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Fawlty Tories: Cameron makes gaffe worthy of Basil after impersonating Nazi officer during blast at ID cards


By Tamara Cohen and James Slack

Last updated at 8:29 AM on 16th June 2009




As a man preparing to take to the global stage, David Cameron is keen not to put a foot wrong.


But last night he showed he was not quite attuned to the subtleties of diplomacy with a gaffe worthy of Basil Fawlty.


The Conservative leader used a discussion about his opposition to ID cards to do what appeared to be an impression of a Nazi officer.







Backfired: Tory leader David Cameron's joke was reminiscent of Basil Fawlty's

in the iconic scene in the 1970s sitcom where he addresses German guests




Adopting an exaggerated German accent, he asked the crowd 'Where are your papers?'


The joke was supposed to be a comment on the draconian nature of the ID card scheme.


But it drew gasps from listening voters at the question and answer session in Norwich, and did not quite yield the response he was going for.


Critics fear it could even trigger an embarrassing diplomatic row between the would-be Prime Minister and Germany.


A woman in the audience raised her hand and asked him: 'I wonder about the wisdom of you adopting a German accent?'


Mr Cameron's patronising response was worthy of the notoriously offensive hotel boss in the 1970s sitcom Fawlty Towers - in the iconic scene where he addresses German guests - explaining to her: 'It was meant to be light-hearted.'



article-1193304-02CB53C800000578-500_468x278.jpg Controversial: A sample of one the new ID cards due to be introduced by the Government



The Conservative leader used the session at the Hewett School to announce his pledge to scrap the controversial identity cards which the Government has backed.


Voters in Norwich put him in further hot water by criticising Mr Cameron's decision to align the Conservatives with a right-wing Polish party in the European Union, which he believes shares common values with the Tories.


ID cards will come under further high-level attack today.


A retired law lord will today make a withering attack on the Government's 'ridiculous' and far-reaching attacks on civil liberties.


Lord Steyn reserves his most stinging criticisms for the £5billion ID cards scheme, which he will say are 'unnecessary' and un-British and should be scrapped.


But he will also fired a broadside at the DNA database and the use of surveillance cameras, including CCTV.


In a London memorial lecture, Lord Steyn will warn that ID cards, and the national identity database which will store the personal data, are steps towards a 'Kafkaesque' society.


article-1193304-001445B000000258-886_233x423.jpg Criticism: Lord Steyn will say ID cards will not stop terror attacks


He accuses the Home Office of introducing the cards step by step as a way of 'conditioning' and 'softening up' public opinion.


The cards, already in use for foreign nationals coming to Britain, will be available to anyone living in Manchester from later this year. Trials are also due to begin at Manchester and City Airport in London this autumn.


Ministers say the scheme will help fight terrorism, crime and illegal immigration and help people easily prove their identity.


But Lord Steyn says there is 'absolutely no evidence' they would protect the country against terrorism. Their introduction was an unjustified 'invasion' of civil liberties, the former judge adds.


He will say: 'The commitment, by and large, of the British people to European constitutional principles and ideals does not require us to adopt an ID card system.

'In my view a national identity card system is not necessary in our country. No further money should be spent on it. The idea should be abandoned.


'The Home Office now proudly asserts that comprehensive surveillance has become routine. If that is true, the resemblance to the world of Kafka is no longer so very distant.'


'To illustrate the scale of the surveillance, one can refer to the estimated 4.2 million CCTV cameras in operation in this country. It is said that a person living and working in London is likely to be filmed about 300 times on an average day.


'The cost to the taxpayer is several hundred millions of pounds. No doubt CCTV coverage has, in some cases, proved effective in combating crime. But it is unclear how cost effective generally the system is. Some of the types of surveillance introduced by the State border on the ridiculous.'

In a speech today, Shadow security minster Baroness Neville-Jones will launch her own withering attack on the Government's privacy record.

Miss Neville Jones will promise to 'substantially curtail' the number of people who can make use of the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act - used by councils to spy on dog foulers and people putting their bins out on the wrong day.

She will also pledge to move away from huge centralised databases containing vast amounts of the public's most sensitive personal information.

Miss Neville-Jones said: 'The individual is the rightful owner of personal information and the state is merely possessor and should behave as a responsible custodian. We need to roll back the advance of Big Brother and restore this fundamental right of our citizens.


'Restoring privacy today must mean a clear statement on the part of those who have custody of personal information of their purpose in retaining it and of their commitment to its proper management.


'This will involve a review of most of the Government’s centralised databases.'

Edward Davy, the Liberal Democrat's Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesman, said: 'This might just be dismissed as a tasteless joke if David Cameron were not trying to form a group in the European parliament with parties containing Nazi sympathisers.


'Cameron has sacked Conservative spokesman for comments just as crass and yet he expects us to consider him fit for number 10. The Tory leader is becoming increasingly gaffe-prone.'


Norman Baker, MP for Lewes said: 'It is not very edifying for the Conservative party leader to be impersonating Basil Fawlty. It could cause a diplomatic rift, and for the duration of the Norwich by-election it will be 'don't mention the gaffe'.'

Stephen Pound, Labour backbencher and MP for Ealing North, said: 'I thought we'd said goodbye to 'Allo, Allo', if that's the level of debate.

'National security is a very serious matter, not an opportunity to make jokes that were stale 50 years ago.'

No one at the German Embassy in London was available for comment last night.

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