Pick a card...

By Marcus Dysch
August 19, 2009

On Monday I visited the Home Office for a briefing with Lord Brett, the wonderfully titled Identity Minister (add your own 1984 joke here).

I’d been invited to discuss the rollout of the national ID cards scheme which is supposedly gathering speed.

Before going to meet the affable Mancunian Peer, I made some enquiries within the Jewish community as to people’s views on whether the cards would be, essentially, good or bad for the Jews.

The general feeling was that anything which helps in terms of security is a good thing, anything which singles out particular groups or minorities (such as us) is a bad thing. So far so obvious.

Overall, however, there was apathy. People believed the introduction of the cards would be of no greater interest or relevance to the Jewish community than other minority groups, or indeed the population in general.

Seemingly, during research carried out in 2004 the most worrying thing for Jews who wanted to obtain an ID card was the possibility that the enrolment centre may only be open on Shabbat. Given that there are a whole other six days in the week, I guess there isn’t a great need to fret about that.

Anyway so off I went to the Home Office (very colourful outside, very quiet – and not at all In The Thick of It-esque – inside).

Unfortunately, and slightly to my surprise given that they’d gone so far as to invite the JC in for a cup of tea (which never materialised either), it seems that those in the identity department (as I imagine it’s called) have no greater idea of the relevance of the ID scheme to the Jews than the Jews do.

That the research I mentioned above is five years old says plenty.

When asked about the specific benefits, or otherwise, that the cards would provide our community with, Lord Brett and his advisors had few specific answers. Yes, there could be some security benefits for CST and the like if they knew an ID card was government backed and could not be forged. No, it will not say you are Jewish, nor will you be asked at any point while applying to give details of your religion. But that was about it.

More than once he told me one of the most important benefits would be the use of the card as a proof of age for not-too-young youngsters who fancy a quick pint or two. Gone will be the days of schlepping a passport with you to a club to prove you are over 18.

(Incidentally this is something I’ve never needed to do myself. Being able to grow a not insubstantial amount of stubble not long after my barmitzvah meant securing a drink was never too tough. I remember being served in one pub while actually wearing my school uniform. That’s Hull for you. Anyway I digress.)

I did learn a few things. The cards will cost £30 and be valid for ten years. They will not be compulsory. Having one nationally-recognised and government-approved ID card for all will mean (hopefully) less chance of errors and people with fake IDs slipping through the net.

Other than that, hard facts were slim on the ground. “Please just give the cards a chance” seemed to be the government’s current line. Don’t write the project off as Orwellian straight away. It’ll be a grower. Etc etc.

“It will become,” Lord Brett said, “the ID of norm”, much as chip and pin credit cards started slowly but have now almost entirely obliterated the old ‘sign your receipt’ system.

Will his prophecy come true? Hard to say. But if the ID card scheme is to be a success, the government will need more than just goodwill and crossed-fingers.


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