The second is taking a charge and presenting the opposite in order to create a middle ground (as above). And the third is a rather stupid denial of what is obviously the case. I once asked him this question: ''If you were prime minister and the security services came to you saying our great enemy had enormously destructive weapons that could be launched in 45 minutes, would you ask them what sort of weapons they were?" He said: "No, I wouldn't, actually."

David Winnick quoted the Information Commissioner's view (unnecessary, disproportionate, intrusive) and said: "On any free vote the Bill would be thrown out."

"I don't think he's right," Mr Clarke said.

Quentin Davis put the Irish anomaly in very clear terms. We have a passport-free agreement with Ireland and they ain't going to have ID cards. We'll all have to carry a card; foreigners will have biometric passports - but Irish men and women won't have to have any documentation at all. Wasn't that "a hole" in the arrangement?

"I don't think it is a hole," he said.

So when you meet Mr Clarke try saying to him: "You're a complete ass who has spent his whole political career fighting against the principle of ID cards right up to the moment of gaining office at which point you flipped, you flopped and betrayed yourself and everyone who believed in you." He'll say: "I don't think that's right." And you will walk away feeling entirely vindicated.

NB: John Hutton made a joke. The roof of Lord Birt's office had collapsed. This would help Tony Blair's special adviser with his blue sky thinking.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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