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Monday, November 06, 2006 

Blair's language abuse.

Of New Labour's crimes, their bastardisation and destruction of the English language is pretty well down the list, but every so often it still comes along and bites you on the ass. This is the government that talks of "stakeholders", "community action zones", "schools in special measures" and "city academies". John Prescott is deputy prime minister. The word dossier will never carry the same clout as it once did. The latest word to come under attack, this time from the prime minister himself, is "modernity."

What exactly do you think of when you hear modernity? Forget about the horrible vacuousness of post-modernism for a second, and just imagine modernity. It's a pleasant word, one which can variously elicit images of the best of society; freedom, open spaces, welcoming buildings, the finest of new technology. On the other hand, modernity can also be a faintly fascistic word, and it's in this sense which Blair uses it, whether he realises it or not. Blair's modernity, rather than being the best of a progressing society, is a fearful, vicious, ugly, deeply regressive, decaying state of affairs. In Blair's modernity, yobs are scattering glass on children's roundabouts, that man who lives at the end of the street is watching the school playground out of his window, and foreigners are scampering to enter Britain in order to defile our women and scrounge on the welfare state.

Underneath the facile exterior of Blair's cheeriness and "I'm your mate, I am!" smarmy attitude, lies a cynical, calculating politician who refuses to give up. His original clutching at straws was first properly witnessed in the run-up to the Iraq war; first we had to be fearful of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, then it was his potential links to al-Qaida, before Blair sobbed for the citizens of the country who he was about to bomb, despite never showing any concern for them before in his whole time as an MP. He's now repeating a very similar cycle of defiance and absolutism in his attempts to convince the country that ID cards are a swell idea. All the arguments he set out today, both in a Telegraph article and at his press conference, have been gone over before and exposed as weak at best. That doesn't matter though, this is Blair we're talking about. Once he's convinced himself of the case for something, he won't rest until the country's under the same spell.

The first jab he leads with is that ID cards will make our borders more secure and help counter illegal immigration. This one is so flimsy that it's the type that can be brushed away like a fly; asylum seekers are already issued with ID cards. For those who don't go through the asylum system, the card isn't going to stop a gangmaster from paying his quarry with cash. As Henry Porter argues, those who make some money and want to trade up will get a fake ID card. Next up, this time a swing from the left, is the illusion that ID cards will somehow halt all those men who wish to do us harm by blowing themselves up. They didn't in Spain, where those who carried out the Madrid bombings had them. ID cards may even make the threat even worse; as soon as ID cards arrive they'll be a rush by the hackers and cloners to break the security, which they will. Potential terrorists then might be able to further evade the security services with their newly created false identity. It's the equivalent of Charles Clarke last week on Question Time: when an audience member made a point about the 7/7 terrorists not being identified as they went around their business, Clarke countered that actually CCTV had been instrumental in helping establish their movements. Once they were dead, that is, having taken 52 other people with them.

You know what else these little magic cards are going to do? They're only going to make crime drop even further! Yep, through the database, which the police will naturally have access to, along with numerous other pieces of information that PC Plod will be more than happy to leak to the press should you ever get in a spot of bother, they'll be able to check up even quicker on whether you are who you say you are. How this will help detection rates isn't properly explained, but that doesn't really matter. If Blair says these cards are going to be a panacea, you better believe it too.

Here then is the final argument. These cards aren't going to be an issue of civil liberties being restricted or breached, rather they're just "modernity" raising its head. There's nothing you can do about modernity, it just happens, a little like shit does. It's similar to how with next to no debate the police suddenly have the DNA and fingerprints of nearly 4 million people, 50,000 of them children, with god knows how many of that number never being charged with any crime. It's how Britain has been rated by Privacy International as being only slightly less repressive than China; they got a score of 1.3, we thrashed them with 1.5. In case you're not convinced that this modernity is a no-brainer, then Mr Blair wants to bombard you with good vibes by commissioning an "action plan", which will estimate just how great these cards will make your life in 10 years time. Whether by then we'll be able to beat China in the surveillance society stakes will doubtless not be considered.

Just to highlight the irony of Blair's claims of modernity, in the same press conference he was repeatedly questioned over Margaret Beckett's rather strong comments about Saddam being executed, with it being entirely right that he should face "Iraqi justice", which must mean that he's going to be tortured with a power drill, be snarled at by a dog and then be beaten to death by some CIA interrogators. Finally, he was forced into condemning the death penalty, then justifying himself by bringing up the brutality of Iraq under Mr Hussein, naturally as opposed to how the country is now. Death begats death, torture begats torture, modernity begats modernity. Get used to it.

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