Another Tory MP responds on stats lies.

Since I invited readers to write a specific email to their Tory or LibDem MP to demand a straight, personal answer on the government’s reckless and intentional abuse of statistics even after they’ve been rebuked by their own statistics authority, a couple of Tory MPs have surprised me by responding very quickly, and with a personal response rather than the previous rote repetition of a communiqué from their central office.

That’s where the surprises have ended – except that the first such response managed to astonish even cynical me with its blatant evasion of anything remotely resembling actually addressing the issues. But it was entirely in keeping with a party that is ‘extremely relaxed’ about its relationship with the truth and which appears to feel no remorse over its gross distortion of facts and statistics to deceive and demonise.

A 2nd Tory MP has now responded, and once again I have to commend him for his promptness and for actually writing a personal reply. His response is a lot more subtle, a lot more personable. It presents the MP as reasonable and considered. But that just makes its substance worse. Here is the email received by a constituent of Penrith and the Border from her Tory MP, Rory Stewart.

Dear Ms Jeffrey,

Thank you for your subsequent email on the topic of the UKSA and statistics used by DWP Ministers.

I believe that there are two issues of relevance: one relates to the use of statistics. The other relates to the government’s programme of Welfare Reform.

Obviously, I am personally opposed to any individual or organisation knowingly distorting statistics in order to achieve political or other ends.

However, that does not mean that I disagree with the substance of the government’s welfare reform policies.

No. Nor did the constituent ask about the policies. Hideous though those are, it would be unrealistic to expect an MP to criticise his own government’s policies in a response which he’s already been informed will be published.

Similarly, I want to see a system of welfare that continues to care for the vulnerable and needy, whilst also helping those who want to work get back into work.

Very good. That’s what any humane person would wish.

This government believes that looking after the disabled and the most vulnerable is a hallmark of a civilized society, and that will not change.

Ah. Now we’re entering the realms of fantasy. Mr Stewart’s government took to its welfare ‘reform’ programme with, for example, a pre-decided number of disabled people it was going to kick off benefits. Not an attitude of ‘let’s assess everyone and see how many genuinely need and deserve help because of their disability’, but a pre-decided number. A quota, regardless of the reality ‘on the ground’ (which is where many disabled people have been left after ludicrous Atos inspections or even assessment by postal questionnaire.

However, I am deeply opposed to the inflammatory rhetoric surrounding this – in particular use of language such as ‘scroungers’ or ‘spongers’. No Minister or parliamentarian condones this sort of language

Hmmm. Now Mr Stewart appears to have gone off into some private utopia where even Tory ministers are nice, restrained people. Tory frontbenchers may not feel they can get away with use of the exact terms ‘skivers’ and ‘scroungers’, but they are certainly no strangers to ‘inflammatory rhetoric’.

Cameron’s constant references to ‘people who do the right thing’ in direct comparison to benefit claimants (most of whom are working people), and Osborne’s infamous and nonsensical ‘closed curtains’ speeches are self-evidently designed to inflame, and to cast benefit claimants as exactly ‘skivers and scroungers’ even while avoiding the use of the terms themselves.

Mr Stewart is either woefully naive or, more likely, woefully disingenuous.

but I am afraid that the media continue to use language such as this to aggravate the public and indeed contribute to campaign emails such as those I have received.

Sadly these campaigns do not always get to grips with the details of the issue at stake, but rather use confronting language that paints a black and white picture. Rarely, if ever, are matters this simple.

See my comments on the previous paragraph! Matters rarely are ‘this simple’, but Mr Stewart’s government colleagues are so eager to portray benefit issues in simplistic and inflammatory terms that I wonder whether they’ve over-invested in stocks of black and white paints and fire extinguishers.

For example, we need also to acknowledge the reality of the fluctuations that exist as a result of people moving on and off various benefits, for a variety of reasons, all the time.

Er, exactly. And, as the letter made perfectly clear (because I wrote the original text to be very clear), the Tories had knowingly ‘conflated’ (to use the UKSA’s term) those ‘fluctuations’ to present a false picture of almost a million disability claimants dropping their benefit claims rather than face medical assessment. But Mr Stewart completely fails to acknowledge that part of the email, let alone address it.

This, coupled with the fact that it is one policy area in which the use of statistics is perhaps more prevalent than in other departments, should be taken into account.

Egg-frickin’-sactly! So answer the question!

This, I hope, makes my position clear. I do not believe that any of my parliamentary colleagues would knowingly mislead in this manner;

I’m afraid it makes your position anything but clear, Mr Stewart. You write condemningly of distortions, simplistic approaches and the realities of benefit claims – and then completely fail to acknowledge the obvious. In fact, you say you don’t believe any of your colleagues would distort in such a gross and deliberate fashion.

But David Cameron has claimed £12.7bn extra has been put into the NHS by his government when this is patently untrue, as the UKSA has now confirmed; Iain (D) Smith claimed that your benefit ‘reforms’ had got people back into work, when the Office of National Statistics explicitly said that the stats showed no such thing; and Grant/Michael Shapps/Green – and your party HQ’s press release – made that claim about those 900,000 disabled people who mysteriously dropped their claims all of a sudden and how this supported your party’s ‘reforms’.

The 900,000 people who were so mysterious that they didn’t exist – again as confirmed by the UK Statistics Authority.

I believe it has been investigated properly, and it is an important development that will help us to improve the way we communicate our policy developments to the public. Thus I will not be asking a question in the House, but I will be glad to forward your concerns to Iain Duncan Smith.

Yours sincerely,


Rory Stewart MP
Penrith and The Border

Sorry, Mr Stewart. Nice try, but just not good enough. However personable you seem to be, you’re either blind or have your head in the sand (or somewhere darker). I hope the people of Penrith and the Border see this and remember it at the next election.


  1. Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    If anybody can tell me what the MP in this one is trying to say, please – PLEASE – get in touch via the comments column because I’m starting to get a headache after reading it.

  2. He is offering to ‘pass the buck’ to Ian Deceit, whilst appearing as a ‘reasonable’ tory himself………

    It’s all in the waffle

  3. Dear Sir / Madam

    The reply I got to my email

    From: Joe Cuddeford [joe.cuddeford@statistics.gsi.gov.uk]; on behalf of; authority enquiries [authority.enquiries@statistics.gsi.gov.uk]

    Thank you for your email regarding recent statements by the Prime Minister about NHS expenditure. The Statistics Authority understands that the figure of “£12.7 billion extra” expenditure quoted by the Prime Minister relates to the difference between planned expenditure on the NHS in England in 2014-15 (£114.4 billion) and the outturn figure for 2010-11 (£101.8 billion). These figures can be found in Table 1.13 in Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses (PESA) published in 2012 (available at the link below), showing a difference of £12.6 billion. Subsequent revisions have changed this difference to £12.7 billion.

    Kind regards

    UK Statistics Authority Secretariat

    Doesn’t mention the snatchbacks of course.

    1. Yes. And doesn’t address the fact that Cameron claimed ‘This govt HAVE (sic) put £12.7bn extra into the NHS’, not ‘has budgeted to do so at some point in the future’.

      Still a blatant lie..

  4. I’m just wondering given the totally different tone of this response compared to the first one, even though they are both substantially avoiding the real issues they’ve been asked to address, if this might have something to do with the size of their majority vote that got them elected. The first guy sounded like he didn’t much care if he upset his constituent whereas this second one sounds like he definitely doesn’t want to cause offence. He’s a Scottish Tory and Tories are an endangered species in those parts. Maybe he got in by the skin of his teeth and wants to keep this constituent sweet. The first guy sounds like he’s in a safe Tory seat and so couldn’t care less….Just a thought.

    Both replies only serve to confirm my dismal view of politicians.

  5. I sent a copy of my MP’s reply to vox political. All my MP did was send me a copy of his news letter which had nothing at all to do with the emailed letter I sent him! I am disgusted with his attitude to this subject of UK Statistics Authority. He blatantly ignored the letter and the points it was raising.

    1. Looks to me like Coalition MPs get trained in the art of evasion. Andrew Lansley is definitely one of their role models if his performance in the lobbying debate this week’s anything to go by. Here;s a good account of how he sidestepped Labour MP Grahame Morris’ question about the stunning number of MPs and Lords with financial interests in healthcare who voted for the Health Bill:

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