A few days ago, I asked SKWAWKBOX readers to write a specific email to their coalition MPs. I had tried to structure the email to cut down radically on any ‘wiggle room’ that MPs might use in sending a ‘cut and paste’ response from their party HQ – or at least would let them know that any failure to properly address the issues would be exposed on this blog.
Well, the first response has already been received. I have to give Justin Tomlinson, Conservative MP for Swindon north, full marks for speed of response, and credit for writing his own reply rather than sending a rote, sanitised answer pre-approved by Tory Central.
But there, I’m afraid, the praise has to end. The reply he sent to his constituent was astonishing for its complete irrelevance to the questions posed and the arrogance that it takes to write an answer that so blatantly ignores what was clearly requested – and then criticises the temerity of asking the questions! It’s a work of art, but in all the wrong ways.
For the sake of ease and clarity, here is the text of the email that was sent to him:
You will be aware of the recent communications sent by the UK Statistics Authority to David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith and Grant Shapps highlighting unfounded claims on NHS spending, the effects of the benefits cap and the supposed phenomenon of almost 900,000 people abandoning their ESA claims ‘rather than face medical assessment’.
Each of these claims was shown to have no basis in the statistics used to justify them. The claims misled the electorate, have misled Parliament and the latter claim demonised disabled people as fakers and scroungers, when the facts showed nothing of the sort.
As your constituent, I require to know from you:
1. whether you condemn this gross abuse of statistics and its continuance even after the UK’s official statistics watchdog told the government that it was making false claims.
2. whether you will raise this issue with your senior parliamentary colleagues to call for it to stop.
3. whether you are prepared to raise this question in the House.
Please be aware that the contents of your reply will be made public via the SKWAWKBOX blog, and that any rote or cut-and-paste response will be highlighted, as will any failure to substantively address the actual questions raised. A repetition of wording from your party’s central office will not be acceptable. I, and many others, wish to know whether you are prepared to condemn what can only rightly be condemned, or to defend the indefensible.
A failure to respond at all will also be highlighted, and will be treated as tacit assent to the government’s dishonesty.
I look forward to your early response.
I’ve highlighted the key areas on which Mr Tomlinson was asked to respond. Now here’s his response:
Many thanks for the email, it is appreciated. I have to say that I find the tone of the SKWAWKBOX blog’s template email unnecessarily confrontational and accusatory. I suspect that many MPs who receive it will probably delete it and not reply. In answer to your questions:
1. I dispute that this constitutes ‘gross abuse’ – what has been proved is that there was a disparity in the statistics, it has not been demonstrated that it was a deliberate attempt to mislead. For example, David Cameron in a TV interview said debt when he meant deficit. This is hardly a gross abuse and indeed, Ed Balls regularly confuses the two. I look forward to receiving an email rebuking him.
2. It is for those colleagues to respond to these accusations. That they have done in letters to the UKSA – all of which are public – explaining the disparity in figures. You can read Jeremy Hunt’s for example, here: https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=5&ved=0CEEQFjAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.statisticsauthority.gov.uk%2Freports—correspondence%2Fcorrespondence%2Fletter-from-rt–hon–jeremy-hunt-mp-to-andrew-dilnot-06122012.pdf&ei=4m3IUdeQDoTWPM_igcAI&usg=AFQjCNEChqWq_QUyIJvlx_Y9kjX7zy-k0A&sig2=80PyzGXWQ2jXAfZXEX0H3w&bvm=bv.48293060,d.ZWU3.
It is customary for MPs to raise it in the House when there is evidence that the House has been misled. By definition, this means deliberately misled. I also trust that the SKWAWKBOX blog will be encouraging its readers to tackle those MPs on the other side of the political divide who have since been found to have been spouting erroneous statistics as highlighted in Jeremy Hunt’s letter.
Nowhere in the email from the constituent does it mention anything about the debt or the deficit. Yet Mr Tomlinson attempts to sidestep the actual questions by claiming that it’s easy to mix up two words that were never asked about – and pointing a finger at Ed Balls for the same mistake.
The linked letter from Jeremy Hunt is an equally massive red herring. Hunt’s ‘response’ to the UKSA’s criticism of false Tory spending claims (which I won’t quote directly here because the link goes to an image of the letter, not a copiable text, so please view it if you wish) tries to weasel out of being caught lying about NHS spending by diverting attention onto a supposed confusion of spending and budget by Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham.
The letter blames Burnham’s ‘mistake’ for the supposedly misleading impression that the Tories lied about NHS spending, by saying that the Tory website mentioned budgets, while Burnham’s accusation was about spending. Hunt then closes his letter by saying that he and Cameron had been talking about spending all along. That part is worth reproducing here:
So Hunt attempts to divert attention by talking about budgets, then goes on to admit that he and Cameron were talking about spending all along – which Dilnot had pointed out had not increased under this government, but had in fact decreased in real terms.
The Tory MP for Swindon North completes his attempted bodyswerve by saying that it’s the responsibility of ministers themselves to answer for their statements – and that no misleading of the House has been demonstrated.
He fails on both counts. He was asked whether he would address this with his ministers, and whether he would raise the matter in the house. He deflects the former question and ignores the latter.
And his pathetic attempt to equate a repeated lie – to the House – about £12.7 billion in NHS spending on the part of Cameron, and lies about the effects of the benefit cap in the case of Iain (Duncan) Smith, most definitely qualify as deliberate misleading, since in both cases the senior Tories knew full well that the claims they were making were untrue, and the UKSA pointed out as much.
As for the abhorrent lie told to demonise 900,000 disability benefit claimants as scroungers – that may not have been to the House, but it was an official Conservative communiqué to the national media and most certainly a matter for discussion in Parliament.
Clearly Mr Tomlinson didn’t read his constituent’s message very closely. Or if he did, then his vocabulary doesn’t include the word ‘substantively’.
The email warned him – very clearly, by design – that a failure to substantively answer the questions raised would be publicised in this blog. So here it is, so you can see for yourself and, if you live in his constituency, hopefully ‘reward’ him at the next election.