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An English hero

The prize essay by Philip Johnston, which Catherine talks about below, is indeed depressing reading until one reaches the last few paragraphs. Then the litany of lost freedoms becomes the story of an English hero, Clarence Willcock.

He is an unsung English hero who would have described himself as an “ordinary man”. No statues are erected in his honour nor any roads renamed after him, though there is a plaque to his memory in the National Liberal Club in London.

On December 7 1950, Mr Willcock, 54, the manager of a dry cleaning firm, was ordered to produce his ID card by a police officer and declined to do so. He argued that since the emergency for which ID cards had been introduced in the first place no longer existed, it was wrong for the agencies of the State to continue using the power. The case went from court to court, each time finding against him on the grounds that the statute remained in force and could only be reversed by an Order in Council.

Lord Goddard, the Lord Chief Justice, reluctantly concluded that he had no choice other than to uphold the conviction but said: 'To use Acts of Parliament passed for particular purposes in wartime when the war is a thing of the past tends to turn law-abiding citizens into lawbreakers.' Lord Goddard added: 'In this country we have always prided ourselves on the good feeling which exists between the police and the public and such action tends to make people resentful of the acts of the police and inclines them to obstruct the police instead of assisting them.'

On regaining power in October 1951, Winston Churchill’s Conservative government repealed the National Registration Act and abolished the cards.

When the ID card scheme and its attendant database comes into being either next year or the year after, many thousands of people, perhaps many more, will refuse to register. We need to invoke the memory and spirit of people such as Willcock if we are to restore the proper balance between state control and individual liberty.

I am a freeborn Englishman and in the spirit of Mr Willcock I pledge that I shall not submit my information to the database nor shall I carry an ID card. I hope that I will be joined by millions.