The pictures of Charles Clarke holding his own ID card highlight the irony: you don't need a national database to identify a perpetrator at the scene of a crime. Now the bill is through the Commons thanks to one of the smallest majorities the Government has seen, we have plenty more evidence to work on.
We now know that everyone except the Government and the biometric industry is against the idea. It is nearly impossible to enumerate those who oppose ID cards: Liberty, the BMA, the Law Society, the Information Commissioner and even Microsoft say that the system is unworkable and undesirable. Those in favour are more easily listed: Clarke and Blair, two people congenitally incapable of cataloguing a stamp collection on an Amstrad PC.
It is also nearly impossible to count the reasons why the proposal is so bad. You can pick any part of the argument — civil liberties, cost effectiveness, reliability — and find nothing but reason and evidence on one side and bluster on the other. This disparity has resulted in farce, with the Home Office apparently announcing that 63 percent of us would be delighted to spend £250 on a card because it would prevent cigarette sales to underage terrorist asylum seekers.
Where are our legal safeguards against official abuse? Where is the detailed costing? Where is the biometric technology that will work for sixty million individuals? What will happen to us when our card goes wrong? All these questions have been repeatedly asked at every level within government and without. None has been answered to any testable degree.
Not for the first time, the proper protection of individual rights now falls to the House of Lords, who are showing every sign of acting on their responsibilities. They have only to look at what has gone before and judge the case on that evidence to come to the right conclusion and throw the whole compromised, incoherent, expensive mess back at the perpetrators. If they don't, we'll all pay for Clarke's mistake for decades to come.