Saturday, 12 December 2009

A further blow for ID cards?

Could you keep a £61 billion secret? Its not always easy, says Chancellor Alistair Darling in his interview with Mary Riddell for the forthcoming Fabian Review, extracted in today's Telegraph.

He was, he says, "living on the edge for a while. There were many days when I knew that unless the Bank was making [covert] interventions [such as the secret loans of £61.6 billion to HBOS and the Royal Bank of Scotland], then literally banks would have had to shut their doors and cash machines would have been switched off. People should be in no doubt that the world banking system was on the brink of collapse in October 2008 ... It was [irksome] to have people sniping at the edges, saying: 'You should have done this or that' when I couldn't disclose what I was doing. I couldn't have said: 'By the way, the banks are about to collapse, but I'm doing something about it', because the very act of saying that would have been disastrous.

The interview was conducted just before the pre-budget repot. The newspaper finds enough significance in a passing comment on ID cards to make a 'Darling signals death of ID cards' news story of it.

This is the entirety of Darling's discussion of the issue.

"Most of the expenditure is on biometric passports which you and I are going to require shortly to get into the US. Do we need to go further than that? Well, probably not."

This would be good news if true. The Treasury say that did not go beyond restating existing government policy, so I am rather less convinced that it was intended as a particularly significant policy intervention by the Chancellor in the run-up to his PBR.

The comment does seem go with the grain of the recent direction of travel, which we have chronicled from time to time here on Next Left.

Compulsory ID cards for all seem to have been dying a slow and lingering death: one could even stretch a point and trace ebbing support inside government back four years, given Tony McNulty's widely reported comments to the Fabians in 2005, though Home Secretary Blunkett strongly took a strongly different view at that time.

There might have been both good policy reasons and some political sense, a year or two ago, in putting them out of their misery more swiftly.

Perhaps there might still be. But I expect that would be more likely to be news from AJ than AD.

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