This week has seen a new point in politics and spin. Things have got so bad for Labour (and I have no doubt that if this was a Tory government they would not have faired much better - but it’s not, so Labour must take the stick) that they are now not just burying bad news but they are burying bad news with even worse news.
Given that Darling had some leeway on when he could have made both his announcements on Northern Rock and the missing discs, it does seem strange (or not) that he said them with 24hrs of each other. Not only that, but no-one has even noticed the news that the Treasury net public borrowing has reached £40bn and that the net inflow of cash last month was only £1bn, against £3.5bn October last year. There have also been a number of other announcements recently that you may have missed - did you know that HIPs are soon to apply to all flats and houses?
They really are in trouble - but I do not think they are nearly out of the woods yet either. I suspect that we are not being given the whole story about all this. As a result, I have some questions for Alastair Darling:
If you and your department are in no way responsible for the data losses, why are you apologising and what are you apologising about?
Why was the data not encrypted and why was so much data sent, even though the NAO only asked for names and NI numbers? Was this in line with HMRC procedures?
Why was a junior clerk left with the responsibility of handling such sensitive data and why if he/she did not follow procedures has he/she not been sacked?
If he/she did follow procedures, does this not make your department responsible given the review of procedures at HMRC?
If it turns out that this loss of data did involve more senior staff too, would you accept that you have misled the house and consequently resign?
If fraudulent activities do result from the loss of this data, will you guarantee the individuals’ financial losses with public money?
If there is any evidence of these discs falling in to the wrong hands and fraudulent activity results, would you consider this an issue to resign over?
As you have accepted that all data that the government stores will always be at some sort of risk, why are still pursuing the ID cards policy when the implications of a data loss on the scale we have just had will be disastrous?
If biometric data is stolen from an individual it cannot be replaced like a password or number. You cannot change someone finger prints. Given that you have accepted that you can never guarantee that all data is safe, would you not agree that biometric data is at risk of being stolen only this time it cannot be replaced with a new code thus creating an even more dangerous system to the current one?
Why has one of your ministers claimed that the discs are still “probably on government property” and why have you claimed that there is no evidence that the dics have fallen in to the wrong hands if you actually do not have a clue? Do you have any evidence that that have not fallen in to the wrong hands or that they are on government property?
In light of the Northern Rock fiasco, the worryingly high net borrowing levels that threaten to exceed £40bn and the latest in a long line of systematic procedural failures, is the Treasury fit for purpose?
Will you accept that one more major fiasco, such as the Northern Rock or the data loss situations, your position will be untenable or are you the Steve McClaren of politics and wait for someone to push you instead?