Daniel Finkelstein makes a thing of being a statistics man: his percentage predictions of football results are a bit of weekly risk-taking.
He spends the first half of his Opinion piece in today’s Times (Don’t confuse a bad week with a big problem) discussing baseball statistics:
In the early 1980s [Thomas] Gilovitch began studying basketball statistics to see what they might tell him about the game he loved. He was particularly interested in something called “the hot hand”. It had become well known in the game that some players would go through periods when they had a scoring streak. At these moments they were far more likely to score than their colleagues.
Unfortunately Gilovitch proved that there was no statistical evidence for “the hot hand”.
The Fink extends this “finding” to politics:
The danger of mistaking random clusters for real patterns is that it distorts your analysis and response. In basketball you wrongly pass to the player with the hot hand. In football you sack the manager after a cluster of defeats. And in politics you start to look at what might have caused the immediate problems (trying to manage the run of “bad form”) when, in each case, what you should be concerned about is the underlying strength of the team.
All of which is tiddly-pop.
So Finkelstein ends by wondering, on behalf of the Tories:
What, then, are the underlying problems?
He comes up with two:
- The first is that the Conservatives are considered the party of the well-off.
- As there is no money and no growth, the Tories are being forced to do what the modernisers least want to do — to choose between measures that might make Britain competitive and ones that seem economically fair.
In the course of trying to show that social class doesn’t apply in the Tory Party, he makes this statement:
The six leaders of the Conservative Party who preceded Mr Cameron, going back more than 45 years all went to state schools.
If so, that is quite a claim.
So Malcolm tested it:
- 2003-5: Michael Howard , Llanelli Boys’ Grammar School;
- 2001-3: Iain Duncan Smith; St. Peter’s RC Secondary School, Solihull, and then HMS Conway.
- 1997-2001: William Hague; Wath-upon-Dearne Grammar School.
- 1990-1997: John Major; Rutlish Grammar School, then correspondence courses.
- 1975-1990: Margaret Thatcher; Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School.
- 1965-1975: Edward Heath; Chatham House Grammar School, Ramsgate.
It just about works — with just the odd quibble. Before the 1944 Act came into force, grammar schools were “grant-aided”, and required to provide only a quarter of their places to those who “passed” the Eleven-plus. Margaret Thatcher was, indeed, a scholarship girl. Even so, calling those grammar schools “state schools”, before they were effectively “nationalised” by the Butler Act, is a bit devious —and HMS Conway had a curious existence, in its later years funded by the Min of Ed through Cheshire County Council.
So, on this, at least, we can give the Fink a decent pass on his stats paper. Though it’s rapidly going on 47 years by Malcolm’s count.