The curious Tory relationship with numbers: police, NHS, economy and more

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.

NHS funding

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.

And no wonder. Nurse numbers have fallen under the coalition by at least 4,527, with more up-to-date numbers indicating a reduction of 6,000.

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.”

Curious indeed.

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?


  1. Yes – re “it doesn’t matter how many police officers there are – just what proportion of them is on the front line”..

    Well worth an hour and a quarter of anybody’s money to view, listen & absorb the consequences of what was revealed to the Public Affairs Select Committee in a specially added session on 19th Nov ’13 as part of their investigation into crime statistics (symptomatic of other public services, incl NHS etc).

    Quick links to session video & transcripts etc:

    Video also now on YouTube (very useful for older mobiles which would otherwise be incompatible with the default ‘viewer’):

    PS: Tory keyhole statistical surgery:

    Would Jeremy Hunt also say in reply to Ed that it’s not the total/safe/recommended number of properly managed, trained and paid front-line nurses which matters but merely

    ‘The percentage of NHS “staff” on front-line duties has gone up. That is the key.’

    If the NHS boasted one member of staff – a temporary agency health ‘assistant’ on a minimal wage zero hours contract – the Govt could then proudly..

    ‘..reduce the number of ward “helpers” to one, give her a mobile drip, pill trolley and syringe, put her in the wards – and patients would all be fine, because we’d have 100% of NHS staff on the “affront-line”!’

  2. I bet the management of the NHS suffers from similar distorting effects to those in the Police service, caused by a performance-dependent pay and promotion system.

    (latest obscure ‘annotated’ rant re Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe squirming:

    Wonder how much of the climate of fear experienced by many in the NHS has, as its root cause, financial incentives too eagerly grasped by promotion seekers at the expense of all else ..including those under them.

  3. News update 15/01/14:
    (Wonder if the tide’s ever so slightly turning – NHS stats next..?)

    The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) has removed the National Statistics designation from all crime data recorded by the police, meaning it no longer complies with the watchdog’s official code of practice
    UK Statistics Authority letter to PASC chairman re crime stats

    “..Our assessment was undertaken between June 2013 and January 2014, and we have also followed with close interest the Committee’s inquiry into crime statistics since it began in November and the oral and written evidence that your Committee has recently received..”

    Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the home affairs select committee, said:

    “This is an extraordinary step which fuels the concern around the reliability of crime statistics.
    “The recent allegations of manipulation of crime figures go right to the heart of the public trust in the police and how crime figures are compiled.
    “It is vital that we understand if crime data is being incorrectly recorded by the police.”

    Responding to the report, PASC chair Bernard Jenkin MP said the report was a “wake-up call” to chief constables across the country and revealed Home Office minister Norman Baker would be quizzed over crime figures by the committee next week.
    “PASC has exposed complacency about crime stats at all levels,” he said.
    “Following the evidence we have been taking, it comes as little surprise that police recorded crime stats have been downgraded by the UKSA.
    “They no longer qualify for the UKSA kite mark as National Statistics.
    “We have focused on the Metropolitan Police in our inquiry into crime statistics and our inquiry was provoked by their whistle-blower, but this is a wake-up call to chief constables all over the country.
    “Next week, the Home Office minister and UKSA will appear before our committee to explain why this has been allowed to happen.”
    Jack Dromey, shadow policing minister, said: ” For the UKSA to express no faith in the key Government crime figures is unprecedented. It exposes Theresa May’s claim on crime reductions as baseless and out of touch.
    “When challenged on hollowing out the police service, with 10,000 frontline police officers axed, Theresa May and ministers have repeatedly hidden behind the 10% fall in police recorded crime. But now we know that the UKSA has no faith in that measure – despite giving the measure its approval for the period before the general election.
    “The Home Secretary needs to explain what action she is taking to establish the true levels of crime and what has actually happened since she began hollowing out our police service.”

    Report extracts also at:

  4. PC James Patrick, the Met whistleblower referred to above (PASC Chair: “inquiry was provoked by their whistle-blower”), really does seem to have mastered perfect timing when blowing away cobwebs:

    1) A special (PASC) committee session was created to hear the evidence which the DPS prevented him giving to the Home Affairs Select Committee last January (2013)

    2) He managed to present, in combination with retired police officers willing to corroborate his claims, evidence so persuasive that neither Winsor of the HMIC nor Hogan-Howe of the Met could fail to admit its truth

    3) He built up, with the willing cooperation of the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC), a tide of such mounting height and weight of agreement and belated admissions, that no-one invited later for a polite grilling felt able to resist the shingles being sucked forcibly beneath them until they too toppled forward, adding to the waves

    4) His claims so exercised the ONS that they were forced to cling to a paragraph in their report of last February in order to salvage their standing, throwing such a retrospective spotlight on it, that even the UK Statistics Authority felt impelled at last – as if woken from years of blind kowtowing – to take serious note and, at a stroke, withdrew their ‘these stats are kosher’ kitemark from police crime statistics altogether. Even all the Queen’s horses may now struggle if urged to help reinstate them.

    5) The shaming of the Met continued apace as they realised that maintaining a straight face while accusing their now-unleashed PC of gross misconduct might provoke rapidly spreading ripples of derision across wide arcs of their downtrodden ranks. So, in a brilliant sidestep, they asked another force to supervise the disciplinary hearing instead.

    6) The trouble is, once the tide turns, it must run. To compound the absurdity of trying to shield an exposed truth behind even a borrowed shade, the invited force flinched at their glimpse of the assembled evidence. They’ve declared a transitory truce, allowing the Met even more time to regroup, time to decide whether fight or flight is more likely to stop more Dettol stinging the wounds, wounds they’d much prefer to dress (up):


  5. If further proof was needed of the criminal waste of scarce police resources squandered on the casual bullying, suppression and silencing of PC Patrick and the lies about him fed to the press since 2012, the evidence below shows that the Met already knew, long before the publication of such smears – in The Independent on Wed 5th Dec ’12, for example – that they had no valid grounds whatsoever to accuse PC Patrick of contravening any policy relating to business interests at that time (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/officer-faces-inquiry-over-book-expos-8387074.html):

    > Commissioner’s Policy Forum Minutes > link: ’16th January 2013′
    > http://www.met.police.uk/foi/pdfs/how_we_make_decisions/corporate/dor_comm_policy_forum_16january2013.pdf

    “Commander Professional Standards explained..in November 2012..there was no policy to cover circumstances where MPS blogs were amalgamated and published in book form, or where proceeds of published material were donated to charity, or where comments were made on Twitter.”

    It is quite clear that the specific circumstances of PC Patrick’s book of amalgamated blogs awoke the MPS to the fact that he had managed to embarrass them without even flouting any existing policy – so they’d better get together and invent something smartish. However..

    “The Director of Legal Services advised that the MPS could not prevent its officers or staff from writing books on the basis that the content was embarraassing to the MPS, but that it was possible to prevent damage to the organisation. One option was perhaps to require material to be submitted to Management Board for approval before publication.”

    Of course, fiddling crime figures has serious repercussions for victims and resource allocation and so is what damages the organisation – not the messenger pointing out how self-defeating it might be.

    Nevertheless, all the MPS were concerned about was how to retain control of embarrassing material: “I know, let’s ignore the welfare of rape victims and the risk of further inadequately policed riots (they may as well have said) and lie to the press about whistleblowers (I mean, who cares about their welfare, they’re hardly human anyway, spilling all our beans) by saying this one has transgressed policies we’ve not yet formulated, let alone implemented. All in favour, say Aye!”

    “The Forum agreed that any revised policy on publication of material should not adversely impact on evidence-based policing and that for instance the results of research should not be subject to restriction.”

    The Forum appeared unable to imagine that investigations undertaken and revealed by whistleblowers can also amount to valid research specifically related to evidence-based policing. And that it is precisely the habit of denying the evidence revealed by such research which most threatens and undermines the effectiveness of policing.

    The unwarranted public accusation relating to business interests against their employee amounted to one of financial and contractual impropriety and remains uncorrected and without apology in the public domain to this day.

    Can the Met management be seen as even vaguely ‘fit for purpose’ as an employer if they’re content to conspire to treat employees entrusted to their care in this absolutely shabby and outrageous way?

  6. Andrew Mitchell has a history of aggression against police(wo)men who were merely trying to protect him while enforcing security rules they’d been told to observe


    PC James Patrick has a history of honesty, intelligence, bravery & loyalty towards the (now) potentially honourable profession of public service policing and was merely trying to protect the public and point out political corruption for all to observe


    Andrew Mitchell has a history of arrogance and bullying and persuaded C4 to transmit a distorted view of the incident which forced his resignation


    PC Patrick has a history of 4 commendations for bravery from the police, is credited with persuading the PASC Chair to convene a special session for his evidence, UKSA to downgrade police crime figures, was described in a leader article in The Times as having “performed an important service”, experienced bully-boy tactics by his employer which affected his wife and two young children – and has just resigned


    One of the main recommendations from the Francis enquiry into Mid Staffs was to enshrine the primacy of patient sovereignty. Despite lip service, Jeremy Hunt baulked at the effect this would have on the large U.S. conglomerates he has lined up to cream NHS profits once the new EU-US trade pact beds in, so has unilaterally dropped it


    One of the main recommendations from the PASC session at which PC Patrick gave evidence was to enshrine the primacy of victim sovereignty so that, for example, rape victims with vulnerable characteristics would have their allegations recorded immediately as crimes rather than allowing investigating officers to persuade already traumatised victims to withdraw the allegations, merely in order to improve crime figures.

    Having now lost PC Patrick, who can ensure the Met is forced to put the welfare of victims in its care above the bonuses of its management?


    Welcome to the UK. You’re welcome to it..

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