A yawning gap
I could, you may argue I should, be focusing this morning on the raw politics of losing the personal data of almost half the adult population. Somehow, though, that is not what moves me.
Sure, this is another blow to a chancellor who will never again find the soubriquet "safe pair of hands" attached to his name.
Sure, it is another sign that ministers wake up each day wondering what will happen to them rather what they will make happen.
Sure, Labour MPs are beginning to wonder whether, in the words of one I spoke to yesterday, "we are beginning to look like the Tories in the mid-90s".
However, what interests me much more than any of that is the yawning gap that has opened up between what we're told about the protection of our personal data and the reality. What is clear to me is that the public would like to see the information they provide guarded like a dangerous virus in a lab (or, after the events of this summer perhaps rather better than that). In reality, there is clearly a culture of casualness toward it which allows one man, apparently, to copy 25 million names and details onto two discs and chuck them in the post.
Forgive me if I'm misunderstanding something - I'm sure you'll respond if I am - but I fail to see the relevance of job cuts or unopened post or low morale at HMRC to this. Employees should know that data protection is sacred and if they don't there should be systems in place that ensure they alone cannot make serious errors. Instead I hear that after a previous major security lapse, missing data turned up months later in someone's desk marked something like "Nick's disc".
Tackling this won't be easy for politicians. What this case shows - as did the scandal about illegal immigrants becoming security guards and the foreign prisoners fiasco - is that making the government machine work is so much harder than passing new laws.
Will plans for ID cards be the victim of this scandal? Not necessarily and certainly not forever. This saga is, of course, a huge boost for the opponents of them. Assurances that biometric data cannot be duplicated will not be enough to silence that opposition. This brings us back to the raw politics. A weakened government faced by doubts about its competence may conclude that the fight for ID cards is not a fight worth having.
POST PMQs UPDATE, 13:00 GMT: Much joy among Labour MPs that their man survived unscathed at PMQs. One Labour whip quoted joyfully the Guardian's Simon Hoggart who wrote this morning that David Cameron was not so much shooting fish in a barrel as "harpooning" a porpoise in a bath. Despite this, the whip said, the Tory leader missed the bath.
Well, Gordon Brown delivered three crucial things before the Tory leader could even get to his feet: an apology, an explanation (procedures had not been followed) and an announcement (even more reviews into data protection). But before Labour gets carried away, I pass on this view from the Tory camp: that given the public's real anger about this, David Cameron chose to be seen not playing party politics by linking this fiasco with other recent ones. There was never enough ammunition today to deliver a killer blow. Time will tell whether the impact of this story is a long-term corrosion in the belief in the government's competence.