New Labour’s ID Cards and Racism

Today is the tenth anniversary of Michael Howard’s speech to the Tory Party Conference of 1995, where he spoke on what he saw as the connection between race relations and immigration policy. This was satirised by Johns Bird and Fortune as “the Prime Minister believes that there are enough racist bigots in the country to swing the next general election”; I remember the line from when the sketch was broadcast, and it has always stuck in my mind.

New Labour is now pursuing a scheme to establish a national identity register linked to a biometric ID card. A surprising amount of the support for this idea comes from out and out racists. I know this because they tell me as much. Here are some of the things supporters of ID cards say:

“Well, I am a bit racist, but I just think that when the police stop a bunch of Asian youths who’ve been causing trouble, they’d be able to do a bit more than ask them to attend the station some time in the next seven days!”

and: “It’s too late! They’re already here!”

And here is what was said by an opponent of the scheme, as she signed our petition:

“And we wouldn’t even need them if they hadn’t let all these immigrants in!”

These people believe ID cards will be used for expelling non-White people from the country. That’s not what the Government is proposing, but the Government is proposing to include these people when it speaks of public support for the scheme, and a moment’s reflection would reveal that these are just about the only people who do indeed support it.

At some point, policies intentionally designed to pander to racists, and policies maintained despite the absence of significant non-racist support, ought to attract something like the moral obloquy we heap upon racism itself.

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