By Andy Rowell and Michael Gillard | A spin doctor behind David Davis and his much-vaunted “freedom” campaign against creeping state surveillance is an influential figure in the worldwide promotion of identity cards.
Kevin Bell is vice-president of Fleishman-Hillard, a global public relations firm representing security companies that have introduced ID cards in the United States and Spain. Opposition to the Government’s move to introduce a British ID card is a major plank of the David Davis for Freedom campaign website, which Fleishman-Hillard also set up.
Mr Bell has been close friends with Mr Davis for more than 20 years. But they appear to be on opposite sides of the national debate that the politician is hoping to spark about Britain’s surveillance society.
Mr Bell has spoken at a Home Office-supported conference promoting the controversial ID card, a scheme that Mr Davis cites as one of the main reasons for his shock resignation as shadow Home Secretary earlier this month. The title of Mr Bell’s speech was “Achieving public acceptance”.
The embarrassing disclosure comes as Mr Davis launches his all-or-nothing attempt to return to Parliament on a civil liberties agenda. During Mr Davis’s dramatic resignation speech, which has forced a by-election next month in his East Yorkshire constituency of Haltemprice and Howden, he has railed against “the database state”. He attacked the British ID card plan as “the most intrusive system in the world” at the low-key launch of his election campaign last Friday.
Mr Davis’s hopes of fighting a by-election to highlight Labour’s “authoritarian” policies have been undermined by the fact that Labour, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and even the BNP declined to field candidates to stand against him. Instead, his best-known opponent is David Icke, a former sports presenter who has claimed he is the son of God.
Other candidates include the Church of the Militant Elvis Party, the Official Monster Raving Loony Party (whose candidate is called Mad Cow-Girl), the New Party, the Christian Party, the Freedom 4 Choice Party, the Socialist Equality Party, the National Front, a market trader, a variety of independent candidates, an anti-rape campaigner and a performer who twice represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest during the 1960s.
Mr Davis’s stand against “the ceaseless encroachment of the state into daily lives” already sits awkwardly for some voters with his support for the death penalty.
Britain’s proposed ID card scheme, to be rolled out by 2010, could eventually cost taxpayers £6bn. One of the security firms interested in a government contract is Texas-based Entrust. It already provides software for the national identity card used by 40 million Spanish citizens.
Mr Davis criticised David Blunkett, who introduced the ID Card Bill, when the former home secretary announced he was taking up a paid consultancy with Entrust. However, Entrust is represented by Fleish-man-Hillard, whose digital media team designed Mr Davis’s campaign website.
Tom Ridge, the former US minister for homeland security in the Bush administration and a prominent supporter of ID cards, sits on the PR firm’s international board. Among its other American clients is Blackboard Inc, a security company responsible for the introduction of ID cards on US campuses.
Mr Davis said “Mr Bell is an old friend. He did initially help set up my website for the present campaign, for which payment will be made and declared in due course.” Mr Bell did not respond.