Posts Tagged ‘Landlords’

Weak and Wobbly Theresa May’s Contradictory and Crap Housing Policy

May 15, 2017

The leak last Thursday of the Labour party manifesto, with its promise to nationalise the railways and parts of the energy network, clearly has rattled the Tory party. Mike over at Vox Political remarked that leak was probably intended to discredit these policies, but instead they have proved massively popular.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/11/labours-manifesto-approved-unanimously-by-nec-and-shadow-cabinet-after-leaked-version-wins-huge-public-support/

I’m not surprised. The Tory party, of course, started shrieking that this would drag us all back to the 1970s – actually not a bad thing, as Mike has also pointed out, considering that the gulf between rich and poor was at its lowest during that decade. The Torygraph also went berserk, and plastered all over the front page of its Friday edition a headline claiming that Labour MPs were ‘disowning’ it. I don’t know how true this was. It could be the Blairites trying their best to undermine their own party again, in order to shore up virtuous neoliberalism. Or it could be just more rumour and scaremongering put out, as usual, by the rag and its owners, the weirdo Barclay twins. The Telegraph has been in the forefront of the newspapers attacking Corbyn since he was elected to the Labour leadership. So many of its stories are just scaremongering or, at best, the fevered imaginings of a frightened capitalist class, that you can’t really believe anything the newspaper actually writes about the Labour party or its leader. Ken Surin, in an article for Counterpunch, quoted statistics by media analysts that said that only 11 per cent of reports about the party presented the facts accurately.

But the fact that the railways do need to be renationalised was ironically shown again that day, as a train I wanted to catch was delayed by 15 minutes. Because a train had broken down. The British taxpayer now pays far more subsidies to the private rail companies for a worse train service than in the 1970s. So once again, we’re back to showing that rather than being a decade of uniform disaster and imminent social collapse, it was better in some ways than the present.

So May has decided to unveil a few radical policies of her own. In order to counter Labour’s promise to build a million new homes, half of which will be social housing, in the next five years, May has announced that her government will boost the number of social housing being built, and included a special right to buy clause. Which sounds good, until you realise that they’re not going to release any more money for it.

Without that extra money, the promise is meaningless.
It’s more Tory lies.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/14/theresa-may-has-actually-announced-a-policy-and-its-rubbish/

The Tory party has absolutely no intention of building any more social housing. Mike has put up in his article a table of the Tories’ abysmal record on housing. These include a 43 per cent increase in homelessness, a 166 per cent jump in the number of people sleeping rough, private rents have gone up by over £1,700 since 2010, and the cost of owning a home for first-time buyers has risen by £65,000. But this won’t worry the Tory party, as 1/3 of them are private landlords. And I distinctly remember Johnny Void posting a number of articles about they sought to profit by the dearth of housing in London.

And this is quite apart from the fact that the Tory press, such as the Daily Mail, is aimed very much at the kind of people, who buy to rent, and endlessly applauds high house prices even though they make homes unaffordable to an increasing number of people in 21st century England. Of course they see such prices as a good thing, as it means even greater profits for them.

So they won’t want to undermine the housing bubble they’ve created, and cause prices to fall by building any more.

But they can’t be seen to be doing that, with Corbyn and Labour hot on this issue.

So they’ve concocted this rubbish, self-contradictory policy, hoping that people will be deceived by the meaningless promise. They hope people will remember the first part, and forget that without any more money, it won’t happen.

Don’t let them fool you.
Vote Labour for a decent housing solution on June 8th.

Last Fortnight’s Private Eye on Dave Cameron’s ‘Right to Buy’ Policy

April 14, 2015

Cameron formally announced today his ‘right to buy’ scheme, which would see the remainder of Britain’s stock of social housing sold off. Tom Pride and Mike over at Vox Political have already posted pieces on this today. I’ve reblogged Mr Pride’s, in which he tells it like it is. It’s just a return of Thatcher’s ‘right to buy’ scheme from the 1980s.

He goes further, and describes Cameron as ‘a pound-shop Maggie Thatcher’. Which is pretty much exactly what he is. Though it does leave you feeling that we’ve been short-changed. Surely with his blue-blood and Eton education he could be something a bit more up-market. A Fortnum & Mason’s Maggie Thatcher, perhaps, or may be a Harrod’s Maggie Thatcher? Or perhaps something a little more popular, but still offering quality: a Sainsbury food hall Maggie Thatcher?

Mr Pride also points out that the beneficiaries of the original right-to-buy fiasco weren’t the ordinary tenants, but the private landlords who purchased them and then hoiked the rents up accordingly. People like Charles Gow, the son of the minister, who privatised them. Young master Gow is a multi-millionaire with forty of them.

Johnny Void also wrote a piece I’ve reblogged earlier last year, when IDS announced it as his big idea, pointing out, along with Mike, that it would lead to a complete absence of council houses, and that the affordable housing that’s supposed to replace it isn’t anything of the sort. It won’t solve the housing crisis. It will only make it worse.

Which was Private Eye’s view in their last issue a fortnight ago. In ‘Housing News’ they wrote

The wheels are falling off Tory housing policy as the desperate search for votes intensifies.

Chancellor George Osborne’s final budget saw yet another ineffective give-away to first-time buyers in the form of “Help to Buy ISAs” – up to £3,000 in taxpayer cash to top up savings for a deposit. Like umpteen other schemes designed to help those who can’t afford a mortgage, this one may just inflate prices further while failing to address shortage of supply.

Not to be outdone, the Iain Duncan Smith faction promptly leaked the latest version of its own pet idea: to extend the Right to Buy to Britain’s 2.5m housing association tenants. This sounds like music to Tory ears until one realises that, unlike the social homes owned by the councils, housing association assets are private property.

For decades, governments trying to keep the national debt down have restrained council borrowing by tying up council housing assets in ring-fenced housing revenue accounts (HRA) and making it almost impossible for councils to build. Housing associations, on the other hand, are independent charities so their £65 bn in borrowing is safely “off balance sheet”.

As the chancellor must be only too aware, compelling housing associations to sell to tenants and use the RTB discounts enjoyed by council tenants (up to £102, 700 in London and £77,000 elsewhere) would cost serious amounts of taxpayer money and bankrupt a few housing associations. Then again, as this is the eighth election in row where the Conservative party has said it will extend RTB to housing association tenants, will the vote-catcher fare any better than usual?

That isn’t the end of the TRB saga. Under localism, some councils have found a way round Treasury borrowing caps via public-private partnerships, using the new “general power of competence” to create their own “local housing companies” and build homes – for sale and for social rent – and keep them outside the HRA. Not only does this evade the borrowing caps, but it also means the new homes are not, er, subject to the Right to Buy. Housing minister Brandon Lewis is not happy, and has threatened councils with serious reprisals. So much for localism.

Now public-private partnerships, like the Private Finance Initiative, are by and large a colossal waste of money and a massive drain on the state, all in order to provide contracts to the Tories’ donors in private industry. But if local councils are using such schemes to build more social housing, then perhaps we could do with more of them in this specific instance.

As for Osbo and his Help-to-Buy ISAs, one of the commenters over at Tom Pride’s or Johnny Void’s blogs stated that the last thing the Tories wanted was for the price of housing to go down, as this would have a knock-on effect on the rest of the economy through the way mortgages are used to stimulate finances elsewhere. Hence in the short-term, I really don’t think Osbo would be at all worried about housing prices going up, so long as the bubble burst when someone other than the Tories were in power.

As for the ‘Right-to-Buy’ policy having now been wheeled out by the Tories in eight elections in a row, that shows that they have absolutely no intention of honouring it. Not if it’s been touted in the past, but obviously not been put it into practice, if they’re still claiming they’re going to do it this time.

This means that Mr Pride was probably being overgenerous in his description of Cameron as a ‘pound-shop Maggie Thatcher’. The stuff in pound shops is cheap, but it’s still good quality. This, however, is a decidedly shop-worn policy, that is definitely past it’s sell by date. This is the Arthur Daley, Trotters Independent Traders version of Maggie Thatcher. If the policy was an animal, it’d be the dead parrot in the Monty Python sketch, gone to join the ‘choir invisibule’.

Protest in Bristol Later this Month against the Privatisation of the NHS

April 10, 2015

Yesterday I put up a piece about protest being organised for Saturday in Bristol outside the main office of the estate agents CJ Hole in Southville. This is to protest against a letter Hole sent to the landlords in Bristol advising them to increase their profits by raising the rents. Bristol, like London, has a homelessness problem and a lack of affordable housing. This is just sheer greed, and the exploitation of human misery.

The internet petitioning group 38 Degrees is also organisation a day of action in Bristol for the 25th April. They will be at the main entrance of the branch of ASDA at East Street in Bedminster, under the arcade from 11 am for an hour or two collecting signatures and talking to people about contacting their MPs to stop the further destruction of the NHS under the Tories.

Protests Against Estate Agent CJ Hole in Bristol This Saturday

April 9, 2015

This Saturday, the 11th April, there’s due to be a demonstration by the tenants’ rights group, ACORN, and members of the on-line petitioning group, 38 Degrees, outside the Southville branch of the Bristol estate agent, CJ Hole. The demonstration’s organiser, Nathan Williams, organised a petition on 38 degrees against the estate agent after it sent letters to local landlords asking them if they were receiving enough rent and advising them they could raise them even further.

He explained in the petition that

An estate agent in Bristol called CJ Hole has been sending out letters to its landlord clients asking “Are you getting enough rent?” and “How do you get more rent?”

The letter they are sending to landlords explains that “with rents increasing every week in Bristol, it is highly likely your property is due a rent increase.” It goes on to say that “the demand from tenants is far exceeding the number of available properties and we have never seen such a buoyant rental market.”

It doesn’t once mention the rights of tenants.

The letter shows how some estate agents and landlords are seeking to cynically profit from the housing crisis in Bristol at a time when inflation has declined to 0.3% and deflation is predicted. I think there is no justification for increasing rents at a time when prices are actually going down. In addition, real average earnings have fallen by 8% since 2008.

Such predatory rental practices are an attack on low income people and threaten the most basic of rights – the security of a home to live in.

Bristol’s housing supply has been described by an official report as “in crisis.” In 2013 just 60 affordable homes were built across Bristol.

According to Williams, the petition has so far been signed by 11,400 + people, and the figure is still rising. The boss of five of the CJ Hole branches in Bristol has also denounced the letter. The estate agent is trying to combat this negative publicity by hiring a PR firm.

Mr Williams further explains

We must make sure this petition is just the start of a campaign to stop bad estate agent practice and advance fairer tenants’ rights. The stories signatories told of extortionate rent increases, huge fees, withheld deposits and poor accommodation were all too common. So please get involved this Saturday, check out ACORN, question your MP candidates about their plans for tenants’ rights, vote, and help fight for a fairer future.

The purpose of the demonstration is to force the estate agent to sign the Ethical Lettings Charter. This requires landlords and letting agents to commit to providing accommodation which positively supports the lives of tenants, with an accreditation system reflecting the level of commitment made. In fairness, a number of landlords have already signed up to the charter. More information is available at https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/acornbristol/pages/62/attachments/original/1425338034/Bristol_Ethical_Lettings_Charter_Final_-_Email_Version.pdf?1425338034

The demonstration is due to begin at 11.00 am.

Further information on rent campaigns or ACORN is available from Nathan Williams at nathan@newcommunciations.co.uk and Nick Ballard at nick.ballard@acorncommunities.org.uk.

Further information on ACORN is at http://www.acorncommunities.org.uk/.

Updates on this and other future campaigns will be tweeted on Action On Rent and ACORN @Action_On_Rent and @ACORN_tweets.

I’m unable to go to these demonstrations, but I wish them every success. There’s a real problem with housing in Bristol and house prices in some parts of the city are comparable to London. They’re so high that local people are unable to afford them.

About four or five years ago now, the archaeology department at Bristol Uni organised a dig on one of the traffic islands used by homeless people in Bristol. This innovative exploration of a pressing issue was organised jointly by Paul Schofield, a leading British archaeologist, and a former archaeological student at the university. She was annoyed at the way Bristol’s working class environment was being closed down and destroyed in order to develop luxury housing for the rich.

With rents and mortgages so high in the city, it is wicked that CJ Hole should be advising their landlord clients to raise their rents even further.

Vox Political: Zero-Hours Employers Committing Electoral Fraud?

April 2, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has today raised the disturbing question Are zero-hours employers committing electoral fraud? Mike says

It seems there are rumours doing the rounds that employers who use zero-hours contracts are threatening their workforce with the loss of their jobs if they don’t vote Conservative.

Whether or not there is any truth in the claim, employees everywhere should be reminded that intimidation of this kind is electoral fraud – and that is a criminal offence.

This writer has also been told that, historically, tenants who rented housing here in Mid Wales used to be threatened with eviction if they did not vote for the landlords’ choice of candidate. This is also electoral fraud.

He quotes the Electoral Commission, who advise anyone who has information that electoral fraud is being committed should immediately notify the police. He also provides the web address of the Commission, who give further information on their site. He also suggests contacting the Returning Officer for the constituency.

The article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/04/02/are-zero-hours-employers-committing-electoral-fraud/#comments

This is yet more evidence of the way the Tories, their Lib Dem enablers and the lounge-suit Fascists of UKIP are dragging us back to the Victorian age. In the 18th and 19th centuries workers were expected to vote the way their master voted. If they were lucky enough to have the vote, that is. During elections, they were also expected to decorate their machines with the party colours and slogans of their masters, and generally support whoever their employer supported. Failure to do so was considered disloyalty, and cost you your job.

Unfortunately, it is all too plausible that the kind of employers, who are ruthless and exploitative enough to put their workers on zero-hours contracts, would threaten them with losing their jobs if they didn’t vote the way they intended. They introduced these contracts because it makes jobs precarious, and so workers far more vulnerable to pressure.

Even if this is only another rumour – which let’s hope it is – it is another argument in favour of their abolition.

Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 2

October 13, 2013

In the first part of this post I discussed the way successive administrations since Mrs Thatcher – those of john Major, Tony Blair, and now, possibly, the coalition, had planned to introduce ID cards. Privacy campaigners such as Simon Davies have opposed them, because of the immense potential they represent for human rights abuses, the mass surveillance of the population, and discrimination against immigrants and minorities. I posted it as a response to Mike’s piece on Vox Political, which I reblogged, on Theresa May’s latest campaign against illegal immigration, and the fears landlords and immigrants’ rights groups have about the terrible effect this will have on them. The landlords in particular were concerned that this would lead to the introduction of 404 European document-style ID cards. In this part of the post I will discuss the dangers ID cards present, and their failure to do what is often claimed for them, such as to prevent crime and illegal immigration.

It looks like illegal immigration will be the platform by which ID cards will be introduced in this country. Mike and a number of other bloggers have commented on the way recent statements and policies by coalition ministers to combat illegal immigration suggest that they plan to introduce ID cards as part of their campaign. Illegal immigration has been the main issue driving their introduction in Europe, America and some developing nations. Davies book on the growth of the surveillance society in Britain notes that as the European Union dissolves borders in Europe, so the police were given greater power to check people’s ID. As for fears that ID cards will somehow stop illegal immigrants from claiming benefits, this has been disproved in Australia. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Australia Card found that of 57,000 people, who overstayed their visa in New South Wales, on 22 were illegally claiming Unemployment Benefit.

Anti-racism campaigners are right to worry that ID will increase discrimination. ID cards carrying information on the bearer’s ethnic groups or religious beliefs have been used to discriminate against minority groups in many countries. The Japanese were accused of racism when they passed legislation forcing all foreigners to carry ID cards. The French police were similarly accused of racism in demanding Blacks and Algerians carry and produce ID cards. This was one of the reasons behind the race riots in France in the 1990s. In Greece, the authorities were also accused of using the religious information on the card to discriminate against those, who were not Greek Orthodox. Down Under, Aboriginal and Jewish Australians joined the campaign against the Australia Card from fear that they would also suffer discrimination. A few thousand miles across the Pacific in New Zealand, Kiwi trade unions and civil liberties groups also feared ID cards would lead to discrimination against minorities and the poor.

Contrary to the frequent claims made by various Right-wing governments like Thatcher’s, Major’s and Blair’s, ID cards don’t actually stop welfare fraud. Says Davies ‘the key area of interest lies in creating a single numbering system which would be used as a basis for employment eligibility, and which would reduce the size of the black market economy’. In Oz, the Department of Social Security stated that much less than 1 per cent of overpaid benefits came from identity fraud. The true figure for such crime is probably 0.6 per cent. Most fraudulent or overpaid benefit claims – 61 per cent – came from the non-reporting of variations in the claimant’s income.

ID cards also don’t stop crime. This is again contrary to the statements made by governments wishing to introducing them. The problem is not the identification of criminals, but in collecting sufficient evidence and successfully prosecuting them. The Association of Chief Police Officers in Britain concluded in 1993 report that burglaries, street crime and crimes committed by people impersonating officials could be reduced through ID cards. They did not, however, present any evidence for this. The Association did fear that the introduction of ID cards would make relations between the police and the general public worse. Davies considered that only a DNA or biometric database could possibly link perpetrators with their crimes.

The introduction of ID cards do, however, increase police powers. Police routinely ask for ID cards in all the countries that have them, and detain those, who don’t possess them. In Britain the wartime ID cards were removed in 1953 after a High Court judge ruled that their routine demand by the police was contrary to the spirit of the National Registration Act, and adversely affected the good relations between police and the public.

In fact, instead of helping to combat crime, ID cards actually help it. ID cards provide a ‘one-stop’ proof of identity, and this can and is used by criminal gangs in their crimes. The technology used to manufacture the cards is now available and used by such organisations. As ordinary organisations, such as companies and the state civil service increasingly rely on ID cards as the unquestioned proof of an individual’s identity, so they abandon the other systems used to check it that they have been using for decades. As a result, crimes using fake identities are actually easier with ID cards.

ID cards are a real danger to the privacy of personal information. About one per cent of the staff of companies involved in collecting the personal information used to construct the relational databases used in such cards are corrupt and prepared to trade confidential information. Each year, one per cent of all bank staff in Europe are dismissed for corruption. This is a minuscule percentage, it is true, but nevertheless it still presents a danger to the privacy and safety of the public. In Britain, computer crime amongst the civil services own ID staff massively increased in the 1980s and 1990s. The National Accounting Office estimated in March 1995 that hacking, theft and infection by viruses were all increasing on the IT network in Whitehall. In one year, for example, hacking rose by 140 per cent and viruses by a massive 300 per cent. Of the 655 cases of hacking in the Whitehall network identified by the NAO, most involved staff exceeding their authority to obtain the personal information of members of the public, which was they then passed on to outside individuals.

ID card schemes also tend to be much more expensive than governments’ estimate and allow for. Once again, Australia provides a good example of this. When introducing the Australia Card scheme, the Ozzie government failed to take into account training costs, and the expenses coming from administrative supervision, staff turnover, holiday and sick leave, as well as compliance, the issue of the cards overseas and fraud. They also underestimated the costs of issuing and maintaining the cards and how expensive they would be to private industry. In the first part of this post I mentioned how leading Australian bankers and financiers, such as Sir Noel Foley, were openly hostile to the scheme. This is not surprising, as the Australian Bankers’ Association estimated that the ID card their would cost Ozzie banks A$100 million over ten years. The total cost of the cards to the private sector was estimated at A$1 billion per year. At the time Davies was writing, the cost of the card system in the UK had not taken into account of administration and compliance costs. These could be as high as £2 – £3 billion. When Tony Blair launched his scheme to develop biometric ID cards, there was further embarrassment to the government when it was revealed by the papers that the scheme had also gone massively over its budget due to problems in developing the technology.

Another factor against the cards is the distress and inconvenience caused to the individual by their accidental loss or destruction. About five per cent of ID cards are either lost, damaged or stolen every year, and it can be several weeks before a replacement is received.

Governments have frequently insisted that ID cards will be voluntary. This was the stance taken by Tony Blair’s government on them. It is misleading. There is a tendency for them to become compulsory. Even in nations where they are voluntary, there is considerable inconvenience if they are not carried, so that they are actually compulsory in practice if not in law.

ID cards also have a tendency to become internal passports as they acquire other uses through function creep. These will include all government and a significant number of important, private functions.

Finally, opponents of ID cards object to them because they feel that they damage national identity and personal integrity. The movements against ID cards in America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand called attention to the fears of ordinary people that the introduction of such cards would reduce them to mere numbers. They were a symbol of oppressive authority, and represented popular anxieties that their countries were ruled, not by elected officials, but by bureaucracies driven by technology.

Actually, reading through all the considerable negative aspects of ID cards and the list of the dangers and damage they represent to society and the safety and privacy of its members, I can see why the Coalition government would see no problem in introducing them. After all, such schemes are inefficient, corrupt and massively expensive. They expand the power of the state and the police at the expense of the individual, and are used to persecute and victimise minorities and the poor. Pretty much like all the Coalition’s policies, then. And ID cards are exactly like IDS welfare schemes and workfare in that, undercover of eliminating welfare fraud, which they actually don’t do anything about, they’re really about controlling the movement of labour.

So, corrupt, authoritarian and discriminatory: just right for Theresa May and the rest of the Coalition then!

Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 1

October 12, 2013

‘The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts’.

– Edmund Burke.

Edmund Burke is regarded as the founder of modern Conservatism, the defender of tradition, freedom, and gradual change against revolutionary innovation based solely on abstract principle. He was also the 18th century MP, who successfully campaigned for the Canadian provinces to be given self-government on the grounds that, as they paid their taxes, so they had earned their right to government. His defence of tradition came from his observation of the horror of the French Revolution and his ideas regarding their political and social causes, as reflected in his great work, Reflections on the Revolution in France. While his Conservatism may justly be attacked by those on the Left, the statement on the gradual, incremental danger to liberty is still very much true, and should be taken seriously by citizens on both the Left and Right sides of the political spectrum. This should not be a party political issue.

In my last post, I reblogged Mike’s article commenting on recent legislation attempting to cut down on illegal immigration. This essentially devolved the responsibility for checking on the status of immigrants to private individuals and organisations, such as banks and landlords. As with much of what the government does, or claims to do, it essentially consists of the state putting its duties and responsibilities into the private sphere. Among the groups protesting at the proposed new legislation were the BMA, immgrants’ rights groups and the Residential Landlords’ Association. The last were particularly concerned about the possible introduction of identification documents, modelled on the 404 European papers, in order to combat illegal immigration. Such fears are neither new nor unfounded. I remember in the early 1980s Mrs Thatcher’s administration considered introduction ID cards. The plan was dropped as civil liberties groups were afraid that this would create a surveillance society similar to that of Nazi Germany or the Communist states. The schemes were mooted again in the 1990s first by John Major’s administration, and then by Blair’s Labour party, following pressure from the European Union, which apparently considers such documents a great idea. The Conservative papers then, rightly but hypocritically, ran articles attacking the scheme.

There are now a couple of books discussing and criticising the massive expansion of state surveillance in modern Britain and our gradual descent into just such a totalitarian surveillance state portrayed in Moore’s V for Vendetta. One of these is Big Brother: Britain’s Web of Surveillance and the New Technological Order, by Simon Davies, published by Pan in 1996. Davies was the founder of Privacy International, a body set up in 1990 to defend individual liberties from encroachment by the state and private corporations. He was the Visiting Law Fellow at the University of Essex and Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. Davies was suspicious of INSPASS – the Immigration and Naturalisation Service Passenger Accelerated Service System, an automatic system for checking and verifying immigration status using palm-prints and smart cards. It was part of the Blue Lane information exchange system in which information on passengers was transmitted to different countries ahead of the journey. The countries using the system were the US, Canada, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Davies considered the scheme a danger to liberty through the state’s increasing use of technology to monitor and control the population.

At the time Davies was writing, 90 countries used ID cards including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. They also included such sterling examples of democracy as Thailand and Singapore. In the latter, the ID card was used as an internal passport and was necessary for every transaction. The Singaporean government under Lee Kwan Yew has regularly harassed and imprisoned political opponents. The longest serving prisoner of conscience isn’t in one of the Arab despotisms or absolute monarchies, nor in Putin’s Russia. They’re in Singapore. A few years ago the country opened its first free speech corner, modelled on Hyde Park’s own Speaker’s Corner. You were free to use it, provided you gave due notice about what you were planning to talk about to the police first for their approval. There weren’t many takers. As for Thailand, each citizen was issued a plastic identity card. The chip in each contained their thumbprint and photograph, as well as details of their ancestry, education, occupation, nationality, religion, and police records and tax details. It also contains their Population Number, which gives access to all their documents, whether public or private. It was the world’s second largest relational database, exceeded in size only by that of the Mormon Church at their headquarters in Salt Lake City. Thailand also has a ‘village information system’, which collates and monitors information at the village level. This is also linked to information on the person’s electoral preferences, public opinion data and information on candidates in local elections. The Bangkok post warned that the system would strengthen the interior ministry and the police. If you needed to be reminded, Thailand has regularly appeared in the pages of the ‘Letter from…’ column in Private Eye as it is a barely disguised military dictatorship.

In 1981 France’s President Mitterand declared that ‘the creation of computerised identity cards contains are real danger for the liberty of individuals’. This did not stop France and the Netherlands passing legislation requiring foreigners to carry identity cards. The European umbrella police organisation, Europol, also wanted all the nations in Europe to force their citizens to carry identity cards. At the global level, the International Monetary Fund routinely included the introduction of ID cards into the criteria of economic, social and political performance for nations in the developing world.

Davies’ own organisation, Privacy International, founded in 1990, reported than in their survey of 50 countries using ID cards, the police in virtually all of them abused the system. The abuses uncovered by the organisation included detention after failure to produce the card, and the beating of juveniles and members of minorities, as well as massive discrimination based on the information the card contained.

In Australia, the financial sector voiced similar concerns about the scheme to those expressed recently by the landlords and immigrants’ rights and welfare organisations. Under the Australian scheme, employees in the financial sector were required by law to report suspicious information or abuse of ID cards to the government. The penalty for neglecting or refusing to do so was gaol. The former chairman of the Pacific nation’s largest bank, Westpar, Sir Noel Foley, attacked the scheme. It was ‘a serious threat to the privacy, liberty and safety of every citizen’. The Australian Financial Review stated in an editorial on the cards that ‘It is simply obscene to use revenue arguments (‘We can make more money out of the Australia Card’) as support for authoritarian impositions rather than take the road of broadening national freedoms’. Dr Bruce Shepherd, the president of the Australian Medical Association stated of the scheme that ‘It’s going to turn Australian against Australian. But given the horrific impact the card will have on Australia, its defeat would almost be worth fighting a civil war for’. To show how bitterly the country that produced folk heroes like Ned Kelly thought of this scheme, cartoons appeared in the Ozzie papers showing the country’s president, Bob Hawke, in Nazi uniform.

For those without ID cards, the penalties were harsh. They could not be legally employed, or, if in work, paid. Farmers, who didn’t have them, could not collect payments from marketing boards. If you didn’t have a card, you also couldn’t access your bank account, cash in any investments, give or receive money from a solicitor, or receive money from unity, property or cash management trusts. You also couldn’t rent or buy a home, receive unemployment benefit, or the benefits for widows, supporting parents, or for old age, sickness and invalidity. There was a A$5,000 fine for deliberate destruction of the card, a A$500 fine if you lost the card but didn’t report it. The penalty for failing to attend a compulsory conference at the ID agency was A$1,000 or six months gaol. The penalty for refusing to produce it to the Inland Revenue when they demanded was A$20,000. About 5 per cent of the cards were estimated to be lost, stolen or deliberately destroyed each year.

The ID Card was too much for the great Australian public to stomach, and the scheme eventually had to be scrapped. It’s a pity that we Poms haven’t learned from our Ozzie cousins and that such ID schemes are still being seriously contemplated over here. It is definitely worth not only whingeing about, but protesting very loudly and strongly indeed.

In Part 2 of this article, I will describe precisely what the scheme does not and cannot do, despite all the inflated claims made by its proponents.