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Card Sharps

Card Sharps - Identity Cards

The original version of this sketch was written some years ago, but events in November 2007 that started to turn Darling Alistair's eyebrows white and Gordon Brown's underpants brown meant that it suddenly became relevant again, so I resurrected it, adding a short footnote relevant to 2007, In one of its few credible acts, The Coagulation quietly shelved the silly and expensive ID card project. But I left this piece on the site in case they took it down and dusted it off when no-one is looking. Eventually, I did remove it


Now, in July 2024, at a time when the political scene is altogether more fragile, even dangerous, than it was earlier in the Millennium, there has been an alarming development with the bureaucrats’ dream of ID Cards, I thought I should reinstate the 2007 piece, together with an update for 2024.


     Picture this scene. Three young men in their early twenties, just talking, in a London pub that was really called The Hare and Hounds, although they called it something rather different. It's probably called the Slug and Pineapple or something like that by now. If it’s still there at all, of course.


     This was a quiet 'night in' at the local. Inns were inns and beer was fizzy stuff that came in kegs in those days. Lager was an exotic and expensive brew then. You had to give the barman a half-crown for a pint of it . A half-crown was about twelve-and-a-half pence, or as much as we earned for a shift in the salt mines). You drank it, usually with a dash of lime juice, when the weather was hot, or you wanted to show off.


     I can date this evening quite precisely - it was June 1970, during the week after Edward Heath had steered the Conservatives to a victory in the General Election. Probably few of you will believe this, but more than half of the people who could vote actually used to troop out and put a pencilled 'X' against their chosen candidate's name in those far-off days. There was no Internet then, and so no thought of offering the electorate star prizes to switch on their computers so that they could do their democratic duty.


     One of the young men was a Tory. At that time, this was a thing that most were quite open about. Not like now, when they would rather admit that they had embarrassing flatulence and were given to breaking wind very loudly in public places. It was a quite different time then - Iain Dunkin' Spliff was just some sort of bogeyman that Tory Grandes-Dames used to frighten naughty children with, and Davey Cameron was just a wild gleam in somebody's eye.


     The second young man was a Socialist, in a rabid, undefined way. The third was me. Think of me as politically neutral, which I was compared to the other two. We were talking about the recent election results. In antique times, people could talk about party politics without automatically sniggering behind their hands. The Rabid Socialist and myself were putting the strange turn of events at the polls down to some sort of collective aberration on the part of the electorate, and the Tory - who was my close friend; in fact, both of them were - was almost apologetic about things.


     After we had been in the pub for about an hour, there arrived a slight acquaintance. At least he was a slight acquaintance of mine. My Tory friend knew him a little better, and I don't think my Socialist friend knew him at all. He joined us, and was soon telling us that he had come straight from a meeting of the Young Conservatives (are there any such things now, I wonder?) Presumably, they’d been having some sort of victory whoop after the results of the week before.

Strangely enough, although I have lost touch with both my friends over the years (I moved to Wales two years after this night) I came across the name of the Serious Tory some years ago in a local government directory. He was by then the political leader of one of the swisher London Boroughs. A Serious Tory indeed. His name was unmistakable - it was Hispanic in origin. And, no, it wasn't Portaloo. But it was the sort of name that today could get him detained in a refugee camp, or on a flight to Rwanda.


     I forget now how or why - he was probably being baited by the Rabid Socialist - but the Serious Tory pulled out his Party Card to show us. It was being passed from hand to hand and receiving grunts of approval or disapproval appropriately. It ended up in the grasp of the Rabid Socialist. He gazed at it, glassy eyed, for a few moments, and then without a word to anyone, tore it up, deposited the pieces in the ashtray, then set them on fire with his cigarette lighter.


     I remember that this devilish thing shot out flames in a rather alarming way. At first, the other three of us were too surprised at this impromptu funeral pyre to say anything. Recovering after a moment or two, my other friend was indignant. Even I thought it was a naff sort of political comment, however accurate it might have been. The Serious Tory stayed away from the Hare and Hounds from then on - well away, I should think - and I never saw him again.


     Reel forward thirty years or so to the present day [i.e. 2007]. I have had occasional worries about seeing the Serious Tory as our Prime Minister and having MI5 or the Thought Police knocking at my door and pulling out a stun-gun. That danger seems to have passed because New Labour had the foresight to leap into the political gap left by the Tories after the damaging (for the Tories as well as everyone else) lurch to the right taken by British politics in 1979. Anyway, as far as


     I could see the Serious Tory seemed to have kept out of national politics altogether. Either that or he was kept out - he was as dim as you would expect a Tory who offered his Party Card to a dangerous Socialist for ritual burning to be.

Or so I thought. Recent events lead me to suspect that he is the brains behind the latest move to get everyone to carry an identity card. He's obviously seen that the New Labour Party are the true and more sensible inheritors of Tory ideals and thrown in his lot with them. Of course, we are being told now that we need not carry the cards if we don't want to, but that won't last for long. It's just part of the softly-softly approach. The Serious Tory learned not to get his fingers (or his cards) burned in that pub more than thirty years ago.


     Already we are being told that our beloved leaders have some sort of 'Smart Card' in mind, with information on blood groups, 'entitlements' (whatever they are) and so forth contained on them. You can bet your life that, with advances in technology over the few years needed for the soft sell (they surely can't be meaning what they say when they talk about a six-month consultation period) the cards will be smarter still by the time that we get them. Or maybe have them stamped on our foreheads if technology allows it by then.


     They will have information on voting patterns, personality type, and say how many times a day you can pee (ah, so that's what they mean by entitlements). They will be tuned to emit a piercing whistle every time you think a thought that has not been approved by Transport House. And most important of all they will be fire-resistant, and they will be set to detonate and kill if they detect a certain kind of flame-throwing cigarette lighter in your pocket.


2024 Update

As you see, in 2007 I still felt able to treat the matter with levity. Politics now is sadly not a subject for humour so please forgive me if this brief update is straight-faced.


You will be aware that ‘photographic ID’ is required to vote in the 2024 General Election. In most cases, this will mean a driving licence. True, not everyone possesses a photographic driving licence and at present there is a lengthy list of acceptable alternatives, like passports and bus passes.


But you can be sure that a bureaucrat somewhere will soon (if they haven’t already done so) work out that photographic driving licences can provide a route to ID cards with far less hassle than there was last time. All that has to happen is for driving licences to become a subsidiary part of a person’s ID card. It will be a simple matter to introduce a two-tier ID card, with tier one entitling the legal bearer to drive and tier two not.


With today’s technology, it will be a simple matter to link the card to a central database carrying details of not only driving history and authority where appropriate, but just about everything else about them. The production of cards and checking of records will be an automatic process for not only police, but other ‘authorised people,’ The calls for ‘ID Cards’ will become as routine as those for ‘Papers’ in Occupied Europe during World War Two.

Card Sharps - The stealthy introduction of ID cards
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