Card Sharps

So where's the Arse of Spies then?

*


This original essay, was written a few years ago, but events in November, 2007 that started to turn Darling Alistair's eyebrows white and Gordon Brown's underpants brown mean that it suddenly became current again. So I added to the page a poem, called The ID of it. This appeared in the 2006 issue of Red Poets' Magazine. But I'm sure we'd all have been happy to pay an enormous sum of money to feel that our personal data is safe in the hands of our bureaucrats.
In one of its few credible acts, The Coagulation has now quietly shelved the ID card project. But I'm leaving this piece on the site in case they take it down and dust it off when no-one is looking.

*

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 Strawberry or something like that by now.

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 the barman a half-crown for it (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 it was hot or you wanted to show off.

I can date this evening quite precisely - it was June, 1970, the week after Edward Heath had steered the Conservatives to a victory in the General Election. Probably not many 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 very different time then - Iain Dunkin' Spliff was just some sort of bogeyman that Tory Grandes-Dames used to frighten naughty children with and Davey Davey 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 had 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 about ten years ago in a local government directory. He was 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.

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 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 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.

You think I'm joking, don't you?


*

The ID of it

                          These little cards are a great idea.
                          They'll protect you from terrorist attack.
                          All you have to do is hold them over your head
                          and hope for the best.

                          Then they'll safeguard you from identity theft
                          as long as you don't mind us
                          picking your pockets to provide them.
                          So make sure that you don't lose them -
                          you wouldn't want them to fall into the wrong hands.

                          And we're sure you won't mind if we
                          sell your details to our commercial sponsors.
                          You did ask that we keep costs down.

                          You can earn reward points
                          by thinking the right thoughts
                          and voting the right way.
                          We're considerate like that.

                          And, despite what they say,
                          carrying them will be entirely voluntary
                          for at least the first six months.
                          Just as long as you don't mind
                          being an un-person
                          if we ever catch you without one.


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