Tag Archives: lies

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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Filed under Britain, economy, Financial Times, folk music, Guardian, History, Isabel Hardman, The Spectator, Tories.

Dodgy numbers, revisited

We just heard David Cameron get away, yet again, with the usual financial film-flam.

As I noticed previously, the claims of extra ConDem spending on flood defences were exploded by John McDermott’s Off Message blog for the FT. That is based on counting in the expenditure provided in the last year of the previous Labour administration.


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The cut of a certain courtier’s beard

I did dislike the cut of a certain courtier’s beard: he sent me word, if I said his beard was not cut mind it was: this is called the Retort Courteous. If I sent him word again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would send me word, he cut it to please himself: this is called the Quip Modest. If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he disabled my judgment: this is called the Reply Churlish. If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would answer, I spake not true: this is called the Reproof Valiant. If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would say I lied: this is called the Counter-cheque Quarrelsome: and so to the Lie Circumstantial and the Lie Direct.

Touchstone, of course, in As You Like It.

Even the Lie Direct:

… you may avoid that too, with an If.

Which brings us to the Arachnes of the PR-spinning business:


Let us revisit Arachne and her deserved fate.

We read her story in Metamorphoses VI and in the Georgic IV. She was the daughter of Idmon of Colophon. She became overweeningly proud of her skills, so much that she challenged the goddess Athene to a weaving competition. Athene depicted the gods and goddesses, in majesty: Arachne went for the sensational and sordid News of the (mythological) Screws — gods pursuing their amorous prey. Athene took affront, ripped up Arachne’s work, and transformed her into the spider.

Any modern parallels exist only in the imagination.

Which might bring us to …


… PR guru Matthew Freud’s 50th birthday on Saturday: he and his wife, Elisabeth Murdoch, hosted a fairly lavish party. But would Westminster’s finest attend?

Guests were struck to see the Prime Minister and the Chancellor both in attendance, evidently quite happy to rejoin the social set that they have both kept clear of in recent years. Tony and Cherie Blair were also tripping the light fantastic. It was, after all, a Noah’s Ark theme and they came in twos: PM and Osborne, Blairs, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. Perhaps the Chancellor is so confident that his pre-Budget report will be a festival of good news that he feels he can start partying again.

Thus The Spectator gossip column.

Except that wasn’t the first draft of this little piece of history. The Daily Telegraph gossip, Mandrake, had a variant reading. Key members of the Chipping Norton set were not among the festive throng at Burford Priory:

Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, who famously attended Freud’s last big bash in 2011, days before the Milly Dowler phone hacking scandal broke, was nowhere to be seen …

David Cameron, too, kept his distance from the group and was absent from the celebrations. Since the phone hacking scandal erupted the Prime Minister has gone to great lengths to diassociate himself from Brooks. Freud confirms to me that neither were present.

Note, carefully, that the “confirmation” allegedly came to the Torygraph from Freud himself. “Steerpike”, that Speccie observer of the passing social scene, was keen to put his record straight:

Elizabeth Murdoch’s husband Matthew Freud has ‘clarified’ that Cameron and Osborne were actually at his birthday party on Saturday, as described by Mr Steerpike yesterday. Initially, Mr Freud said that the PM had not attended.

Ditto Tim Walker at the Telegraph, just today:

When I asked Matthew Freud, Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law, if David Cameron had attended his 50th birthday party in Oxfordshire over the weekend, the PR man answered: “no…. please let me know if you would like a more explicit clarification.”

“Clarification” came, however, 24 hours later, when, after I posed the question again, one of Freud’s associates got in touch to “clarify” that the PM, had, in fact, been there. He said that George Osborne was also a guest.

Walker’s tone may imply some asperity. He goes out of his way to dig a bit more dirt:

Among public relations professionals, there often appears to have been a reticence about talking about Murdoch-related matters: one thinks of the belated statement about the horse that Cameron rode that was lent to Miss Brooks by the police, and the Christmas party he attended at her home in 2010, along with James Murdoch, as News Corp was trying to take over BSkyB.

“Reticence” may be the Retort Courteous, but Freud went for the Lie Direct. Back to the punch-lines of As You Like It, Act V, scene 4:

Jaques: Is not this a rare fellow, my lord? he’s as good at any thing and yet a fool.

Duke Senior: He uses his folly like a stalking-horse and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit.

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Three degrees of falsehood, and ten degrees of the Eighth Circle

Last summer, from the web-site of the University of York’s Department of Mathematics (of all unlikely places to find any lit.crit), there was an exhaustive history of who and how the cliché originated about “lies, damn lies and statistics”. The conclusion, if somewhat fuzzy, declared the begetter was Sir Charles Dilke, but deriving it from many earlier variants.

Somewhat conveniently, if only for regional pride, was:

A query in Notes and Queries (7th Ser. xii) (1891 Oct. 10), p. 288, reads as follows:

DEGREES OF FALSEHOOD. – Who was it who said, “There are three degrees of falsehood: the first is a fib, the second is a lie, and then come statistics”?      ST. SWITHIN

According to Folklore 41 (3) (1930), 301 and 63 (1) (1952), 4–5, “St. Swithin” was a pseudonym used by Mrs Eliza Gutch (1840–1931), of Holgate Lodge, York.

They’re still at it!

The most blackened liar is the politician who twists a statistic to support a point. Here, from the letters page of this week’s Ham&High in front of Malcolm, we have a prime specimen:

Stephen Greenhalgh, London’s deputy mayor for policing and crime, writes:

Crime has fallen, but we want to boost public confidence and make London safer. [etc., etc.]

A Google search suggests Greenhalgh issues, and re-issues press releases on this line, regurgitates similar statements on public occasions, quite indefatigably. There’ll probably be another one along in the morning. That’s why the grateful citizens of London pay him something around £100,000 a year, plus expenses and pension rights.

Let him who is without sin …

Meanwhile, Greenhalgh is himself not above suspicion, and Dave Hill has him in his sights:

As the police watchdog considers whether to investigate Boris Johnson’s policing deputy Stephen Greenhalgh over alleged illegal conduct by public officers of Hammersmith and Fulham council when he was its leader, it is instructive to consider the passion with which Greenhalgh supported the ambitious redevelopment scheme at the heart of the affair – the Earls Court project.

And then, lest we forget, there was the City Hall groping:

Boris Johnson‘s deputy mayor for policing has apologised “unreservedly” following an allegation that he molested a female member of staff in a city hall lift.

Stephen Greenhalgh, the former Tory leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, who now holds day-to-day responsibility in the mayor’s office for policing and crime, allegedly patted a female member of staff on the bottom while in a lift last month.

Last seen above Lenin’s tomb

Put Greenhalgh into an ill-cut Soviet era suit, and one instantly lines him up alongside the Bulganins,  Malenkovs and Berias for a Red Square May Day parade:

Stephen Greenhalgh and Boris Johnson

So, for the occasion, let’s adapt a Stalinite apothegm:

It’s not the crimes that count, it’s how, and by whom they are counted.

In the exact case of crime statistics, the Guardian‘s Datablog, Facts are sacred, ran the slide-rule over the official numbers a while ago. It noted all kinds of jiggery-pokery:

    • A concurrent but separate ONS publication shows that the rate of police recorded crime has fallen more quickly than the rate of reported crime found in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW).
    • It’s important to bear in mind that today’s release focuses on police recorded crimes. These are provided to the Home Office by police authorities and forces, not all of whom collect data with the same precision according to a 2007 audit. This is problematic because it means that a higher number in a given area may indicate an improvement in reporting by police rather than a rise in criminality.
    • … crimes recorded by police are unlikely to represent the total number of crimes that take place. To understand this better, it’s useful to also consider the CSEW which asks people face-to-face about their experiences of, attitudes about and perceptions of a range of crimes.
    • The gap between police-recorded and survey-reported crime has always been significant, but the distance between the two has widened. In 2004/05, there was an effective recording rate of 52.8%, while in the latest statistical release, this figure has dropped to 42.4%

And even this:

    • Another of the more interesting figures is that of the perception of crime. The CSEW asks people whether they think crime is getting worse where they live and nationally. So, people think crime is getting worse – but not where they live. It’s the gap between what we know is going on and what we think is going on.

That last one, where Malcolm is sitting, means that the propaganda of stooges like Greenhalgh may be working.

Put the whole shebang together, and the only reasonable conclusion is:

Crime figures aren’t worth the ink used to print them.

Conjugation: I’m usually a law-abiding citizen, you’re a bit dodgy: that bloke ought to go down for a long stretch.

Meanwhile the really big crimes — Harry-the-Horse and  the multinationals who don’t pay taxes, the fraudsters who exploit concessions for charity to rip us all off — are officially not crimes at all.

Then there’s the little stuff:

It’s illegal to ride a motorcycle or drive using hand-held phones or similar devices.

The rules are the same if you’re stopped at traffic lights or queuing in traffic.

It’s also illegal to use a hand-held phone or similar device when supervising a learner driver or rider.

Malcolm would give fair odds that at least the second of those requirements is not known to the average driver. Yet — note — all are “illegal”, which means “against the law”. And Malcolm, waiting for a few minutes at bus-stops in north London, counts five, six or more drivers quite blatantly disregarding the law, frequently in full view of that CCTV camera that collect fines if you pause for thirty seconds to allow a passenger to get out (£50 free and for nothing to the local authority).

Here’s a writ that goes unenforced on a daily basis:

Bernard Hogan-Howe [the Met’s Commissioner] indicated that he believed the current punishment of three penalty points and a £60 fine was not a strong enough deterrent for drivers.

By increasing the punishment to six points, drivers would be banned from the road if they were caught twice for the offence within three years.

Writing on the Met’s website, the commissioner said this would make drivers take the law on driving while on the phone more seriously and improve road safety.

That interprets as we don’t bother to enforce the law. We expect you, the potential offenders to understand and obey the law. But if we’re forced to apply the law, we expect it to have teeth. If only because it makes us look as though we’re doing our job. And, if the offence was significantly up-graded, we’d have more motivation, and look even better. Oh, and by the way, if you’re phoning and driving, don’t mow down that child, because — if you do — we have to check your phone records, which is a real fag.

That makes all the more remarkable the coincidence, nay the the assiduity of the Met Police, in catching (and so banning) Chris Huhne for driving the Old Kent Road while phoning. And that, by coincidence, within weeks of him avoiding a ban for speeding by having his wife take the points.

Where does this place the Office of National Statistics, Deputy Mayor Greenhalge, and others? —

Destination: Malebolge

Dante's hell

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