Like a Fiery (Safety) Elephant

Well, wasn’t Charles Clarke’s appearance on television fun? The boiling hatred and revenge just spumed off his hoggish cardiac-case chops. There’s enough lard in there to fuel a whole West Greenlandic tribe for a decade, even though elephant would be a novelty to them. Apparently the only reason anyone disagrees with house arrest without trial, extraordinary renditions, the ID cards super-database, ASBOs, refugee-bashing, tube executions and the rest is that there aren’t enough dictatorships in the world, so we’re all transferring our feelings about them to the dear old UK.

This is a remarkable statement for many reasons. For a start, he’s actually claiming that the world is running out of injustice! This is one of those Colonel, you’re insane moments, when you realise that trying to understand what he’s saying is as much use as gazing into the eyes of a fish hoping in George Bush’s words to “see his soul”. Can he really believe that we have passed, to coin a phrase, Peak Tyranny?

More importantly, look at what he’s actually saying. The world at large is transferring its feelings about tyrants onto him. He is a victim of Lacanian transference, assuming of course that he sees himself in the role of psychoanalyst rather than patient. This is, I think, a key point to understand the contemporary world. It’s Nick Cohen, I think, who likes to moan about “the post-modern Left” – rejecting the clear values of the Enlightenment, not interested in absolute truth, etc etc.

But he’s got it epically wrong. We are ruled by the postmodern Right. What was intended as a critical theory that would dismantle the deceptions of the elite has been taken up chiefly by that elite, in a charmingly dialectical twist. Politics has operationalised the idea that truth is not absolute, that multiple truths can co-exist, that subjectivity trumps objectivity. Far from liberating the masses from the impositions of bourgeois thought, though, it has realised that it can liberate the masses from thought. What matters is not that you correctly predicted that the invasion of Iraq would be a disaster, but that you worked for Bill Clinton in the past. This is my truth. Don’t listen to theirs – ours is easy, and they are on the side of THE TERRORISTS. Tony Blair: There is a difference between people’s individual experience and their collective sense, which is based on perception.

About the best statement of Blair’s fundamental approach to politics I’ve seen, really. (Never mind the grammar, btw.) Clarke’s performance was right in this tradition. He bashed for Britain, grandly denying a variety of things that are actually true and scattering a cocktail of happy talk and thuggery.

Moving swiftly on, another example. Labour MP Nick Palmer writes to the paper.

Jenni Russell (Tony Blair’s authoritarian populism is indefensible and dangerous, April 24) perpetuates two myths about ID cards: she says that they can be withdrawn at any time without appeal, and that their use will be stored on a central database. In fact, the law just passed by parliament requires people to be issued an ID card on request as soon as they have registered. If you report your card as stolen, it can be cancelled and replaced, like a passport, as you’d expect, but you can’t be permanently refused a card. As for the database, only the fact that a check of identity has been made is recorded, so that you can review when you want to whether anyone unauthorised by you has made the check. There is no record of whether you have filed a prescription or withdrawn money, or any other information about your activity.

There is an email from anti-ID campaigners circulating making the same erroneous claims. Obviously there are arguments against ID cards, as with any proposal, but it’s a pity if the debate is distorted by misunderstanding.
Nick Palmer MP
Lab, Broxtowe

Well, what can we deduce from this speech-act? First of all, the first two words are Jenni Russell, the Times columnist verbally assaulted by name in Clarke’s speech. Evidently Palmer was detailed off for this job by party HQ. Immediately, her remarks are marked as “myths”, and then comes the kicker. That their use will be stored on a central database is a myth. The evidence that it is a myth?

As for the database, only the fact that a check of identity has been made is recorded, so that you can review when you want to whether anyone unauthorised by you has made the check. There is no record of whether you have filed a prescription or withdrawn money, or any other information about your activity.

It is a myth that their use will be stored on a central database because the fact that a check of identity has been made is recorded on a database, which is all for your own good anyway. The first statement is a direct lie, but you get the choice of believing the alternative, Palmerworld truth rather than the more difficult one that he’s lying.

In a hopelessly outdated way, I suppose, I ought to point out that the next sentence is also a lie.

There is no record of whether you have filed a prescription or withdrawn money, or any other information about your activity.

No, how could anyone possibly deduce from the fact your ID record was checked at a pharmacy that you might have filed a prescription, or that you might possibly be doing something involving cash if it was checked at a bank? Further, Palmer either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that by definition, if some sort of business process involves a National Identity Register lookup, obviously there’s a record of your activity. If the hospital pharmacy is connected to the NHS National Programme for IT Spine, and they need to check your ID card to prescribe, evidently the ID card number must go into the NHS’s record of that prescription..or else how would they know you weren’t making it up? That means that, yes, the NHS will have records of prescriptions (and everything else) with ID card numbers in them, which means they can be searched by ID card number. And so will the bank – today, when a bank asks you for identification, they generally record the passport number, driver number or whathaveyou. If they request an ID card, they will use the ID card number, so their records are functionally part of the National Identity Register too.

Even if they aren’t using ID numbers, which begs the question why they would bother checking cards and even more so, why they would do NIR lookups that would be recorded, the fact your ID card was looked-up in – say – a clap clinic or a psychiatric institution is information of considerable value to any enemies you might have.

But who cares? Trust me..




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