Half a century of creeping intrusion - and now ID cards
Half a century of creeping intrusion - and now ID cards
Sir: It is good to see Michael Brown giving the ID cards case Willcock v Muckle an airing (15 December). It is worth pointing out, as a further reason for opposing the reintroduction of ID cards, that Britain was a very different place in 1952. The movement from rural to urban life over the previous half-century had gone some way towards enabling people to live more private lives in the comparative anonymity of city life. Once he had established that he did not need to fear the consequences of refusing to produce his identity card, Mr Willcock was probably able to be left alone to an extent which would now seem quite remarkable.
His driving licence would have been one of the old paper ones which were not replaced until 1998. He might have had a telephone but he would not have had itemised billing and would not have been subject to telephone sales; he would not have had a loyalty card from his local supermarket, indeed he would not have had a local supermarket; CCTV cameras would not have recorded his movements either in his car or on foot; he might have had a passport although far fewer people travelled abroad; if he did it would certainly not have been a machine-readable one. He would not have had a credit card. Neither he nor anyone he dealt with would have had a computer. Such information as was held about him would have been held in manual records not readily capable of being manipulated or transferred.
All governments, however benign, are involved to a greater or lesser extent in a conspiracy against those they govern. The introduction of ID cards would tip the balance unfairly and unwisely in favour of the government.
Sir: The refusal of Charles Clarke to reconsider the ID cards issue seems to assume that this is now a debate with which we are done. However, throughout this whole process the obsession with privacy, security and freedom of information has elided the single most important question - sovereignty.
The principle of the sovereignty of the individual, which is freely pooled in the democratic state, has been paramount since the Enlightenment. The ID card will reverse this, placing the individual's right to exist as contingent on the state's discretion as a principle.
Where democracy is legitimated by the state, instead of the reverse, there is real danger, and Charles Clarke needs to recognise that it is time this debate took place.
Dr JOSS HANDS
Anglia Polytechnic University
Blunkett's legacy of intolerance
Sir: It will take a long time to put right, if we ever do, the legacy of David Blunkett at the Home Office: the end of jury trials; the ability of the Home Office to suspend human rights at whim; separating asylum seekers from their children and sending them home to die; the ability of the state to snoop on every e-mail we send; detention of innocent people without trial; running a prison service where the number of suicides is rising non-stop; identity cards to snoop on us all. We should rejoice at the passing of this most intolerant man.
Sir: It's a shame that David Blunkett did not resign for the right reasons: that is that he was a very poor Home Secretary. Incompetence, arrogance and ignorance are obviously not seen as drawbacks to high public office, whereas dubious moral behaviour is. Another black day for British politics.
Sir: Aside from his personal tragedy, the fallout from David Blunkett's resignation will not be felt immediately. We'll never know how many bright young people will be put off pursuing political careers. Who could blame them for seeking richer and more anonymous lives in boardrooms or legal chambers rather than aiming for the Cabinet Room?
The British media now routinely scrutinise our politicians' private lives, every word they utter and every decision they make, no matter how trivial. Previous generations of great politicians would never have survived such an onslaught.
We are in danger of being led only by those so bland that they cannot be faulted even by puritans, bigots, political journalists of any complexion, chat-show hosts or our most enthusiastic muckrakers.
Sir: Tony Blair told us that it was "beyond doubt" that Saddam had WMD stockpiles ready to aim at British targets within 45 minutes; he also told us that he had "no doubt at all" that David Blunkett would be exonerated. Now he assures us, in apparent denial of the facts, that Blunkett has left government with his "integrity intact".
Is it possible that Mr Blair also believes, with equal conviction, that voters still respect his judgement and trust him always to tell the truth?
Sir: Too much attention has been given to the personal aspects of the Home Secretary's antics rather than the structural. Since David Blunkett took this office, British embassies and high commissions around the world, but especially in Africa, have become notorious as places where nationals are routinely humiliated. This is not the fault of the Foreign Office but the Home Office, which trains immigration officers to be aggressive and dismissive of visa applicants.
I and many known to me have experienced the outcome of this approach. My wife, my research students, and their wives have had agonising difficulty in obtaining visas to enter this country. Since the heads of visa sections in embassies are not accountable to the ambassador or high commissioner but to the Home Office, which itself refers all queries in the UK to the same visa section, they are effectively a law unto themselves.
Dean of the Research Programme
Oxford Centre for Molecular Sciences, University of Oxford
Sir: I blame the officials. Surely the first thing you do before setting up an inquiry is to ask: "None of those e-mail thingies lying around, are there?" To which the answer must have come: "No sir, we've had a good look." Even I, whose computing skills have advanced only slightly from the days of log tables, can do a comprehensive e-mail search, including deleted items. So you have to wonder about a putative ID system presided over by a department so lacking in fundamental knacks.
Sir: Only in England could the political establishment demand the resignation of the Home Secretary for fast-tracking a visa application whilst simultaneously exonerating the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for taking the country into an illegal war after misleading Parliament and the entire electorate.
Sir: I have no sympathy for Mr Blunkett's claim to have sacrificed much "for that little boy". The not blameless Mrs Quinn and her husband appear to want to bring the child up in their loving family relationship, regardless of the identity of his biological father. The interference of a third emotionally charged adult would be wearing for the child and all concerned.
In the child's interests, Mr Blunkett should step away and drop all legal action regarding fatherhood and access.
Sir: Following the Lords decision that detention without trial is illegal under European human rights law may I be the first to demand the resignation of the Home Secretary?
Sir: Don't worry David - you'll soon be an EU Commissioner.
Doncaster, South Yorkshire
Addicted to meat
Sir: Guy Attenborough of the Meat and Livestock Commission claims that the World Health Organisation lays the blame for antibiotic resistance "squarely" on human use (letter, 14 December).
On their website, the WHO states that "veterinary prescription of antimicrobials also contributes to the problem of resistance", and in 2003 called for their use as growth promoters to be banned. Intensive livestock farming is, however, utterly dependent on antibiotics for therapeutic and prophylactic purposes and to curtail their use in this way would probably render it unsustainable. Hence it is still permitted, despite the threat to our health - yet another example of the insanity of our cultural addiction to meat.
Vegetarians International Voice for Animals
To school by car
Sir: I agree with the points about giant 4x4s in your letters column (13 December), and in the general overuse of cars on the school run. However, we're not all bad. To get my children to school and my wife and myself to work we use our car - that's five people in one journey. To do so on the bus would cost £36 per week.
The unreliable local service would require us to catch a bus before 8am to guarantee arrival before the bell goes at 8.50. The children could expect to be home about 45 minutes after leaving school. We tried it and gave up.
I have heard that nearly 20 per cent of cars on the roads in the rush hour are on the school run. This means that over 80 per cent are on the work/shopping run, mostly with only one person in the car. Why should a six-year-old (and four other family members) be expected to walk four miles a day while those going to work get to sit on their own in a nice, warm car? I see no reason why it is more important to get adults to work in cars than it is to get children to school in cars. If adults started work at a different time, or walked to work, the problem would be solved.
I do not drive a 4x4.
Sir: In response to Katherine Long's question (letter, 14 December) I am sure that a number of correspondents are parents of school-age children; I am the parent of two eight-year-olds and two six-year-olds. However, unlike in the UK, opting to go to a school further away than your local school would not only be met with disapproval from the local community, but also bewilderment. As a result, the local school is not clogged with cars, but is packed with parents and children walking to school, with heavy bags, PE kits, swimming things, etc, etc.
The problem with a certain class of parents in the UK is that they feel that the grass is greener on the other side; that the school in the next area is better than their local one, even resorting to the lunacy of moving house to be within the catchment area. The constant chasing around areas to find the nominally "better" school just undermines the chances of schools actually improving. If parents were willing to allow their children to go to their local school and were as supportive of that school as they would be with the "much better, independent school", then perhaps those schools perceived as failing might stand a chance of improving.
St Samson-sur-Rance, France
Sir: Both my elder children walk to school with violins, sports kits, lunch boxes, book bags and anything else they may need that day (and it isn't every day that all that needs to be carried at once for most school children). Investing in a good backpack is useful. I also walk along with the younger of the two and help carry anything that may be too heavy but really, a towel and a swimming costume isn't a huge burden to have to carry. Stop finding sorry excuses and get out of that car and help improve the quality of our environment for all our children.
Out of Africa
Sir: The South African constitution "the most progressive in the world"? With no constituencies, no local choice of party candidate, independent-minded MPs sacked at will from parliament and replaced at the say-so of party bosses, and this whole system extending to provincial assemblies and even local councils? Hardly a model for the EU, as Alison Harvey argues (letter, 15 December).
Get your feet off
Sir: My eye was drawn to your photograph of Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi (Media Weekly, 13 December). I wondered if his pose - standing on a sofa, dressed in black, arms folded, looking mean and determined - represented the modern image of corporate capitalism with all its greed and aggressive individualism. Either that or there could be two possibilities as to why he is standing on the sofa. Either he is vertically challenged, or he never listened to his mum when she told him not to stand on the furniture.
Sir: My first thought on hearing about the proposed religious hatred law was to point out, as Robin de la Motte does, that "unlike race, religion is an idea you can choose or discard" (letter, 14 December). I too toyed with the frivolous idea of having other philosophical beliefs protected by law. However, it is not the religious belief a person holds that is being protected but their right to hold it unmolested, protected from having to "discard" it in the face of hatred. On the other hand it does not follow that this cannot be done under existing laws.
Sir: Professor Buisseret (letter, 15 December) seeks advice on what instrument the Irish could use in repelling burglars. If we ignore the fact that the bagpipes, which he advocates for Scottish householders, came from Ireland, the appropriate device is, of course, the shillelagh.