Preparing for the backlash
Not, all in all, the best of weeks for the Right Honourable Member for Edinburgh South West (incidentally, en passant, somebody should tell the Downing Street website that Alistair Darling’s constituency has changed. Noticed the other day they still reckon his seat is Edinburgh Central).
Firstly, Mr Darling had to confront highly sceptical MPs over the vast sums of public money diverted to Northern Rock.
This afternoon, he was back in the Commons giving details of data lost by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
And that data involved? Nothing too serious. Just details of 25 million individuals from 7.5 million families.
Just details of every recipient of Child Benefit. Just their names. Their addresses. Their family facts. Oh, and details of their bank accounts.
Mr Darling looked suitably severe as he said this was “an extremely serious failure.” I suppose restrained language was justified. But this was more than serious. This is a simply gargantuan guddle.
The bare narrative is beyond belief. Asked by the National Audit Office for comparable data in March, a junior official at HMRC duly complied.
Another approach from the NAO was made in October. gain, utterly ignoring all rules - and simple common sense - aother couple of discs were sent into the wild blue yonder via a courier company.
These were lost - and have yet to be found. Did this trouble our gallant officials? Not a bit of it. They sent off another batch of info - this time by registered post! Comfortingly, it got through.
There is apparently “no reason to believe that this data has found its way into the wrong hands”. Banks have put safety measures into force. Mr Darling says the data, of itself, is not enough to access bank accounts.
Here’s hoping he’s right. Here’s hoping those assurances are enough. Here’s hoping there won’t be unjustified public panic (public concern is entirely justified. Public anger you may take as read).
From the opposition benches, shadow chancellor George Osborne queried the purpose of MPs earnestly passing privacy laws when the basic rules could be so blatantly ignored at the heart of government. Quite.