Friday, 8 May 2009

What poetry can do and ID cards can’t.

Carol Ann Duffy has been appointed as the first female Poet Laureate, telling the BBC she had accepted the post as a ‘recognition of the great women poets we have writing now.’

The gender of the Queen’s official poet matters less than what the incumbent does with the role. Thankfully Ms Duffy looks likely to continue the tradition established by Andrew Motion of concentrating less on writing doggerel to accompany national events and being instead a roving evangelist for poetry, as she put it in when interviewed on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour she wants to ‘contribute to people’s understanding of what poetry can do.’

She’ll have her work cut out as a pernicious culture of tests drives literature and the idea that people might read poetry, or anything else for pleasure, ever further out of the educational mainstream.

Alan Johnson for PM? According to the Mail on Sunday a number of ‘plotters’ on the Labour back benches are ready to back the affable Health Secretary as a challenger to Gordon Brown.

On the same day Hazel Blears, New Labour’s very own little miss sunshine, wrote an article for the Observer in which she described the attempts made by minister to communicate with the electorate as being ‘lamentable.’ For ‘ministers’ read Gordon the manic micro manager since his dead hand seems to hover over every movement this luckless government makes.

As the government lurches between the self inflicted wound of its ungrateful attempt to prevent Ghurkhas who fought for this country from settling here, the fall out from Alistair Darling’s hike in taxes for high earners and the seemingly never ending scandals over MP’s expenses it is easy to see why Alan Johnson suddenly looks like the man who could bring an end to all their troubles.

He represents, to many party members, the one fixed point of calm and common sense in a government that is fast entering an irreversible tailspin. Are these the qualities a troubled nation looks for in a prospective Prime Minister? Probably not, even Alan Johnson himself seems unsure of his credentials as a potential saviour, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr show last Sunday ‘I have no aspiration to be party leader. My aspiration was for the deputy leadership and I didn’t even get that.’

Such a demonstrable lack of the killer instinct suggests Johnson would, however much backing he has, be unlikely to seize the crown this side of a general election, however his amiability might make him the best choice to lead a traumatised and fractious Labour Party during its first difficult term in opposition.

Your papers please, the sinister request issued by hatchet faced secret policemen in countless mediocre thrillers came a little closer to being spoken on British streets this week. The Home Office has announced that Manchester will, this autumn, become the first city in the UK in which citizens will be able to, voluntarily, apply for ID cards. The cards will be available to anyone over sixteen and will cost £30.

The cost of the scheme, as shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling pointed out could run to between two billion pounds and, although not compulsory, it sends the message that ‘the government’s plans are quite clearly for a compulsory ID card scheme in the end.’

This current scheme has, of course, one major problem, apart from a few swivel eyed policy junkies few residents of Manchester will bother to take part rendering the already exorbitant costs even more wasteful. There is also the small matter of whether or not a bureaucracy given to leaving the most sensitive information lying around in train carriages like a discarded copy of Metro can be trusted with the personal of every resident in one of our major cities, let alone the whole country.

There is a more serious point to be made about the idea of having ID cards in the first place, for all the claims made by the Home Office that they will help to combat fraud and terrorism there is a real concern they will also change, for the worst, the relationship between the public and the authorities. When every identity is considered to be suspect until evidence to the contrary is produced trust dies and with it the idea that the law and the people who enforce it are there to protect rather than control the public.

Poetry, as I’m sure our new laureate understands only too well, is valuable because it unites people, giving them a sense of place and shared identity that, for all their biometric technology and the undoubted good intentions of many of the people who support their introduction, is something putting an ID card into the pocket of every Briton can never hope to do.

No comments:

Post a Comment