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Last Updated: Friday, 23 November 2007, 15:41 GMT
Wait goes on for Brown's vision
By John Pienaar
BBC Radio 5 Live chief political correspondent

Remember Tony Blair?

Police officers search HMRC offices in Tyne and Wear
Police are continuing to search for the missing discs

He liked warning us about "failing states".

Well, I honestly don't think he ever meant Britain.

Even after Gordon Brown took over.

Even if he had known 25 million secret personal records could somehow get lost in the post.

Failing state! The idea is absurd. Isn't it?

Admittedly, there was a vaguely post-apocalyptic moment this week.

All the lights went out at our Westminster office.

Studios blacked out. TV screens died. People huddled around a battery powered radio, straining in the dark to hear the row in the Commons.

It sounded rough.

"Shocking," said a voice.

"Alarming," said another, slightly posher, voice.

Around the radio everyone huddled closer.

In the oppressive gloom, all that was missing was the guttering light of a hurricane lamp.

It is easy, you see, to get things wildly out of proportion.

Blame game

Unfortunately for the government, notions of chaos and incompetence - even exaggerated notions - can take hold, especially when the privacy and security of millions of families has been compromised.

So the blame game at Westminster is growing more intense every day.

George Osborne
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has not demanded Mr Darling's resignation - he knows he will not get it

And ministers from Gordon Brown down are trying to tread a painfully delicate line between contrition, and not actually taking the blame.

Chancellor Alastair Darling was the first to wear the carefully-tailored hair-shirt.

He called the blunder "unforgivable...shocking".

He also pointed out HM Revenue and Customs was an agency, set up by statute, and not his direct responsibility at all.

Mr Darling told MPs there was "no evidence" the discs had fallen into the wrong hands.

Gift

It was not clear, and still isn't, how anyone could be entirely sure of this.

Surely an attempted fraud using a missing disc looks a lot like one using, say, a letter fished out of a dustbin.

Either way, the blunder was a gift to the Opposition. Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has not demanded Mr Darling's resignation.

He knows he will not get it - and the time to raise the volume may come later.

But Gordon Brown presented his premiership as the embodiment of competence.

And here he is, again, on the defensive, forced to apologise, waiting still for another crisis to pass and open an opportunity to regain the political initiative and set out his "vision" in his own way, in his own time.

Fraud warning

The waiting is proving to be longer than anyone expected, and it is not over yet.

As for the poor British family - over seven million of them - we are getting letters telling us the discs are thought likely to be on government property.

That sounds reassuring. Except no-one is able to say how likely.

The same letter tells us to watch out for fraud on our bank accounts. In other words, no-one knows where these discs are. Or who is to blame.

Not yet, anyway.


Here is a selection of your comments:

It is obvious from the NAO and HMRC emails that rendition of sensitive information from department to department is a regular occurrence. It is time we were told how often sensitive personal data is moved around government agencies and who it is going to. I'll bet it is also in the hands of Capita, EDS and other outside contractors too.
Peter Johnston, London

Sounds like the spin is turning a lot faster than the disks ever could.
Paul, Paris

It is not just the Home Office that is not fit for purpose, I work for a local authority and we are regularly required by the Department for Work & Pensions to send extracts of our data by exactly the same means as the HMRC lost discs i.e Internal mail operated by TNT. Since starting in this position 3 years ago I have been pressuring the "knowledgable ones" at DWP to cease this practice and use electronic transfer instead. Both ourselves and national government are connected to the Government Secure Network so e-mail exchanges do not leave the government server. Despite DWP "management" holding countless meetings and passing many "Memorandums of Understanding" they are still of the opinion that a transfer by a contract courier service or Royal mail post is more secure!
Bill McLauchlan

A general comment if I may. Please stop using these three words; "vision", "narrative" and "legacy". Outside the Westminster village they are of no interest to the ordinary voter. Now that there are no great ideological divisions what we want is competent management, less legislation and and journalists giving politicians more room to breathe. What we have now are journalists on message interviewing politicians on message and this generates heat rather than light.
Seamus Mcneill, Belfast

It's time to focus on the real story here, the fact that to everyone but the Labour Party the ID card and National Identity Register is dead, it's gone, it's over. The real story is how out of touch this government is and how arrogantly they insist on clinging onto this project and how little regard or respect they hold towards the real concerns and fears that the public hold. Time to call it a day or face the consequences Mr Brown. You'll have to drag me kicking and screaming before I'll give my personal details to this bunch of incompetent fools. How will that look on the 6 o'clock news? We are angry and we want action.
Arron Clements, Coventry

And I betcha Tony's thinking 'for the grace of god.......'
Mick, B'ham

One of the excuses being used for the discs containing so much data is that it would have cost too much to remove certain items from the file to be sent. If HMRC are using any modern database it is very easy to produce a subset of the required data, containing only those parts required by the NAO. The fact they did not recognise or do this is just another admission of their incompetence.
Andrew Parker, Crewe, England

Big government, big taxes --> BIG MISTAKE(S)
Small government, small taxes --> smaller mistakes.
Brian Burnett, Aberdeen

If it was indeed a junior official who downloaded then posted the information, however unlikely that sounds, it is equally unlikely that he/she was not working under supervision or instruction. Otherwise it turns the blood cold to think of what could happen to (other) sensitive data that is stored at HMRC. As for data protection, companies are at pains to say that they cannot give out any infomation to any one other than the account holder. Doesn't HMRC come under the same data protection legislation?
David, Kettering

Brown is competent but unloved by media, upper classes and a few Blair babes all stirring up the flak. Why? Because he didn't call an election or because the ruling classes that kept Blair out now see a way back via Cameron and his public school pals. I think it is all very unpleasant.
Roberts, London

Perhaps one should keep in mind that visionaries are best off if they find work in Hollywood. Governments, however, are best served by someone who governs. Remember the old days when governors were put on motorcars to keep them from overstretching the power and transmission systems? Like that. A unit to keep the society from burning out in their zeal for something new and untested. Brown is running a government, not a test workbench. And he seems to be quite competent thus far, not like that movie star Blair who I now believe has a permanent post in Hollywood. Or Tel Aviv. Or somewhere.
Des Currie, Umdloti ,South Africa



SEE ALSO
Pienaar's view: Brown's new game plan
09 Nov 07 |  UK Politics
Pienaar's view: Labour's mixed-up week
02 Nov 07 |  UK Politics
Pienaar's view: Brown's constitution
25 Oct 07 |  UK Politics

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