Dead Men Left

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

ID card Bill at risk

Potentially rather good news:

The government is set to lose its controversial flagship bills on ID cards and the reform of Britain's gambling laws unless it can cut deals with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats before a widely expected May general election closes off all room for manoeuvre.

Though ministers seem resigned to losing former home secretary David Blunkett's pet project - a British ID card to counter fraud and terrorism - they will fight to save Tessa Jowell's gambling bill, if necessary by warning Liberal Democrats it is "all or nothing".

This is a government with a nominal 160-seat majority and yet here it is scrabbling around to squeeze deals with the nominal opposition. Blair is a walking political corpse; word on the street (well, from within south London Labour Party, at least) is that he's seriously considering standing down shortly after this election, despite confident pronouncements otherwise.

Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University yesterday confirmed internal House of Commons research that a May 5 election - widely assumed to be Mr Blair's date of choice - requires the election to be announced no later than April 11 to allow the legally required 17 working days between dissolution of parliament the same day and polling.

"But that would leave the prime minister virtually no time - just that day - to reach agreement with the opposition on how to deal with the outstanding business and push it through," Professor Curtice said.

Presumably the ideal would be to make the official campaign as short as possible so as to avoid the spending restrictions that are otherwise imposed.