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September 22, 2003

The country of long shadows

No need to worry -- David Blunkett assures us ID cards won't actually be mandatory after all. It's just "you can't ... work or draw on services unless you have the card." So that's all right then.

Earlier this year Mr Blunkett's department consulted on "entitlement" cards, as they were then known. I was one of those who responded to the consultation, using Stand's submission service to explain my opposition on grounds of cost, ineffectiveness and danger to civil liberties. I later found out that because I used the Stand service my submission -- and that of the 5000 other people who also used the Stand service -- had been ignored, a philosophy somewhat akin to collapsing all submissions received via Royal Mail into a single vote.

Disempowerment has long been a political reality in Britain, but there is something new and terrible about the use of disempowerment as a political weapon. In the past, overwhelming protest has demanded an overwhelming response: not, of course, to incorporate the objections, but to answer, overrule or spectacularly punish them. Today, overwhelming protest demands only a subtle reassessment of the figures.

The message is deliberately clear. If you agree with us, your voice counts. If you disagree, it does not. Your voice will not just be overruled. It will not even be heard. It will become, to borrow a Newspeak construction, an unvoice. It would take less effort to brush away an annoying insect, and Blunkett wants you to know it.

And next time, those who became unvoices will be less motivated to protest, and bit by bit protest will become unprotest: unheard, unanswered and eventually unspoken.

There is a John Major speech which wonderfully evokes Britain as "the country of long shadows on county [cricket] grounds," and goes on to cite a romantic image from George Orwell of old maids bicycling to Holy Communion. The shadows are growing longer, and the presence of Orwell is growing more substantial; but neither for the reasons Major dreamed of.

September 22, 2003 in Current Affairs | Permalink

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