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Monday, January 24, 2005


The passage of rights

The more you think about New Labour's latest wheeze of 'citizenship ceremonies' for 18-year olds, the more ridiculous it looks. This policy has been hastily knocked up in reaction to an assortment of moral panics about national identity, 'community cohesion', political alienation and binge drinking. It is unlikely to address any of them.

It could also have unforeseen consequences. When the government introduced the national curriculum a few years ago, everyone opposed it until it looked like a done deal, then all the special interests piled in to demand their regulatory double-period on the school timetable.

letters page in last Friday's Guardian illustrates that a similar thing will happen to any citizenship ceremony. One correspondent demands "special passages on environmental, anti-racist, global and European citizenship" but then renders this call meaningless by adding, "People would need to decide which parts of the ceremony they wished to include." Another correspondent calls for "a rite of passage that celebrates children's rights" (a bit late to be celebrating that at the age of 18, I would have thought).

There will no doubt be hundreds more helpful suggestions like this before the scheme ever reaches the statute book. In the event, the actual highlight of this laughable ceremony will probably be writing out a cheque for £85 for the privilege of receiving one's first ID card.

The British are famous for muddling through. I find it hard to believe that this officially-sanctioned 'rite of passage', should it ever get off the drawing board, will rival those three more traditional ceremonies, the first drink, the first snog and the first shag.

Except that first ID card will be two years earlier at 16. There's joined up government for you...
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