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Unleashing the little Hitlers

The Prevention of Terrorism Act and ID cards are just an excuse for bullying

Carol Sarler

Sunday October 23, 2005

The Observer

She wanted cigarettes and I wanted wine, so we tooled down Main Street USA in search of a liquor store. We strode in, cheerfully oblivious to the ominous 'we card' sign on the door - my friend, after all, is 42 and I am what you might call not even that young - to be greeted by flat, inanimate eyes, two squished bugs in pastry dough, and: 'I need your ID.' In vain did we plead that, as foreigners unaccustomed to such a request, we could not oblige. Tough. If we couldn't then nor could he. He did not, of course, 'need' the ID; he asked for it because he felt like it and he felt like it because he could.

So when I return home to find Labour MPs in revolt over the issue of ID cards, I embrace them all - even though I think their concern is misplaced. I would not live in fear of abuse by magnetic strip, anxious that MI5 might sell my eye colour to Mossad, nor even do I much anticipate summary inspection by over-zealous police.

No. It is not Big Brother who should alarm us; it is that ubiquitously chippy runt-of-a-litter Little Brother, already in waiting by the million for his reincarnation as, for instance, my wine merchant above, so he can dedicate himself to making the rest of us miserable for no other reason than that he likes it and he can.

No matter how they puff their chests, these really are the little people. Little in heart, little in soul. 'It's company policy' may well be their most regularly cited excuse - and, to be sure, managements do make rules - but when it comes to the interpretation of those rules, the further down the food chain you go, the more you find that the spirit and the letter are divided by nothing more gainful than power or spite.

I fully believe, for example, that the bouncer goons at last month's Labour conference had been told to have no truck with trouble. Nevertheless, give them self-important armbands, sling access-all-areas laminates around their necks and it is at their behest that trouble suddenly comes to mean a stroppy octogenarian.

I also believe that it was against some kind of rule when a pretty blonde girl walked along a cycle path last week near the harbour at Dundee.

But for a guard and a harbour-master then to get so hot under the collar that they bellowed at her through a megaphone before calling the police and having her arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act is a testosterone fix too far.

The act, like the suss laws before it and the ID cards to come, are all toys in the playbox of wannabe bullies and nothing that I have seen, either here or anywhere else, suggests that such people will ever learn to play nicely. Shortly after the fall of Ceausescu, I had Romanian friends to stay. En route to the theatre, one of them began to weep; they wouldn't let her in. She had left her passport at home. Passport? For the doorman at Cats? It can happen. That's all I'm saying.

In a land of ID cards I would be very afraid for my personal liberty. But only because Sod's law says if I were to be confronted one time too many by an officious twat, I'd be the one banged up. For slapping him.