River Wissey Lovell Fuller


June 2004

The Editor takes over the Soapbox to express some strongly held views

Identity Cards

Having spent 34 years in the Royal Air Force, identity cards (or Forms 1250 for the initiated) are second nature to me. But I must confess to some misgivings about the current Government initiative to introduce compulsory identity cards for all UK citizens.

Do you remember when the supermarkets introduced the first loyalty card? Their aim, it was claimed, was to provide recompense or savings to loyal customers. The truth was significantly different. Loyalty cards enable major supermarkets to track our buying habits, our seasonal tendencies and our local favourites. Far from rewarding loyalty, they tell the supermarket management our personal shopping traits and our wish lists so that promotional displays can be arranged on a day by day basis for individual shoppers. For example, the so-called loyalty card told Tesco that men usually shop on a Saturday afternoon. Moreover, in the Barbecue season, men were likely to buy beer and lager and other bits and pieces to furnish their weekend barbecue. They quickly re-arranged their promotional items to show beer and lager discounted, but in the same shopping aisle they presented crisps, nuts and other nibbles at vastly inflated prices. We simple men did not, of course, detect that we were being taken for a very carefully planned ride!

I have a sneaking suspicion that the same could be said about national identity cards. It is not so much a matter of we, as individuals, providing confirmation of who we are it is more a case of the government being able to track our various state related activities. For example, if we are in receipt of benefits are we paying tax on wages previously un-declared? Are we claiming rebate on our council tax yet still earning a full salary? Are we paying the appropriate amount of tax for our earnings? Or are we registered with one agency as disabled but claiming benefits as an able person from another? Are we a single person household or do we have an, as yet, undeclared partner? The combinations of checks are endless.

But the bottom line is that ID cards will no more detect or deter terrorists than the Phone Book. It has been confirmed that all the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attack on the New York World Trade Centre did so under perfectly legitimate passports. ID cards would have been unable to detect the terrorist or his intentions even if our government could get the biometric elements to work!

Speed Cameras

I have for one been a long standing objector to the indiscriminate use of speed cameras on our Norfolk roads. But now we hear that the local authorities are rejecting appeals for such devices on the A47 towards Great Yarmouth because there have not been enough fatalities on the stretch of road concerned to justify them. This year alone there have been 8 deaths; how many do we need to justify a camera? Norman Lamb, the Lib Dem MP for North Norfolk has canvassed for a speed camera on this lethal straight of the A47 for a couple of years. His campaign has failed although, as a concession, local villagers have been offered free advanced driving courses! The fact that thousands of people, including holiday makers from all over the UK, use this busy road in addition to the locals seems to have been overlooked by local authorities. Will future holiday bookings for North and East Norfolk automatically include a free driving lesson?

Tax them out of their cars.

Speaking on Radio 4 last weekend Kim Howells, our erstwhile Transport Minister, suggested that the only strategy for the future was to tax drivers out of their cars. He pointed out that a similar strategy for smokers had done much to reduce smoking in the UK. Motoring organisations were quick to point out that smoking was an addiction and it was grossly unfair of the Minister to suggest motoring was also an addiction. For thousands of people, particularly those in rural areas such as ours, the car is an essential asset. There are large areas of West Norfolk with only a skeletal public transport service; without a car, how does Howells think people would get to work, visit the doctor or keep hospital appointments?

It does seem a pity that we have a government that continues to open their mouths before engaging their brain. It would take little thought to come to the conclusion that you can only separate people from their cars if there is a viable and dependable alternative. I doubt this will happen in West Norfolk in my lifetime!

Ray Thompson

(Ron Watts was unable to furnish his usual Soapbox for this issue)

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