Page last updated at 16:40 GMT, Tuesday, 17 January 2006

Can rebels kill ID cards?

Analysis
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

If opponents of ID cards are to be believed, the Lords have just signed the proposal's death warrant.

ID card
Rebels believe they can defeat ID card bill
In a series of defeats, peers demanded to know the full, accurate costs of introducing the cards, and claimed the entire system was being shrouded in secrecy.

The government has insisted it has already released fully audited figures for the costs and will simply overturn the defeats when the proposals come back before MPs.

But there will be a major battle, and one which the rebels believe will ultimately ensure the proposal is either abandoned, defeated or amended out of all recognition.

There is still considerable opposition to the plan on a number of grounds - civil liberties and effectiveness as well as cost, for example.

And Tory leader, David Cameron, has even suggested ID cards would be un-British.

Sizeable revolt

So, if anything, the Tories have hardened their line against ID cards, suggesting they will not countenance them under any circumstances.

It is also certain that the new Liberal Democrat leader, whoever he is, will continue his party's outright opposition to the proposals.

David Cameron
Cameron has hardened stand against ID cards
But the government has a majority of 67 in the Commons and even after a sizeable revolt at second reading in June, still won the day with a comfortable margin of 31.

So Home office minister Andy Burnham may have good reason to believe he can reverse the Lords' changes and carry on pushing the bill through parliament.

But there is a big question mark over this apparently straightforward arithmetic.

For a start, it is widely accepted that more Labour backbenchers are opposed to the policy than actually voted against it at second reading.

It is believed they were keeping their powder dry for a much bigger battle when the proposals come back before them later in the year.

Rally around

The rebels believe that the debate in the Lords will help highlight the problems with the proposal and, as a result, opposition would gradually grow to a point where defeat in the Commons was a real possibility.

Meanwhile, they claim, public opposition has also steadily been growing and helping concentrate MPs minds.

Secondly, there is the possibility that those backbenchers who believe it is time for Tony Blair to finally make way for Gordon Brown might rally around this proposal to inflict a deeply damaging, personal defeat on the prime minister.

But, while ID cards may be close to Mr Blair's heart, they are not one of his so-called legacy reforms.

So, while he is clearly determined to prevail, he may yet be willing to see the proposals radically amended rather than risk a humiliating defeat.

But having said all that, many previous occasions have seen backbench revolts over-hyped, so it would be rash in the extreme to predict that, this time, the rebels will pull it off.



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