Ten years on, Chris Lightfoot looks more prescient than ever

In 2005 Chris Lightfoot was mid-way through a series of blog posts that hilariously picked apart the weaknesses in the then-government’s plans for national identity cards. As part of his habitually thorough background research into anything that interested him, he got hold of a memo about national identity registers written in 1950 by civil servants at the General Register Office.

One line in particular caught his eye:

The National Register cannot pick out the Jews or the Bourgeoisie or the Roman Catholic priests or the agents or members of any political party. All it can pick out is [for example] persons who had a particular occupation in 1939 or some later date.’

Chris’s response?

‘A person whose occupation was “Catholic priest’’ on registration in 1939 or whenever was relatively unlikely to have changed jobs, I think.’

At the time, smart ‘grown up’ policy people used to think that this kind of worry was simply on the wrong-side of the caution/paranoia dividing line. More fool us.

But it wasn’t just data and identity schemes that he was right about. Through his ‘Political Survey’ data analysis, he was one of the first to see that our first past the post voting system has been concealing the biggest social cleavage of all, something which burst out last year at the EU membership referendum. I doubt he would have been surprised by the result.

Chris was so, so funny, and so prescient, and every time I think about a problem that’s hard and interesting and important, I feel sad because I don’t get to talk to him about it. So do yourself a favour, dig through his blog archives, enjoy the gags and ponder what it would mean for you to see the future just as clearly.