This week, in PMQs, there was a very curious exchange between Ed Miliband and David Cameron – one that was very revealing about a particular Tory failing of which I’ve become more and more aware since the coalition took office. Here’s the transcript from the Hansard record of the day:
“Edward Miliband: I want to turn to one group in particular who are losing their jobs directly as a result of the Government’s policy. A year ago, the Prime Minister told me at the Dispatch Box:
“There is no reason for there to be fewer front-line officers.”—[Official Report, 30 March 2011; Vol. 526, c. 335.]
Will he tell the House how many front-line police officers have lost their jobs since the election?
The Prime Minister: The percentage of police officers on front-line duties has gone up. That is the key.”
“The percentage of police officers on front-line duties has gone up. That is the key” – yes, you’re reading that right. According to David Cameron, it doesn’t matter how many police officers there are – just what proportion of them is on the front line. By that logic, he could reduce the number of police to one, give him a truncheon, a whistle and radio, put him on the beat – and we’d all be fine, because we’d have 100% of police on the front-line!
This is just the latest example of many that show something revealing: the Tories have a very curious relationship with numbers.
It occurred to me as I was considering this post that, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you might possibly conclude that I’m just a polemicist – someone determined to find anything I can to use against the Conservatives. Well, I make no secret of the fact that I despise pretty much everything the Tory party stands for – and especially the neoliberal version we’ve been cursed with since Thatcher – but it’s all solidly grounded in facts and figures. When I write, I make sure every statement is backed by sources, with links to supporting evidence, and properly applied and interpreted.
If only that were a standard to which our current ‘leaders’ adhered. But, for a party that likes to think it owns the ‘competence’ proposition – that it knows what it’s doing, even if it’s the nasty party – the Tories have a very odd inability to count, let alone use numbers properly.
We’ve already seen that David Cameron thinks a single police officer is enough to maintain law and order, as long as he’s on the ‘front line’. Let’s take a look at a few other examples, both by Cameron and by his henchmen. It won’t by any means be an exhaustive list – there are far too many for me to cover even the ones I know about in a single post, and there are, beyond question, many, many more that I could find if I could stomach it. But it should be a revealing list nonetheless.
A ‘million net new jobs’?
I’ve covered this in another article, so I won’t go into every detail here, but it’s definitely a key one – as it demonstrates Cameron’s willingness to lie, not just to his own party conference and to the public, but even to Parliament for the sake of a good soundbite.
Cameron claimed, after last month’s employment statistics were released, that ‘one million net new private-sector jobs‘ had been ‘created’ under his government. And yet he knew – ONS put the warning all down the side of the statistics so he couldn’t possibly miss it – that almost 200,000 of the million jobs were reclassified from the public sector. Not net, not new – just moved from the public sector total to the private. Yet he claimed it in Parliament, repeated it to his party conference and on TV, and had it used by various of his subordinates on various occasions. Curious.
In his speech to the Tory conference, Jeremy Hunt claimed that the government was honouring its commitment to protect NHS funding by increasing spending by £12 billion. That would be an increase of over 11% on the current budget of £108 billion. Impressive, eh?
However, challenged about this figure immediately after his speech by Andrew Neil on Neil’s ‘Daily Politics’ show, Hunt had to admit that the real increase in the NHS budget for next year was… £63 million. Not an 11% increase. Not even a 1% increase. Not even half a percent. An increase of less than 0.06% – when the NHS is facing not just a rate of inflation more than 40 times higher, but also the pressure of an ageing and rapidly increasing population. Curious.
In his speech to the conference, Cameron claimed that the government had increased clinical staff – but he had to be careful with the categories he listed. Strangely, since the first thing most people would think of when you mention healthcare is nurses, they were conspicuous by their absence from Cameron’s speech.
Some increase, eh? Curious.
The mystery of the benefit claimants that didn’t disappear!
As I wrote just the other day, during the same PMQs in which Cameron made his ridiculous ‘percentage police’ claim, he also lauded a fall of 170,000 in the number of unemployment benefit claimants. Yet even the ‘adjusted’ ONS statistics that governments prefer to the raw numbers state that the claimant count rose by 228,000 – a discrepancy of 398,000.
What’s good for the PCC is no good for the unions?
In the House of Lords debate on 11 October, government spokesperson Lord Taylor of Holbeach outlined the government’s expectation that turnout for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in November would be only 18%.
Labour peer Lord Tomlinson asked why, if an 18% turnout was good enough to legitimise the PCC elections, the government was planning to impose different standards on union ballots for industrial action:
“Would the Minister agree with me that there is a fair amount of inconsistency of thought when members of the same Government justify low turnouts for important elections and yet demand of people who have nothing to do with government, such as the trade unions, that they should get 50% turnouts in their ballots?”
Lord Taylor’s response was classic: “I think that is a different matter altogether.”
The rich pay their share?
On the BBC’s ‘Question Time’ programme on the 28th of September, Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg defended the Tory policy of cutting taxes for the rich by asserting that the richest 1% pay their share because they pay 26% of the tax revenue total.
On the same show last week, Grant Shapps rounded this up to ‘almost 30%’. That’s a lot of rounding – using the same proportions, 86 is almost 100!
But in 1997, the top 1% paid 21% of the tax revenue total. That means that today their total contribution has gone up by 23.8%, from 21% to 26%. However, during the same period the incomes of the top 1% increased by 60%. That means that their contribution has actually gone down – so much for paying their share!
I could go on. I could talk about how the Tories managed to turn the official disability benefit fraud rate of 0.5% into an implied 30%. Or about how they treat us all like idiots by claiming we have a worse deficit than Greece, or that they’re trying to save the country from insolvency when we weren’t insolvent by any definition of the word. Or even about how they think they can grow the economy by sucking money out of it, or raise more tax by cutting tax rates (don’t make me Laffer!).
But I won’t. Too much of a good thing is still too much, so they say. And I think we’ve got plenty to chew on already.
More than enough, in fact, to leave only two possibilities open:
a) The Tories have a relationship with numbers that is so ‘curious’ that it represents a severe case of the numeric version of dyslexia.
b) They have no conscience at all about lying, cheating, distorting and misrepresenting the facts – as long as they think there’s political or financial gain in it, and preferably both.
Which do you think it is?