Monday, 3 November 2014

Damned stats

Last week one of those polls about public perceptions showed that we in Britain exaggerate the number of Muslims in the country by a factor of four. And we're wrong about the number of immigrants and unemployed as well. We are all, apparently, pig-ignorant and there is no hope in us.

Happily, however, this week the government has announced that we're all going to be sent a statement of what they've been buying with our income tax and national insurance tax. So we won't be quite as ignorant about one thing at least.

It feels to me that this should be a cause for mild celebration, but Frances O'Grady, general secretary of the TUC, disagrees. She thinks it's all propaganda. 'The chancellor is relying on the fact that many people think spending called welfare all goes to the unemployed,' she says. 'This is softening us up to a major cut to the welfare state safety net to which we all should contribute so that it is there if we need it.'

Obviously it's propaganda - it is, after all, information issued by the government - but I fear that the left is self-aggrandising if it thinks that this is a first shot in a post-election attack on the welfare state. That may be an added bonus; it's certainly not the primary target. Everything now is about the election, not about what happens after.

So the real issue is not the benefits section at the top of the list, but the overseas aid and EU contributions at the bottom. These latter are the two smallest items of public expenditure apparently. Which makes a nonsense of claims that that's where some real savings could be achieved. In other words, the whole exercise is aimed at UKIP, whose economic policy - such as it is - is based on cutting these two areas.

Which is not to deny that after the election the benefits bill be attacked. Of course it will be. No matter what government is elected, benefits are going to be cut.

But to return to the principle of the thing. The left is making another silly mistake if it simply attacks this idea as propaganda. Allowing people to know how their money is being spent is a perfectly reasonable exercise in democracy. If a Labour government had had the intelligence to come up with the initiative, maybe they could have determined the categories and weighted the presentation in their favour. They didn't, and it's bugger all use bleating about the Tories skewing the stats. That's what governments do; it's what Labour should have done.

Rather than complain, Labour should offer its own proposals about educating us. Maybe about the numbers of immigrants and unemployed or something. It's not a bad thing to have some information.

(Incidentally, I did rather like Clive Bull on LBC explaining to his listeners what a pie chart is. It looks like a doughnut, apparently.)

1 comment:

Tyrone Jenkins said...

Another useful statistic would be the number of former working class Labour supporters that have become convinced by the Farage aura! Its a wonder of the age that this product of an elite education and the City has managed to convince many people that he is a man of the people. I suppose a Marxist would call this 'false consciousness'! Its notable that when campaigning in the southern County Shires he appears in tweeds and barber jacket while elsewhere it tends to be the standard non-descript grey suit and tie: I'd always thought it was the Lib Dems who adapted their image to reflect the demographics of the constituency/ward (I remember their pandering to bigotry in Tower Hamlets following a BNP local council win there in the nineties)?!