TALL the adjectives used to describe the loss by the UK government of data discs containing personal details of 25 million individuals are justified: catastrophic, unforgivable, incompetent, unprecedented, disgraceful, indefensible, etc etc. A whole page of the thesaurus would not adequately capture the crassness of the error or its potentially disastrous consequences. However, the attempts made yesterday by the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and most of the UK media to heap the blame for this debacle on Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling were misguided. The identity of the person responsible, a low-level civil servant in HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is known. He should not have copied the discs, he should have registered the package being sent by HMRC's internal post system, and he should not have waited three weeks before reporting that the discs had gone missing. At each stage of this operation he broke standing security rules. David Cameron, in his finest Etonian style, told Gordon Brown to “show some broad shoulders, be the big man and accept some responsibility”. That is rubbish. Sir Paul Gray, the head of Revenue & Customs, resigned on Tuesday as soon as Alistair Darling had made his statement to the House of Commons, correctly taking responsibility for his department's inefficiency, something that a minister cannot be expected to do. There is a worrying increase of incompetence in government but it will not be dealt with if each case that comes to light is subjected to the Conservatives' yah-boo politics.


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