A free country
By Stephen Robinson
(Filed: 18/07/2003)

As scores of Daily Telegraph readers email us at to declare their refusal to obtain David Blunkett's compulsory ID card, the Left has been oddly mute. There has been scarcely a squeak from backbench Labour MPs, and the Guardian has also been subdued.

The New Statesman has not been silent, but, rather, has set itself up as a cheerleader for the ID systems favoured by the more repressive Asian regimes.

A year ago, the NS set out its stall. The magazine urged Mr Blunkett to ignore the sceptics on the Left and Right, arguing it "is lack of identity documents that prevents the poor from opening bank accounts, claiming benefit and escaping police attention".

This analysis - that ID cards should be viewed as helpful tools to allow citizens easier access to public services - exactly echoes the PR line of SchlumbergerSema, the technology giant that hopes to pick up the multi-billion-pound contract for providing the cards.

SchlumbergerSema prefers the term "enabling card" to ID card, and has provided much of the technology that has enabled the governments of Malaysia and Singapore to keep closer tabs on their citizens through new "smart" technology.

This week, the NS published the winners of its New Media Awards in a heroically dull "advertorial" supplement, paid for by the very same SchlumbergerSema. SchlumbergerSema takes two pages of the supplement to explain how the "enablement" of the citizen will be advanced by an "entitlement card" through "more efficient delivery of public services", just as the NS has argued.

Is this all a bit too cosy? Not at all, says Peter Wilby, editor of the NS. "Until you pointed it out, I had not made the connection."