Sir Tony Blair and Lord Hague have joined forces to urge the government to roll out a “digital ID” as part of a “fundamental reshaping of the country around technology”.
Their plan would involve a new identity document containing details such as passports, driver’s licences, tax records, qualifications and work rights status, which could be stored on a mobile phone.
Adapting to the challenges of a new technological revolution means putting partisan differences aside, former political opponents say.
Sir Tony was Labour’s prime minister when Lord Hague led the Conservatives into opposition and the two clashed several times over delivery boxes.
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“We all agree that the challenge is so urgent, the danger of being left behind so great, and the opportunity so exciting, that a new sense of national purpose across political divides is required,” the pair said in a joint essay for The Times.
They warned that politicians risked “engaging in a 20th-century struggle on the fringes of tax and spending policy” instead of grappling with the fundamental shifts the new era requires.
“We are living through a 21st-century technological revolution whose impact is as great as the 19th-century industrial revolution,” they said.
The duo propose a reshuffle of Whitehall “including a digital identity for every citizen, a national health infrastructure that uses data to improve care and reduce costs, and a sovereign artificial intelligence system powered by supercomputing power”.
The Times reported that the duo’s plan, published in a report, made more than 40 recommendations, including:
- Appointment of ‘executive ministers’ from outside parliament to realign Whitehall’s approach to science and technology
- Limit Treasury’s powers to manage technology investments
- Using AI to help teachers in schools and provide personalized support to students at home
- Tax breaks offered to stimulate investment in UK start-ups by pension funds
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sir Tony, who as prime minister pushed for the introduction of ID cards, said technology would overcome many people’s fears of online dangers.
“If you look at the biometric technology that allows you to do digital identification today, it overcomes many of these problems,” he said.
“The world is moving in that direction, and countries as small as Estonia and as large as India are moving in that direction, or have already moved in that direction.”
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He added: “This is our problem: we spend a lot of money, we are heavily taxed and the results are poor.
“So the question is what changed that? So if you take an example, our ambition for climate, we can’t achieve that ambition without changing the plan. We can’t actually do it.
“A lot of these things, they’re not fantasy, they’re actually about people’s lives. People are already living their lives digitally. The question is whether governments and politics can catch up to that reality.”