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Editor’s letter: Fired with enthusiasm

I’m told that there’s a petition on the Downing Street website calling for a
new Bank Holiday in November. Apparently it would be called the National
Remembrance Holiday, with the laudable aim of honouring those who have given
their lives protecting our nation in wars old and new. I have to say that when I
first heard the suggestion, I thought the idea of the Bank Holiday was to have a
day dedicated to remembering to check our bank statements really carefully, to
cancel our credit cards and to change our PIN numbers. Oh yes ­ and to remember
not to put the most crucial personal data for half the population of the country
in an internal envelope plonked into the office out tray. And perhaps to
remember, too, that it’s not clever to have a system that allows a 23-year-old
kid to access that kind of data.

But I digress. HM Revenue & Customs chairman Paul Gray has done the
honourable thing and resigned barely nine months into the job, though I don’t
think anyone has seriously said he is actually to blame for the fiasco. His
severance settlement is undoubtedly a comfort to him, but he deserves praise for
the manner in which he has accepted ultimate responsibility. (Of course, there’s
a feeling that Gray is paying a price that Alistair Darling dare not pay ­
because if he did, the ultimate sub-prime borrower in all this is Darling’s
predecessor who reigned over HMRC for ten years.)

A couple of weeks ago I spotted a ‘breaking news’ flash on BBC News 24 that
said, “Blair under pressure to resign”. Seems like the good old days, I thought.
The Blair in question was, of course, Ian Blair, Commissioner of the
Metropolitan Police, whose organisation was prosecuted and convicted under
health and safety legislation for a crime far more appalling than the loss of a
couple of CDs. While, again, Blair was not involved in the tragic operation that
resulted in the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes and so to that extent isn’t
to blame, it is an arrogance of breathtaking proportions that the man should s t
ill be in office, singularly failing to take responsibility for the actions of
officers far more senior than an idiotic HMRC clerk. Moreover, to head an
organisation that has a culture that apparently allows the chief constable to go
home without being told of the tragedy is, in itself, unforgiveable.

We’re all in the business of trying to be successful, and it’s right that
that’s where almost all of our thinking is oriented. But there needs to be a
debate about responsibility for failure ­ when to stay, when to quit, and at
what cost. In the commercial world, we could start by thinking about Citibank
CEO Chuck Prince who rightly resigned after announcing losses of up to $11bn.
He’s got a $95m payoff to mop his tears, though.

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