There are occasions when right and wrong are easy to define: black and white. Smoking is bad, isn’t it? Well yes, it is – and I don’t recommend it to anyone – but we need to be careful. Just because smoking is bad, it doesn’t necessarily follow that smokers are bad. Current figures suggest that around 25% of us still light up regularly – about 15 million British citizens. They are clearly not all bad people! So please, fellow liberals, explain to me why a blanket ban on smoking is so popular in our party? The vast majority of our MPs voted in favour of the ‘total ban’, without even opt-outs for private clubs – and Lib Dem bloggers have been by and large complicit in the vilification of the smoker too.
‘What about passive smoking?’, I hear you say. Fair point: I fully support the view that non-smokers should be protected from passive smoke, and should have the right to spend their lives in smoke-free air. But it is not necessary to have a blanket ban to achieve this (separate areas, air scrubbers etc, etc). It is, however, easier and simpler to write and enforce the legislation for a blanket ban. But just because a law is easy to enforce, it doesn’t automatically make it a good law.
J S Mill bequeathed us this guidance:
The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.
The truth is that 25% of us have just lost a bit more freedom to the authoritarian, nanny state tendency – and the only mainstream liberal political party in this country has been complicit.
too complex, technically unsafe, overly prescriptive and lack a foundation of public trust and confidence
So says the London School of Economics in their Identity Project Report published today. Much has been made of the LSE’s disagreement with the government over the cost of the scheme – but the report’s unease goes far further than cost issues. It also raises concerns over the plain legality of the proposals – both under our own laws, as well as European Human Rights legislation.The government is determined to steamroller this bill through Parliament, despite the fact that there is no confidence in:
- The viability of the technology
- The security of the data which would be held
- The ability of government departments to manage major IT rollouts without creating huge backlogs to the detriment of their customers (I’m thinking of the CSA here)
- The ability of government departments not to make monumental cock-ups (like paying families too much tax credit – and then clawing it back at rates that leave families unable to manage their family budgets)
All this from a Blair administration that promised to ‘listen’ after the greatly reduced mandate at the last election.
Legislate in haste – repent at leisure.
Lord Goldsmith wants to remove the right to trial by jury in ‘complex fraud cases’. Is he suggesting that jurors are not intelligent enough to understand these cases? Are judges always people with their fingers on the pulse of businesss and therefore easily able to understand complex fraud cases that the rest of us mere mortals are not? The right to trial by jury is one of the fundamental pillars of our stable society – and as such it should remain sacrosanct.
And Lord Goldsmith needs to stop patronising us!
Charles Clarke is trying to sell us the insidious ID card scheme again. Basically the message is along the lines of ‘it’s not that bad – it’s not compulsory and we’re not going to include too much data’. Mr Clarke, the detail is almost irrelevant. Once you have an ID card in place you can easily:
- Increase the scope of data held
- Make it compulsory
- Increase the cost
- Make the data available to other groups or agencies
All on the basis that ‘it’s in the national interest’. The only way to guarantee we don’t end up with an intrusive compulsory scheme is to not launch a thin-end-of-the-wedge voluntary one. If we do end up with an ID card scheme I make two predictions
- The first convincing forgeries will surface within months if not weeks
- It will become as good as compulsory because of all the things that you cannot do, get or access without one within two years
We don’t need it. We don’t want it. Spend the money on something useful
So the PM tells that he has listened to the electorate? So what is there in the Queen’s Speech to show that he heard us? There’s a whole plethora of new legislation, but no sense of a change of direction that I can discern. And there, centre-stage, is our old friend, the ID card. Nothing symbolises the increasingly authoritarian nature of this administration more than expecting British Citizens in peacetime to carry identity cards. I think Blair may have his way in the end, although not without fierce opposition. But I think this particular piece of ill thought-out knee jerk law making might just turn out to be Blair’s lasting epitaph – in just the same way it’s impossible to debate the Thatcher legacy without thinking ‘Poll Tax’. Come on Tony, if you want to be remembered for somthing worthwhile and lasting, there are plenty of open goals. How about a replacement for the dismally inefficient Child Support Agency? Or what about Electoral Reform – that would be a real lasting legacy for a historic third term. Instead, all we’ll ruefully associate the Blair years with is the smart card in your wallet that it will soon be impossible to function without. The Big Brother years are finally arriving.