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Governance by management

Posted by Helen Monday, April 18, 2005

We have seen a fine example of the way politics and administration has eroded in this country in the recent statements made by Sir Ian Blair in an interview with Sir David Frost on Breakfast with Frost.

Sir Ian stated slightly incoherently that the recent Bourgass case, in which a failed asylum seeker, who was not deported despite the decision to do so, turned out to be a terrorist, intent on poisoning large chunks of this country’s population and actually murdering a police officer.

This, according to Sir Ian, shows that there is much to be said for ID cards:

“We have to go to a place where we do know who people are. We now have the technology, I think through iris recognition, to go to that and I think that would be very helpful.”
Well, with respect, Sir Ian, it would not be in the slightest bit helpful. First of all, let’s face it, Kamel Bourgass was in this country illegally, therefore his iris print or whatever it is Sir Ian is talking about, would not be on anybody’s records.

On the other hand, various young lads who had been picked up innocently taking a hike through Afghanistan, festooned with AK-47s, hand grenades and other such accoutrements of the average tourist, were actually British citizens and would have had perfectly legitimate ID cards that would not, surprisingly enough, have said under occupation: terrorist.

Then there is the undoubted fact that the technology one person can invent another person can copy.

It has to be added that in December Commander Mick Messinger (don’t these people use real names any more?) gave evidence to the plenary session of the London Assembly, in which he explained that ID cards would be quite useful. For instance they would help the police to identify people who had collapsed in the street after a terrorist attack.

And to prevent that attack or help with security afterwards? Well, um, no, he could not quite see how they could be of any use at all.

Apart from the need to have senior Commanders and the Commissioner of Scotland Yard singing from something approximating the same hymn sheet, there is the disturbing fact that the unelected head of Scotland Yard, a supposedly impartial servant of the country, has unobtrusively entered the electoral process by making statements on a subject that is a political and electoral hot potato.

Alan Milburn immediately seized on the interview and challenged the Conservatives to answer the simple question of whether they would support ID cards by a simple yes or no. The answer, of course, ought to be a simple no, but no political answer is that simple.

However, Sir Ian’s completely specious comment will, no doubt, be used by supporters of ID cards as a valid argument. It is nothing of the kind. Sir Ian has not been asked any of the critical questions about it and has not explained what he thinks they will achieve, bearing in mind their expense, logistical difficulties and intrusion on the personal liberty of law-abiding citizens.

But, given that this is election time, he should not have made statements like that. It seems that this argument no longer applies in our managerial state. (I shall not use the word meritocracy. There is dam’ little merit about the police force at the moment and Sir Ian might turn his attention to that little problem.)