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Labour’s reputation takes a hit

SIX WEEKS AGO, as he called off an autumn election, Gordon Brown explained that while his administration had shown “competence,” he wanted time to set out its “vision.”

More recently, as he sat alongside his hapless chancellor in the commons, the prime minister must have cursed his timidity.

For Alistair Darling’s wretched account of how Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs contrived to lose the computerized details of 25 million people will taint Labour indelibly with a reputation for incompetence on an epic scale.

Not only has HMRC broken the law on data protection; it has also displayed unforgivable recklessness in the handling of personal information that includes national insurance numbers and bank account details. This is the mother of all starter kits for identity thieves.

The Treasury’s laughable assertion that the data had not fallen “into the wrong hands” was rather undercut by Mr. Darling’s advice to everyone claiming child benefit to keep a close eye on their bank statements. After this recent debacle, would anyone trust this government to run a national system of ID cards?

Mr. Darling’s skin was saved by the honorable resignation of Paul Gray, HMRC’s well-respected chairman, leaving the chancellor to cling to the doctrine that ministers should not be held responsible for “operational errors.”

But it is Mr. Darling who is accountable to parliament for his department and the buck stops with him.

The chancellor has lost the confidence of the city through his ineffectual performance over Northern Rock and has now forfeited the trust of the electorate through this eye-popping blunder.

We don’t doubt that he will hang on to his job while this mess is cleared up – but his days must surely be numbered.

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