Category Archives: Isabel Hardman

Lies, damn lies, and an extra layer

Mallett: extra layer

The University of York’s Department of Mathematics suggests the quotation wasn’t Disraeli, but may have been Sir Charles Dilke in 1891 — though they find analogues going further back.

Even so, there are things more deceitful, more lying than statistics: graphs. We had fine examples appended to Isabel Hardman’s piece, Jobs figures: good news on employment, bad news on wages. Significantly she saw the issue entirely in terms of  “the political debate”.  If there’s anything deliberately more misleading than a statistical graph, it is a political-statistical graph.

Speccy graphs

The upper one, allegedly on job creation, is as specious as it gets. As the next line down says, we are not talking of jobs being created, we are looking at “cumulative change in employment level”. When that is decoded, it’s not the same thing.

On Tuesday of this week, we had this:

Figures from the IPPR thinktank show that the growth in self-employment in the UK has been the fastest of all western European countries over the past year, a trend that is expected to continue when official labour market figures are published on Wednesday.

The number of self-employed has grown by more than 1.5 million in the past 13 years to 4.5 million and now accounts for more than 15% of the labour force.

 When Sarah O”Connor of the Financial Times got her sharp little teeth into that, she was less than impressed:

An average 7,700 people in the UK became self-employed each week over the past year. If these trends continue, the UK will soon look more like southern and eastern European countries, which tend to have much higher rates of self-employment, the think-tank said.

About 17 per cent of the Spanish and Portuguese workforces are self-employed, while the proportions in Italy and Greece are 23 and 32 per cent respectively.

… economists disagree about why this shift has happened and whether or not it will persist after the economy fully recovers.

Some argue that many of the newly self-employed are in fact barely working at all, which would suggest there is more slack, or untapped potential, in the economy than the 6.5 per cent unemployment rate would suggest.

Put that another way: for many, self-employment is just a waiting-room, either for a delayed retirement or for a properly-paid permanent job. It is certainly not a sign of a healthy, properly-functioning, industrially-based economy.

Elsewhere, courtesy of the Resolution Foundation, the FT blows the gaff:

Where the jobs aren't

That shows the further one travels from London, the less likely one finds a permanent job; and therefore one has to turn one’s hand to other ways of staying ahead of Iain Duncan Smith’s “reforms”.

Which brings me to my second observation.

sdMy first proper teaching job was in the North-East. I was told by a colleague that the book to read was Sid Chaplin’s The Day of the Sardine. My original copy has long gone AWOL, and a re-read is well overdue.

More to the point, Alan Plater took the outline from Chaplin, added songs by Alex Glasgow, and came up with the superb Close the Coalhouse Door. Productions still tour, and still pack ’em in. Several fine songs came out of that: the one making my current ear-worm is Ours! Ours! Ours! Ours! Ours!. And, yes, I have been here before. The point of the lyric (which recites the progress to the 1947 nationalisation of the pits) is that the miners, like the rest of us cogs in the machine, are doomed to perpetual disappointment:

— When its ours, Geordie lad, when its ours:
There’ll changes bonny lad, when its ours!”

— Are you sure we’ll be all right? Is the future really bright?”

— (Oh, for God’s sake, man) We’ve won this bloody fight!
An’ its ours, all ours!

By the time I was in the North-East all those nationalised pits were being closed. The Wilson government was thrashing round to provide alternative employments — the running jokes in the back end of Coalhouse involve the Great Teesside Conurbation and par-foom factories.

What goes around, comes around.

Where that second graph above is so corrupt, so weaselly, so misleading is the sure-fire assumption that we are now at the bottom of any wages cutting. From here on, it’s all onwards and upwards.

As if.


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After hubris, nemesis

One moment the Tory agitprop-pedlars are telling us how it’s all fine-and-dandy — a day or so ago there was a hysterical screech that “only the collapse of the housing market can save Labour”. Note, there, that houses are not homes where real people live, but exist primarily to be a marketable commodity.

Then a faint whiff of reality (accompanied by a shiver of fear) intrudes. One such is found in Isabel Hardman’s Speccie piece:

Government borrowing is up – the economic picture isn’t as rosy as the Tories say

It’s tempting given the optimistic mood on the Conservative benches at the moment to think that everything is just great with the economy. Not so, according to today’s borrowing figures from the ONS, which show that government borrowing was higher than expected: George Osborne borrowed £13.3bn in May, up £0.7bn from the same month last year, and much higher than the £9.35bn forecast. Tax receipts have been weaker than expected, which has contributed to higher net borrowing.

This is accompanied by a neat graph, which is superbly interactive in the original (but not so in this clip):


Ms Hardman, to her credit, may work for a scandal sheet of dubious pedigree; but she has a sharp nose to go with her appropriate surname.

Now, as I have been saying too frequently, and most recently in connexion with the unemployment numbers, I am profoundly suspicious of how we are being fed this Osborne Wirtschaftswunder. Below the encrusted gilding, there’s an awful lot of brass neck. John Rentoul makes just that point, borrowing graphs from  and this one from


This, as the original makes clear, is a typical “bad graph”— which is why, as indicated by the “close-up” there, it is the way the Department of Work and Pensions likes to present and mis-represent it.

HuffThose of us of a certain length-in-the-tooth remember Darrell Huff exposed just this kind of fraud, as far back as 1954. Amazingly, with updating, How to Lie with Statistics is still in print.

For it is a fraud. Since this particular example comes from the Department headed by Iain Duncan Smith, we should not be surprised by the sleight of hand. The only question about IDS’ handling of his Department is whether he is plain ignorant or malevolently deceptive.

The Treasury is up to the same tricks. When Martin Rowson borrowed Méret Oppenheim’s fur cup (it’s a pun, geddit?), he was being unduly generous:

Martin Rowson 07.07.2012

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Filed under Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., crime, economy, George Osborne, Isabel Hardman, The Spectator, Tories.

Helmer: one who directs a film, tv programme, etc

Definition above is from the ever-present (at least in this blog) OED. It looks, from the citation, like another of those neat coinages by Variety, most famously the 1935 headline:


The only match for that, despite desperate efforts by Murdoch’s Sun, has to be 1983 and the New York Post‘s:



Worth 30 cents of anyone’s money.

Anyway, to Newark, the by-election and Roger Helmer

Isabel Hardman, for The Spectator blog, reckons — rather ambiguously, I feel:

Roger Helmer is a gift to CCHQ, so the Tories need to do really well in Newark

Well, the Ukip constituency association in Newark has certainly considered Nigel Farage’s musings on the success of appointing an unknown local candidate in a pivotal by-election… and completely ignored it. They’ve picked Roger Helmer, who, as Seb says, is not known for his mollifying centre-ground views.

His selection as the party’s candidate for the Newark by-election is a gift for CCHQ, which now needs a teaspoon rather than a spade to dig out awkward comments the MEP has made. Perhaps it also suggests that Ukip have decided there’s not much hope of winning so why bother to field a good candidate who the party’s opponents would lay into.

The usual Hardman perspicacity, there.

Except …

Roger Helmer is no patsy I suspect he may, indeed, be the director — the “helmer”, indeed — of much of what occurs at Newark. He may not, ought not, should not win; but we shall hear much of him and his opinions. Not all of those opinions will do UKIP any great damage.

He was a Tory MEP from 1999 to just two years ago, re-selected and re-elected twice. Despite his usual excesses — statements on rape, homosexuality, what even the Daily Telegraph considered “bigotry“, scorn for traffic laws, and general far-Right noodlery — Helmer was quite at home, even fêted by some, in the Tory circles for most of that time. He left the Tories — the Tories didn’t leave him — for reasons “operational”, not “ideological”.

If Helmer is the snipee in the by-election campaign, any sniper’s shots may come dangerously close to the Tory foot.

Anyone is welcome to adopt, adapt and improve that thought for future use.

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I’m sari I was sarong

Yes: the old follow-up to “Is that a sari you’re wearing? Or a sarong?”

First there was Isabel Hardman’s view of Theresa May’s defence, dealing with Mohammed Ahmed Mohammed’s breach of his TPIM. Unsurprisingly, considering her readership’s complexion, she found May did quite well.

For some reason fathomable only to the more-frothing commenters at The Speccie, the topic instantly diverted:

— Even today we had Teresa may defending the wearing of the Burkha! Cameron attending a celebration of Hindu! and looking forward to 80million Turks joining the corrupt organisation costing us currently £60billion per year and Tory MEP’s voting in Brussels to increase the budget to cover an overspend by the EU last year!

— As for the prime ministers wife wearing a sari then you need to go into analyis if that upsets you. Teresa May wore one at an indian woman of the year event. Cheri Blair has worn one (alongside Liz Hurley) Dutchess of York et al. I prefer to see Sam Cameron in a sari than David Bekham in his tattoos.

Sic. And sick.

So shall we remind such of the youthful Dave Cameron, himself? —


But it was a true Blues Brothers tee-shirt.


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Historical and other parallels

History repeats itself, said Marx (approximately) paraphrasing Hegel, first as tragedy then as farce.

So let Malcolm repeat himself:

  • Prime Minister David Cameron is the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of King William IV.
  • William IV was third son of George III, whose elder brothers were the future George IV and … Frederick, Duke of York and Albany.


Said Prince Fred is generally accounted to have been the Grand Old Duke of York, who:

… had ten thousand men.
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up.
And when they were down, they were down.
And when they were only halfway up,
They were neither up nor down.

Fred, who now is dead, earned that reputation because of the futile Flanders campaign of 1799.

Cameron’s  hill-climbing and descents are as well-established as Fred’s; but he doesn’t have ten thousand men. He has just 304 MPs, and 48 of them are definitely not men. Though many of those women have more balls than their male colleagues.

Further back

Malcolm can’t be bothered to work out what the precise relationship is; but Cameron must be related somehow to the Stuarts. Which brings us to James II and VII.

After the near-rout at the Boyne, James sweatily arrived back in Dublin where Lady Tyrconnell enquired how the battle had gone. He replied, “My cowardly Irish have run away.”

She responded with a hint of acid: “Then I see your majesty has won the race.” Again, a speedy characteristic to be observed in Cameron’s hereditary nature.

The gift of leadership

This is an art or a talent in which Cameron has rarely excelled. Particularly so on matters European.

Which is why he is in his present predicament.

And which brings us to the ridiculous “Referendum Bill”; and Isabel Hardman in the Spectator channeling Lady Tyrconnell:

David Cameron was trying to work out how on earth to deal with the latest Europe row in his party. He heard them demanding legislation in this parliament for a referendum in the next, and this evening, after nearly a year of letter-writing and speeches, he announced that the Tory party will publish a draft bill doing just that. They still can’t get it through Parliament through the government channels, so they’ll be putting it up for any willing backbencher (of which there are many) to adopt in the Private Member’s Bill ballot.

Figures close to the Prime Minister were hinting to Tory MPs this evening there would be a move for legislation, but they were taken by surprise when, just a few hours later, the announcement was made that the draft bill will be published tomorrow.

So is this it? Is the Conservative party falling on its knees with gratitude? Unsurprisingly, MPs are not doing anything of the sort.

Wherein Malcolm found an echo from Li’l Abner, Al Capp, Johnny Mercer and Stubby Kaye:

Stonewall Jackson got his name by standing firm in the fray.
Who was known to all his men as good ol’ “Paper Maché?”
Why it was Jubilation T. Cornpone; 
Jubilation T. Cornpone, he really saved the day!

Isabel was being as polite as the circumstances permit. For sheer vitriol — and a longer view — there’s  Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times, subtitled in near Marxist terms — and with a flourish from Mao for added relish:

Drama is giving way to farce. The eurosceptic demands are now plain odd

Touchingly, they really believed it would work. When David Cameron pledged a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU four months ago, his team were certain it would pacify eurosceptic Conservatives, disarm the UK Independence party and ensure he would not need to talk again about this electorally esoteric issue for the rest of this parliament.

That speech, his most important deed as UK prime minister after his austere fiscal policy, has failed on all counts. Tories now hound him to go further, Ukip romp on, and he is condemned to revisit the subject periodically on behalf of his party.

Downing Street is mystified by the collapse of the January truce, and commentators also scribble their surprise. But it is not surprising at all. It was predictable, and predicted. We are now a quarter of a century into the Tories’ rancorous fixation with Europe, a single-issue neuralgia that knows no equivalent in any major party in the west, and the pattern is familiar: no concession satisfies those who ultimately want to leave the EU, even if they say it will before receiving it. Mr Cameron, remember, has withdrawn his party from the centre-right caucus in the European Parliament, vetoed a fiscal treaty and cleared a path to exit. On each occasion, Tories have summoned a practised glee before returning to their core view of him as the craven running dog of a europhile establishment.

Even that lacks the sheer horror that Ben Brogan, for the Torygraph, evinces:

It may be, as some Tories tried to explain yesterday, that a cunning new strategy is evolving before our eyes, one that Mr Gove and his friend Mr Cameron are developing as part of their wider campaign to shove Labour – and the Lib Dems – on to the wrong side of popular causes. By this theory, Europe is no longer a divisive, dangerous issue for the Tories to be caught arguing about, but is in fact a vote-winner. Look at us, the Conservatives are now shouting, we are so crazy about Europe that we are desperate to give you a vote on it and – nudge nudge, wink wink – we might just join you in voting to get out. By allowing his colleagues to say it all in public, and say it loudly, Mr Cameron is giving himself free advertising for his Euro-robustness two years early. The tease of a referendum, the catwalk of Tory beauties sashaying in their see-through ideological out-fits, the Cabinet loyalists talking naughty – it’s all part of a great plan. By allowing his colleagues to talk up the possibility of a British exit, the Prime Minister’s hand is strengthened in the EU negotiations to come. First welfare, then immigration, now Europe: everything is lining up in Mr Cameron’s favour.

Except it isn’t, of course. No 10 has lost control of this one. Even those involved admit it’s a Euroshambles. After all, can any of this truly be said to advance the cause of a Conservative victory in 2015? Surely the first part of Mr Cameron’s negotiating strategy requires winning the general election? Does an inward-looking spat about Europe really fit alongside the message about a global economic race and the importance of the EU/US trade deal that Mr Cameron found himself promoting in Washington yesterday?

Surely soon we must be reaching the end-game? That can involve just one (or both) of two possibilities: the defenestration of Cameron, and/or the collapse of the ConDem coalition. Either way the lunatics have taken over the Tory asylum.

Which brings Malcolm back to:

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Dropping behind

Somewhere Malcolm has a Kodachrome slide of the hero of the hour.

The hour was several decades back. The location was Aix-les-Bains. The occasion was some local festivity which involved a procession. The procession concluded with a troop of mounted gendarmes (or similar), predictably marking their progress along the thoroughfare.

Then, and only then, came the hero.

He was a municipal road-sweeper with his broom, shovel and cart. As he went about his task he received the most enthusiastic cheering and applause of the whole show.

Cameron at PMQs

Departmental ministers must feel empathy with the road-sweeper: David Cameron’s performances too frequently involve similar leavings and unwelcome clearings-up. Here is Isabel Hardman in The Spectator blogs:

Yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron surprised the whole chamber and the department concerned by announcing a brand new energy policy.

In response to a question from Labour’s Chris Williamson about what the government was doing to help people reduce their energy bills, Cameron said:

‘We have encouraged people to switch, which is one of the best ways to get energy bills down. I can announce, which I am sure the honourable gentleman will welcome, that we will be legislating so that energy companies have to give the lowest tariff to their customers – something that Labour did not do in 13 years, even though the Leader of the Labour party could have done it because he had the job.’

That this was one of Cameron’s policy-on-the-hoof moments was underlined by the fact that he was responding to a question from a Labour MP, not a planted one from a loyal Tory backbencher. Then his spokespeople struggled to brief journalists on any further details other than what the Prime Minister said, which was that apparently energy companies will ‘have to give the lowest tariff to their customers’. The Energy and Climate Change department appeared surprised by the policy. Energy companies were also rather astonished and said they were urgently seeking further details of this new policy and how it would affect their business. The implications for those companies’ business models did seem rather large. Today Caroline Flint told MPs at Energy questions that the Prime Minister of ‘making it up as he goes along’.

Eny fule kno the problems there. What Cameron seems to be saying is there would be only one tariff , and that available to all. At the moment there is a prolixity of tariffs with each and every energy supplier: they depend on whether gas and electricity are bought from the same supplier, how billing and payment is made, how long the contract extends, whether the transactions involve on-line accounts, and so forth. The result has to be confused and confusing, but it does represent relative costs on the supplier. A single tariff would inevitably be more expensive, and involve much less control for the canny consumer, much less competition (or what goes for it in this pretence of an energy-market).

Might as well nationalise the whole nonsense

Result: chaos

If Isabel Hardman was unconvinced (and she has other examples of Cameron’s cavalier regard for normal practice) then others, like Charles Maggs, are happy to use the s-word:

Shambles: Energy minister didn’t know about energy policy announcement

The government’s own energy minister seemed unsure of his department’s policy today, after he struggled to answer questions of a plan announced by David Cameron in  the Commons.

John Hayes admitted he was not expecting the prime minster to announce the policy yesterday, in a performance which suggested Cameron overstepped the mark during this week’s PMQs.

“Does he consult me on every issue? The answer is no,” he told MPs after Labour won an urgent question on the policy.

“But had we been discussing this policy? The answer is yes.”

He added: “This is a policy intent.”

Humiliatingly, there were calls of ‘more’ from opposition benches as Hayes’ answers came to an end.

Give that man a shovel and broom.

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