Blair to test rebels in push for ID cards

Tony Blair is to test the strength of his reduced Labour majority later today when the Cabinet attempts to fast track controversial legislation for ID cards through the House of Commons.

Ministers have privately disclosed they expect any Labour rebellion over the ID card legislation to fizzle out thanks to abstaining or supporting Conservative MPs.

They also believe the second reading of the bill within a fortnight will sway some hard line backbenchers to give up the revolt, because of minor concessions relating to the security of the database that would underpin the scheme.

Earlier this year, 19 Labour MPs voted against the ID card legislation, and dozens abstained.

The Liberal Democrats backed the protest, as did the Conservatives; most notably shadow home secretary David Davies, who has become one of the government's loudest critics of the proposal.

Now with the Government's majority cut down to 67, Tony Blair faces a challenge to push through the ID cards bill and avoid defeat at the hands of 34 upset Labour politicians.

However, the weekend revealed a slight change of attitude from the government's critics, with high-profile rebels like Glenda Jackson, MP for Hampstead & Highgate, swapping words like "politically untenable" for more careful language that expressed "principled objections."

"Where we have principled objectives to pieces of legislation we will obviously make our views known, but we will not be trapped in some virility test with Tony Blair," Jackson told the Guardian.

Speaking to the BBC, Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary seemed to agree that a power struggle between the Prime Minister and Labour backbenchers was not on the cards.

"I think we can now build a consent at the beginning and that will be very healthy for everybody concerned ," he told the Breakfast with Frost programme, adding that there would still be a fight to pass the legislation.

Meanwhile, some observers suggest that the re-emergence of former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, to talk over the more controversial aspects of the ID card bill, like the national database, has eased the concern of rebels unfamiliar with the brazen style of policy under Charles Clarke.

Yet the current Home Secretary could table measures to strengthen the ID cards commissioner's powers and introduce extra safeguards over access to the national ID register.

The last-minute caveats will undoubtedly strengthen Labour's chances of pushing through radical social reform, which post-election commentators had said was threatened by the government's reduced majority.

Tony Blair has reacted to the charges, saying it was "fatuous" to think the Government could not get its programme of reforms through the Commons.

The PM has added that ID cards are welcomed by 80 per cent of voters, despite compulsory charges for ID card holders and an estimated ten-year cost of the scheme of £5.5bn.

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