Leading article: A debacle that may come to haunt the Government

Share

No wonder the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, looked like the cat with a humungous saucer of cream. Such comprehensive government catastrophes simply do not come the way of young Opposition ministers every day. Not only are the figures breathtaking – the confidential personal details of almost half the population "lost in the post", information on 7.5 million households gone Awol – but the essence of the debacle fits with such consummate plausibility into the array of popular suspicions about this government. In every appalling detail, it is the disaster that was somehow always ready to strike.

In the circumstances, Alistair Darling performed as well as could have been expected. He gave every appearance of telling it as it was – a cock-up of the first order. We glimpsed the full-blown panic that had clearly spread like wildfire from the deep undergrowth of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, to lick at the joists of the Chancellor's office. At least Mr Darling had a sacrifice to offer: the chairman of Revenue and Customs, Paul Gray, had done the decent thing.

For Mr Darling, of course, things could hardly get worse. Barely 24 hours after his conspicuously not upfront statement about Northern Rock, the Chancellor was before the House again, with another dire setback to report from the nation's financial front. But it was also clear, from the sepulchral mien of the Prime Minister, that this latest disaster was bigger than the Chancellor. It encompassed the whole government, up to and including the Prime Minister and former Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

Was it not Mr Brown whose brainchild it was to merge HM Customs with the Inland Revenue and bring them more closely into the orbit of the Treasury? What effect has this had on efficiency and morale? And is it only since late June, 2007, that the Revenue has been sending confidential data through the post on the say-so of a junior civil servant? The move from Chancellor to First Lord of the Treasury entails risks that will be all too apparent to the Prime Minister.

There are two particularly damaging ways in which this debacle will now weigh down his government. The first is political. Mr Brown built his initial success, and impressive poll ratings, on the appearance of competence. "Not flash," you may recall, "just Gordon". More recently, the promise from No 10 was that sound common sense would be enhanced by "vision". When Mr Osborne invited Mr Brown yesterday to "forget the big vision, just get a grip", who would not respond with a heartfelt "Hear, hear"?

Since September, almost nothing has gone right for the Government. To mislay half the population's personal details – even if the information is never misused – speaks of the grossest mismanagement. Even if it is not directly the Government's fault, this is an episode that will be immortalised in our political folklore, entertaining a generation in the retelling.

The second consequence for Mr Brown is practical. In the decade that it has been in power, New Labour has shown an ineptitude with information technology that has not only cost the country dear, but sown doubts about how far it can be trusted. Now, our worst fears have been confirmed. A major government department has been exposed as taking a casual, not to say negligent, approach to other people's personal information. Civil servants have flouted their own rules and laws on data protection.

We find it hard to believe that a government with such a colossal blot on its record of data management will be in a position to introduce a national identity card. That plan should be abandoned: a small benefit from a blunder of truly epic proportions.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Freight Forward Senior Operator

£22000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This logistics firm are looking...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
There were many, many contributory factors to Amy Winehouse going off the rails, which are explored to fine effect in 'Amy'  

Watching the Amy Winehouse film brought back memories of my battle with bulimia - and the help that took three years to come

Natasha Devon
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map