The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 20th May 2005

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Blair seeks showdown

by Daphne Liddle

is seeking an early confrontation with the back benchers in his own party who want to see him out of the leadership, in the hope that if he defeats them quickly and that sets the tone for his third term in office.

 The Queen’s Speech, delivered last Tuesday, listed 45 Bills that Blair intends to introduce, many of them to do with law and order and the supposed war on terrorism – all of them threatening further our civil liberties.

 Some are saying that he is out to do the most harm he can in the short time he knows he has left in office.

 Unfortunately the rebel MPs now appear to be retreating a little from their determination to oust Blair as quickly as possible. The anger they felt just after the election when they had to confront the widespread popular dislike and distrust of Blair on the nation’s doorsteps is fading.

 Now they are talking about negotiation and consensus, aiming to amend his most controversial measures rather than defeat them.

 John McDonnell, who chairs the Campaign Group of MPs, said that public services, civil liberties and welfare benefits remained key concerns.

 “We are looking to negotiate for the best deal possible,” he said, “but there will be people who will want to draw lines.”

 The most controversial item, dues to be introduced within a fortnight, is the Bill to pave the way for identity cards. This will be more or less the same Bill that was introduced in January but ran out of time before the election.

 Even though the Bill has not been passed yet, many measures associated with it are already going ahead – in particular Government investment in the technology of bio-metric tests to establish identity.

 If passed, from 2007 the cards will be issued automatically whenever a passport is issued or renewed, at a cost of £87. We will not be allowed to refuse to have one. The Government estimates that this will result in 80 per cent of people having an ID card by 2013. Then new legislation will be introduced to force the remaining 20 per cent to get one.

 Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the pressure group Liberty, said: “This is more tough talk and bad law in a Queen’s Speech revealing a chronic lack of respect for our democratic traditions.

 “No positive vision of our society was ever built upon compulsory identity cards and ever-broader criminal offences.”

 And Janet Paraskeva, chief executive of the Law Society, said: “The Bill will provide the Government with unnecessary and undesirably wide powers to record, retain and disseminate personal data. Many of the proposed benefits the Government claims can be achieved without a costly and complex identity card scheme.”

 There has been talk of some amendments to appease the rebel Labour MPs. But since the core of the scheme of the huge database containing personal information about every one of us, it is hard to see what amendments could be made to make the scheme acceptable.

 The second very controversial issue will be changes to the Incapacity Benefit system – yet another of the Government’s periodic assaults on the chronically sick and disabled, designed to pander to those who imagine vast armies of scroungers claiming undeserved benefits.

 These attacks have been a regular event since Incapacity benefit was introduced under the Tories to replace Invalidity benefit. The Government thinks up a new way of scrutinising claimants; the claimants are put through yet more humiliating tests; the vast majority are found to be absolutely genuine; the whole exercise ends up costing much more than any savings from discovering fraudulent claimants; then the matter is forgotten until the next time.

 Every time the issue is raised, the chronically sick and disabled, as well as enduring humiliation, also have to endure financial insecurity and the threat of sharp cuts to their miserly benefits. Many could face being forced to look for work they are unlikely to get. But the change from Incapacity Benefit to Jobseekers’ Allowance would reduce their income from £74 a week to £54.

 Housing benefits are also under threat, with a proposal to pay just a flat rate and pay it to the claimant rather than directly to the landlord. This will affect people on very low incomes in rented property where the value of the property has risen steeply over the last few years. Rent arrears are one of the few legal grounds to evict tenants with secure tenancies. Cutting housing benefit will see this happening more, allowing landlords to seek out wealthier tenants who can pay higher rents.

 There is to be a whole raft of new measures on counter-terrorism. New offences could be created such as “glorifying and condoning terrorism”.

Probably such laws, if passed would be used to pick on specific targets, mainly young Muslim males. But in theory this could outlaw anything from the old TV comedy Allo Allo spoof on the French resistance to the film Spartacus.

 Our role must be to act as a continual reminder to our MPs as to why they should stand firm against Blair’s measures that with turn Britain into a police state. We must never let them forget how angry they were just two weeks ago.


Stop the ID cards Bill!

TONY BLAIR has reintroduced the controversial Bill to pave the way for compulsory identity cards in the Queen’s Speech last Tuesday – provoking an early test of his strength against backbench rebels.

 Of all the controversial measures he has planned, he clearly thinks he stands most chance of getting this through and setting a precedent that will discourage his opponents, probably because when the Bill was first introduced earlier this year, only 19 Labour rebels voted against it.

 Many others were uneasy or abstained but did not vote against it because Blair then had a majority of 167. Now that majority is down to 66, there are likely to be more who will be willing to stand against it. Furthermore those MPs have just had several weeks of campaigning on the doorsteps, being told by the voters just how unpopular Blair is. If they did not realise it before, they certainly know now that Blair is a liability to the Labour Party.

 The identity cards Bill is being introduced supposedly as a measure to prevent terrorism, illegal immigration and fraud. It will do none of those things. Compulsory ID cards in New York and Spain did not prevent the 11 September 2001 attacks or the Madrid train bombings.

 The data base that will be the basis of the card system will actually make identity theft easier. By collecting all the important information about every one of us in one place, on one computer, anyone who can gain access to that computer can learn everything they need to know about us to pretend to be us and to pull off the perfect identity fraud.

 The well-organised human traffickers behind illegal immigration will have no problem in getting as many ID cards as they want. It just requires the right contacts on the inside of the computer system that supplies them. If the Government really wanted to stop illegal immigration, they would invest in more coastguards and more passport control civil servants. Instead they are promising more and more cuts in the civil service.

 The Government really does not want an end to illegal immigration. Far from being a burden, these immigrants will make a lot of money for the unscrupulous capitalists who employ and exploit them.

 The identity cards will act as a barrier between them and the rest of the working class – part of the age-old strategy of divide and rule. People with ID cards will have access to education, healthcare, unemployment and sickness benefits, the state pension, libraries, local authority leisure facilities and housing lists. They will also be able to acquire bank accounts, loans, credit cards, debts and so on.

 Those without cards will be excluded from mainstream society, vulnerable to the most gross and absolute exploitation and with no legal protection. They will undermine wages and working conditions because bosses will find them willing to work for much less than the rest of us.

 And these super exploited workers will exist among us as a warning of the abyss that we could fall into if for some reason we lose – or are tempted to tear up – our ID cards. To keep our ID cards we will have to tell the Government every time we change our address – and pay the cost of the Government changing the records on us.

 They will provide an excuse for police and other officials to harass particular minorities, demanding to see their ID cards. How long before temporary confiscation of ID cards becomes a penalty to enforce payment of petty one-the-spot fines?

 ID cards are a measure for the ruling class to divide and control the working class. We must resist them totally. And we must press our MPs to reject them, remembering that by throwing out ID cards they will also hasten the day when they can throw out Blair as well.

 And the trade unions will have a vital role in stepping up their initiatives to reach out to migrant workers to bring them into the protection of union negotiated wages, terms and conditions.

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