Mr Blair should not use the fear factor to scare voters into supporting him once again

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The Independent Online

Not a week has passed since Michael Howard peevishly accused the Government of stealing the Conservatives' political language. He was speaking about Labour's policies for "choice" in health and education. As of today, however, he will have even greater cause for complaint. By placing security in all its many forms at the centre of his agenda for the new Parliament, the Prime Minister will be stealing the Tories' most effective armour: their claim to be the party of personal and national safety.

Not a week has passed since Michael Howard peevishly accused the Government of stealing the Conservatives' political language. He was speaking about Labour's policies for "choice" in health and education. As of today, however, he will have even greater cause for complaint. By placing security in all its many forms at the centre of his agenda for the new Parliament, the Prime Minister will be stealing the Tories' most effective armour: their claim to be the party of personal and national safety.

Safety and security come in many guises, and most of them, it is reliably reported, will feature prominently in the Queen's speech at today's State Opening of Parliament. Among the grander measures expected to be announced are plans for the introduction of identity cards and the creation of a new national agency - a British "FBI" - to combat serious and organised crime. There may also be promise of swingeing new anti-terrorist legislation. This is at the macro-level.

At the micro-level of housing estates and local streets, new police powers will be proposed to test anyone who is arrested for drugs and charge them with possession if the test is positive. At present, someone has to be charged before being liable to a compulsory drugs test. For those convicted, the choice is to be prison or treatment; nothing in between. Provisions to extend the reach of anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) are also expected.

Some of these measures, such as the formation of a national serious crime agency, we have supported, because too much currently gets lost between the cracks of different forces and disciplines. Wider provision of drug treatment is also to be welcomed - if the Government is prepared to allocate the necessary funding, which it still needs to prove.

Other measures, however, such as ID cards, we categorically oppose, as unnecessary, illiberal and ineffective. It is a racing certainty that expertly forged ID cards, will be on the black market before half the population has been assigned the real thing. Valuable police time will be wasted investigating another new crime: forging or owning a false ID. And we have little doubt which races will be stopped and asked to present their cards more than others, thereby further exacerbating tensions. We also have deep misgivings about the extension of Asbos - whose usefulness is still being debated - and the drug testing proposals, which will make it an offence if traces of drugs are detected in the bloodstream.

It is not just the specific proposals that give such cause for concern. It is the tenor of the package, the way it is presented as necessary protection against hostile forces - known and unknown. The premise is that the nation should be living in fear, and only Mr Blair's government can provide the safety blanket.

This was underlined by the Home Secretary's intervention at the weekend, when he promised new anti-terrorist legislation that would further constrain civil liberties. Among the measures were special anti-terrorism courts without juries and the use of wire-tap evidence in trials. He spoke of using civil orders, restricting movement or behaviour, for terrorist suspects against whom there was inadequate evidence for prosecution. And he cited all the well-rehearsed justifications for curtailing the freedoms of the innocent, including the need to strike a "balance" between encroaching on privacy and catching criminals.

These proposals, set out to loud fanfare at the weekend, may not see the light of day until the Lords have ruled on the legality of detaining foreign suspects without trial. And any decision, the Home Secretary said, could wait until after the general election. Which is, of course, the point, since the idea of terrifying threats - and a government that keeps us safe - will be a leitmotif of the campaign.

The fear factor worked a treat for George Bush. We sincerely hope that Mr Blair will find something more inspiring for Labour to focus its re-election campaign on. And if he does not, the voters should call his bluff.

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