Today is ID day! It is also the day when our newest Lib Dem MP, Willie Rennie, fresh from our stunning Dunfermline by-election, is introduced to Parliament. There is a wee ceremony – where the new MP is accompanied on each side by colleagues and then walks to the Speaker, bowing heads at particular spots. The new Member is ‘sworn’ in and then shakes hands with Mr Speaker (Michael Martin).
All good stuff.
A little later I went out into the Lib Dem Whips office – and Willie was standing there. So I shook his hand, congratulated him, and he leaned forward for a kiss (peck on both cheeks type). Then I went back into the chamber for the beginning of the ID card debate where I am on the front bench with Alistair Carmichael – our Shadow Home Secretary. However, I see Willie in there.
Trying to explain this to Alistair – half way through the story – I pass him a note saying ‘well – who the hell did I kiss then’? The note came back! ‘Nichol Stephen, Deputy First Minister of Scotland’. That’s what happens if you help an election by making phone calls rather than delivering leaflets with the candidate’s photo all over them …!
Anyway – more to the point – we failed to defeat the government on ID cards. I’m truly sorry – as I believe the scheme is flawed and dangerous and moves us ever nearer to a police state – but without the promised ‘benefits’ of the card. The idea that a database of this size and complexity won’t go wrong is naïve in the extreme. In the end I suspect the costs will mean it becomes untenable. The only danger, as pointed out by one MP, is that if they have already invested billions – even if useless and unworkable – there will be a momentum to continue because of the money down the drain to date.
The key issue – and where Labour broke their manifesto promise – was that in the manifesto it was to be a voluntary scheme. Of course, now they are linking it to passports (and despite a Minister saying you didn’t have to have a passport – I wouldn’t fancy trying to explain to a border guard that I didn’t have one because it was ‘voluntary’). And of course, as 80% of us have passports – that means it will effectively be compulsory for that 80%.
I haven’t the heart to go through the numbers of flaws and dangers ahead if this scheme does go ahead. The usual Labour rebels still voted with us and the Tories, but the swing rebels – the ones that can deliver the final defeat – appeared to have been driven back into their corner by the Labour whips, probably scared rigid after Dunfermline that they had better not rattle Labour’s position any further or their seats could be on the line.
Depressed – I run into Chris Huhne (our future leader I hope) and David Howarth MP and Martin Horwood MP – we are all of us on Team Huhne. So we adjourn to a bar – and Chris and I have a diet coke. The fun never stops!