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Why Labour lies about crime in 2017 succeeded where similar Tory lies failed in 2010

BBC Radio 4 puts out a well-regarded programme on statistics called “More or Less”, in which presenter Tim Harford looks at uses and abuses of statistics. The most recent episode was a topical one covering the general election just past.

Here’s a link to the “Post-Election Special” on BBC iPlayer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08wr7ss

That link won’t last long and may not be playable outside the UK. Downloads of this and other episodes will be available indefinitely here.

If you cannot or prefer not to listen to the programme, I have transcribed the section I wanted to post about below. Typing it all out was slow work. I bothered doing the work for two reasons.

One, the BBC came much closer than it usually does to saying out loud that that the Labour Party knowingly lied on an important matter during the election campaign. We can tell with unusual clarity that Labour knew they were lying because they were lying in exactly the same way that the Tories had lied in 2010, only then the Tories were called out on it.

Two, that there has been an interesting change in the chances of such a lie being challenged before it is too late. When the Tories were telling this particular lie in 2010, they were doing so in the pages of the press and on TV, seen by millions all at once – and talked about all at once. But when Labour told their equivalent lies in 2017, they did it on Facebook posts that are passed between individuals. Though a great number may eventually see the original video, they do so as individuals. If they find it convincing, they pass it on to other individuals, and there is no reason why the recipient should be any better informed than the sender. Compared to a broadcast or news article, or even a blog post, it is less likely to come to the attention of those who know enough to rebut it. Even if it does and they do, the rebuttal is less likely to ever come to the attention of those who saw the original.

Often this sort of campaign by social media ends up as “a tale told by an idiot; full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. People who already agree with each other are stimulated to agree ever more vehemently only to discover the morning after the election that the people who didn’t already agree weren’t listening. However when, as in this case, the video appears to be heavy with facts and to come from a non-partisan source, it can work very well.

Time I got round to talking about the specific claims at issue. The section of the election episode of “More or Less” that I’m interested in starts at 17:35 and lasts until 23:06.

Tim Harford, the presenter, says,

“It is widely believed that the youth vote boosted the Labour party and one of the things that may well have been influencing young people were viral videos on social media. In the last few days before the election, we were contacted by a loyal listener who had seen one of these videos. It was on Facebook and it was being promoted by the Labour party. And it had received 1.4 million views.

“Unfortunately we weren’t able to get to it before the election, but these elections seem to be a bit like buses; there may well be another one along in a minute. And in any case, there’s never a bad time to talk about the truth.

“The video in question featured an event where an official from the trade union Unison, Ben Priestley, was giving a speech. Mr Priestley represents union members who work for the police or as prison officers, and he was sitting next to Shadow Cabinet minister Keir Starmer.

“Here’s a clip from the speech.”

We then hear the voice of Ben Priestley saying,

“Since 2012/13 there’s been a 29% increase in possession of weapons. This is police recorded crime. These are the crimes that the police themselves, through a rigorous process, have deemed to be crimes. A 29% increase in possession of weapons. A 65% increase in violence against the person. A 38% increase in assault with injury. Sexual offences are up 97%. Public order offences are up 54%.

“Now, if those figures weren’t shocking enough, this government which has claimed repeatedly, and also claimed in the Conservative party manifesto, that crime is falling. But nothing could actually be further from the truth. The government relies on the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which is an opinion poll which disregards homicide, it disregards sexual offences, it disregards crimes against business. It is a very, very small proportion of overall crime.

“So the government relies on those figures to tell the electorate that crime is falling, whereas recorded crime figures tell exactly the opposite story.”

Then it cuts back to Tim Harford, who says,

“Strong stuff. And Jeremy Corbyn’s twitter account tweeted a link to the speech with the text ‘Watch: national police officer Ben Priestley destroys Tory lies on crime rates.’

(Here is that video: https://www.facebook.com/JeremyCorbyn4PM/videos/1707133912914014/. Note that Ben Priestley is not a “national police officer” in the sense of being a policeman himself. He isn’t even a trade union representative for police officers, who are forbidden to join ordinary trade unions. Mr Priestley is Unison’s National Officer for Police and Justice, dealing with the workplace rights of civilian employees of the police. Whether intentionally or not, the description of him as a “national police officer” in Jeremy Corbyn’s video stream was misleading.)

Hartford continues,

“But are they lies? The accusation here is that the government is ignoring police recorded crime statistics and relying on the Crime Survey for England and Wales and that this is a lie because police recorded crime is a better measure. But that’s wrong. Neither method is perfect, but most crime stats nerds will tell you that the survey is better.

“The UK Statistics Authority looked at police recorded crime statistics in 2014 and decided that they were so unreliable that they should no longer be counted as an official national statistic. On the other hand, the Crime Survey for England and Wales is an official national statistic. It is not a small ad hoc opinion poll, it’s a nationally representative survey that measures the extent of crime by asking households whether they’ve experienced any crime in the last twelve months. In 2016/2017 approximately 50,000 households will be selected to take part in this research.

“And it’s just bizarre to suggest that it covers a very, very small proportion of overall crime because it captures more than twice as many crimes as the police data.

“But what about the shocking figures that the video quotes from the police recorded crime stats? Is that a true rise in crime or just a rise in the recording of crime? Since the Statistics Authority criticised the police recording of crime stats there’s been a big rise in the reporting of crimes that the police were not recording properly, such as low level violence and public order offences. The Office for National Statistics is very clear. They say, ‘Due to the renewed focus on the quality of crime recording by the police, this crime series is not currently believed to provide a reliable measure of trends, owing to the ensuing efforts of police forces to tighten recording practice and improve recording processes.’

“So the video suggests crime is rising by using cherry-picked, unreliable statistics, while dissing the more reliable statistics that serious policy wonks pay attention to. The true picture? Well, I think we got that from the crime policy writer Tom Gash, earlier on in our series. ”

Tom Gash then speaks, saying,

” I think what we’ve seen over the last twenty five years is this very, very steady fall in crime. Over the last two or three years we’ve certainly seen a plateauing of that fall in crime in a number of areas, but particularly in terms of serious violence.”

Back to Tim Harford, who concludes,

“These videos are important. You often see them after your friends share them, so they come with a recommendation.

“What’s interesting about this claim of Tories lying about crime figures is that Labour politicians weren’t making it in debates or in political interviews. It was made in a Facebook video of a press conference, where it was far less likely to be challenged.

“In 2010, the then Conservative shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, made a similar criticism about crime under the Labour government, using police recorded crime stats rather than the Crime Survey. But because his claims were made in a more public forum they were rebutted by the then Home Secretary Alan Johnson, and in a letter from Sir Michael Scholar, then Chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, who said, ‘I must take issue with what you said yesterday about violent crime statistics, which seems to me likely to damage public trust in official statistics.’

“But in the era of social media, all political parties can make claims that are far less likely to get properly examined – unless, of course, our loyal listeners put us on the case. ”

One might wish they had got round to following up on what their loyal listener had alerted them to before the election.

Remember it was mentioned that the man who was sitting next to Ben Priestley when he made that speech was Keir Starmer, or to give him his proper title, Sir Keir Starmer KCB QC MP? You can see him sitting on Mr Priestley’s right on the Labour video, looking at his hands and taking the odd note. Well, Keir Starmer isn’t just any old member of the Cabinet. He has specialist knowledge. Back in 2010 when the Tories made their false claims about crime statistics, he was Director of Public Prosecutions. Analyses of how the final figures for convictions were related to numbers of prosecutions and the underlying crime rates must have came across his desk almost daily. Here he is in 2013 writing for the Guardian about just these issues in relation to rape and violence against women. I find it hard to believe that as Sir Keir Starmer listened from two feet away to Ben Priestley’s claims about the National Crime Survey being merely an “opinion poll”, he did not know better, and that he did not also know that Mr Priestley’s claims about a 97% rise in sexual offences and so on were rubbish. I find it hard to believe that he did not remember from 2010 the cutting response made by the then Labour Home Secretary to similar hyped-up allegations when they came from the Tories:

Alan Johnson, the home secretary, said the British Crime Survey indicated that violent crime had fallen by 41% since 1997. “It’s one thing to make a slip-up on your figures – it’s quite another to deliberately mislead.”

Yet he remained silent. Is he happy to be associated with this video?

The uncertainty principle in violence blame mechanics

Sometimes one is privileged to witness the discovery of a law of science.

Δl Δm > M

Six years ago I wrote a post called “Two contrasting articles by Michael Tomasky on spree killers”. In that post I compared an article Mr Tomasky wrote in January 2011 after the attempted murder of (Democratic) Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the course of a spree killing carried out by Jared Loughner (“In the US, where hate rules at the ballot box, this tragedy has been coming for a long time”), to another article written by him in November 2009, just after the mass killing at Fort Hood by Major Nidal Hasan (“American, for better or worse”).

Regarding Hasan, Mr Tomasky was of the opinion that “We have much more to learn about Hasan before we can jump to any conclusions” and “We should assume until it’s proven otherwise that Hasan was an American and a loyal one, who just snapped”.

Regarding Loughner, Tomasky felt much more able to draw immediate conclusions. He wrote, “You don’t have to believe that alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, is a card-carrying Tea Party member (he evidently is not) to see some kind of connection between that violent rhetoric and what happened in Arizona on Saturday” and “So what particular type of nut is Loughner? We don’t have a full picture yet. But we have enough of one. His coherent ravings included the conviction that the constitution assured him that “you don’t have to accept the federalist laws”. He called a female classmate who had an abortion a ‘terrorist'”.

Forgive the lengthy prologue. I was prompted to write this post by the fact that Mr Tomasky has now added a third article to the series, concerning the attempted murder of Congressman Steve Scalise and other Republicans by James Hodgkinson: “One Left-Wing Gunman Doesn’t Make a Movement”. He is back to a state of unknowing.

We may never know about James Hodgkinson’s mental state in the days and hours leading up to his horrifying attack Wednesday morning, since he’s dead. We know that he was left wing, a comparative rarity for a political assassin in the United States these days.


But it’s my hunch that Hodgkinson was not part of any broader movement.

In quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle says that “the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be known, and vice versa.”

A similar principle may be discerned in the field of “violence blame mechanics”, an emerging field of political science. The complementary variables in this case are Δl, the uncertainty of left-protectnedness, and Δm, the uncertainty of motivation for violence. “Left-protectedness” can be manifested as actually holding left wing beliefs or as belonging to a group regarded as oppressed by the left, such as Muslims or dark skinned people.

In layman’s language, the more certainty there is that a perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class, the less certain it is possible to be about his motives. Thus the very act of seeing that the Facebook page of James T. Hodgkinson included a Bernie Sanders banner and the words “Democratic Socialism explained in 3 words” makes it impossible to know his motives.

“Uncertainty of motive” can also be reformulated as “time before it is proper to speculate on motive” by a simple mathematical transformation, with tm tending to zero in the case of Loughner and infinity in the cases of Hasan and Hodgkinson. This explains the apparent contradiction of how it was improper to guess at Nidal Hasan’s motives before trial despite the widely reported fact that survivors heard him shouting “Allahu Akbar” as he fired, but that when it came to Jared Loughner Mr Tomasky felt that we had enough of a picture the day after the attack.

In tribute to the clarity with which his writings have demonstrated the concept, I had thought of calling this law “Tomasky’s uncertainty principle” but, as so often in the history of science, the same discovery has been made by several different researchers. It is a crowded field. To establish priority, readers are invited to submit examples where a particular author has demonstrated his or her understanding of the principle by citing multiple articles showing it in operation for different values of Δl and Δm.

Meanwhile, may I suggest that we should name the equivalent of Planck’s constant in a way that does justice to the collective nature of the development of this principle. Let us call it M, the Media constant. Thus the law can be stated in mathematical form as Δl Δm > M. I have added this equation to the top of the post.

Edit: I must draw your attention to the very cogent objections raised by Moore, L. (2017):

If “the complementary variables in this case are Δl, the uncertainty of left-protectnedness, and Δm, the uncertainty of motivation for violence” then the first variable isn’t really the degree of certainty that a perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class, but the degree of certainty as to whether a perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class.

And then of course the whole Tomasky uncertainty principle collapses in a heap, because if we know for sure that a perpetrator of violence is a right winger we have zero uncertainty about whether the perpetrator of violence held a left wing position or belonged to a left wing protected class. This should mean the uncertainty of motive is infinitely large. But it isn’t. It’s zero. If we know for sure that if the perp was a rightie, we know for sure the motive was rightiness.

I suspect what we have here is Tomasky’s exclusion principle, derived not from Heisenberg, but from Pauli. Left wing motives and violence turn out to be identical Graunions, which cannot occupy the same quantum state at the same time. They simply cannot co-exist in one event. The one excludes the other.

“Let’s officially have a look at that”

Alison Hernandez was a little too open to new ideas:

Civilian gun owners could help fight terror attacks, police commissioner suggests

A police commissioner has suggested that civilians with gun licences could be allowed to use private weapons to defend their community against terrorists, in comments that have been rejected by a senior officer.

Alison Hernandez, the police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, said “I’d really be interested in exploring that” and “let’s officially have a look at that” when a caller suggested the idea during a radio phone-in.

She said she was interested in having a conversation with her chief constable to “see what would be the implications of it”.

However, her comments led to a warning from a senior officer that citizens should not arm themselves and the force said that armed civilians could be caught in the crossfire.

Deputy Chief Constable Paul Netherton told the BBC it was “definitely an emphatic ‘no'” that people should be arming themselves against such a threat.

A Police and Crime Commissioner is “an elected official in England and Wales charged with securing efficient and effective policing of a police area”, rather than an actual police officer, so do not be misled into thinking that openly expressed crimethink has reached the police. But it has reached people who officially talk to the police.

This is why every woman needs a decent-sized handbag

The two kidnappers saw little threat when their victim’s sister-in-law approached their vehicle, fumbling with her handbag.

But what Ayisha Falaq finally produced from the bag was a pistol. Even worse for the kidnappers, the mother of two is a national-grade markswoman.

“I just took my gun and shot them,” says Falaq, 32, who lives in Delhi. “I shot one in his leg, the other in the waist.”

Nice to see a positive story about legal gun owners using their guns to defend innocent citizens against criminals in the Guardian.

British people will start arming themselves

One probable outcome of the emergence of knife wielding jihadis on British streets will be an increase in British people arming themselves as well. Of course, this will be treated as a bigger threat than the jihadis by the state, but one might speculate how many unarmed people would have been killed and wounded if the jihadis had not chosen to attack in well protected central London but rather some part of the country where armed policeman are few and far between.

Discussion point: the new normal

For many people, 9/11 remade their political world. Excluding 9/11 itself, has continuing Islamist terrorism in the years since 2001, such as last night’s attack at London Bridge, changed your beliefs?

“Of course people change what they do when this stuff happens. That’s why it happens.”

Stefan Molyneux on the Manchester bombing.

Samizdata data point of the day

I am not sure this works as a quote of the day, but it certainly does count as a data point so eye-popping that I wanted to share it:

Forty-three hundred people, including two dozen children under the age of 12, were shot in Chicago last year.

That’s right: 4,300 people shot in a major US city during a period of 12 months.

Samizdata quote of the day

Noting the “unintended but disconcerting” link between nation-state activity and criminal activity, Smith adds that governments need “to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits”. The “Digital Geneva Convention” Redmond recommends would therefore require governments “to report vulnerabilities to vendors, rather than stockpile, sell, or exploit them”.

Richard Chirgwin

Unintended? Not so sure about that.

When all else fails …

If all the approved policies fail, but a disapproved policy looks like it might work, then the disapproved policy is what might very well end up being done. Discuss.

While you’re discussing that, allow me to throw in this titbit of news, from the Czech Republic, which I encountered in the Washington Post:

Now the country’s interior ministry is pushing a constitutional change that would let citizens use guns against terrorists. Proponents say this could save lives if an attack occurs and police are delayed or unable to make their way to the scene. To become law, Parliament must approve the proposal; they’ll vote in the coming months.

From the bit linked to in that paragraph, this:

… it is not always possible for the police to guarantee a fast and effective intervention and fast action from a member of the public could prevent the loss of many lives.


Spotting Muslim terrorists is hard because so many Muslims behave like about-to-be-terrorists that it’s hard to know which ones to pick on and stop. And when one of them does strike, it could be anywhere, and the government can’t be everywhere. Only people can.

One of the bigger long term impacts of Muslim immigration into Europe could prove to be an armed European citizenry. Discuss some more.

Two articles about sexual violence in left wing papers that surprised me

The first article was by Eve Livingston writing in the Guardian: “The state is an enabler of sexual violence. So what hope for the victims?”

The headline caught my interest, which lasted well into the third paragraph. She wrote,

Violence does not exist solely in the instant that blow meets body, but in the circumstances that facilitate it and the systems which excuse it.

My heart soared. Could it be that Ayn Rand’s argument that all state laws are ultimately enforced at gunpoint had penetrated the pages of the Guardian? For it is certainly true that the state facilitates and excuses its own violence, and I have long thought that this produces a climate of opinion that tends to facilitate and excuse violent acts by anyone.

‘Fraid not. It was just another rehash of the tired old trick of redefining “violence” to mean “anything I don’t like”. Ms Livingston thinks that the government spending less money than she thinks it should on women’s refuges is “violence”. As is the government spending less on anything, or talking in metaphors that might induce unpleasant thoughts.

If economic policy too accurately embodies its violent language of slashing and cutting,

Whatevs, thought I. And nearly missed a rather good point:

…legislation around crime and justice delivers an almost laughable irony. In some cases, the very laws purportedly designed to protect women from violence can, in practice, enable it: the criminalisation of various activities relating to the sale of sex, for example, is universally opposed by sex worker-organising collectives, on the grounds that it limits their ability to work safely – for instance, in groups or designated zones – and without fear of violence from both clients and state agencies.

I was surprised and glad to read this. Until now almost the only voice in the Guardian opposing the fashionable “Nordic model” put forward by an unholy alliance between old style authoritarian conservatives such as Caroline Spelman MP and Gavin Shuker MP (one of whom does and one does not have the abbreviation for “Conservative” written after their name, not that it matters) and new style authoritarian feminists such as Guardian regulars Joan Smith and Catherine Bennett, came from Melissa Gira Grant. Ably though the latter writes, she tends to be discounted because she would actually know. Dear me, we can’t have that.

I really was glad to see that Eve Livingston sees that laws that claim to protect women from violence can have the opposite effect. It is sad that she almost hid her message from me (and not only me judging from the comments) by that silly attempt to stick the label “violence” on something that, even if one believes it to be bad, is not violence. Ironically that same trick is played by the crusading politicians she rightly opposes. Click on the link relating to Gavin Shuker MP above to read the following (emphasis added):

The year-long parliamentary enquiry argues that prostitution should be seen as violence against women and an affront to sexual equality, but sex workers have reacted furiously to the proposals arguing that the criminalisation of clients will push sex work underground, further stigmatise women and put lives at risk.

The second article that surprised me is from the New Statesman. Sarah Ditum writes, “What’s missing from the transgender debate? Any discussion of male violence.”

One of those things that supposedly never happens, happened. Luke Mallaband was convicted of six voyeurism offences after a female student at the University of East Anglia found his phone hidden in the university library’s gender-neutral toilets. The probation report described him as “high risk of posing serious harm to females”.

Here I was simply and honestly surprised that a piece in the New Statesman admitted there was a potential problem at all. I had thought that the whole “transgender bathroom rights” issue was still so new and shiny, like a newly socialist country whose economy has not yet visibly gone to pot, that no one on the Left dared break ranks. But Sarah Ditum did dare, and despite the many poor arguments elsewhere in her article, she saw where Eve Livingston did not the danger in the attempt to use the emotions stirred up by a word as a substitute for argument:

“Inclusion” and “equality” are words with strong positive connotations, and those positive connotations can sometimes smother the problem of competing rights in a warm feel-good fuzz. On 1 December, Parliament debates the report of the Women and Equalities Committee into transgender equality: from reading it, you would have very little idea that the rights of women and the rights claimed by trans people have any points of conflict.

It is not that I have any particular opinion on whether gender neutral public toilets are a Good Thing or a Bad Thing in general. Of course they should be allowed, and of course gender segregated public toilets should be allowed. Libertarianism offers a way out of the contradictions about the “competing rights” of this or that group: respect the right of whoever provides the toilets in a premises to enforce what rules they think best and the right of potential users of the toilets to use those ones or go elsewhere as they think best.

The State stalking the stalkers – and everyone else

Yet another knife in the face of the rule of law is proposed in England and Wales, to deal with the problem of stalking.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, appears to be pleased with the proposals.

New stalking protection orders will be introduced to better protect victims at the earliest possible stage, the home secretary has announced.
Amber Rudd called it “a practical solution to a crime taking place now”.

A closer inspection of the proposals reveals a familiar tactic, imposing a court order on someone who has not been convicted of any crime, and making a breach of that order a crime. This has already been in place since the Protection From Harassment Act 1997 was brought in, which was, IIRC, supposed to have dealt with this problem.

And look at the box of tricks that the State is offering:

The orders in England and Wales will help those who are targeted by strangers, giving them similar protection to domestic abuse victims.
Breaching an order’s conditions will be a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of five years in jail.
Police will be able to apply to the courts for an order before a stalking suspect has been convicted or even arrested.
The requirements of the order will vary according to the nature of the case. Typically, the suspect will be banned from going near the victim and contacting them online.

So no need to even arrest someone, just dump an order on them, and that will be a good start. But there’e more, all very Soviet if you ask me.

They might also be ordered to attend a rehabilitation programme, or undergo treatment if they have a mental health problem.

So without so much as a chance to argue your case, you could find yourself ordered to undergo treatment, and risk 5 years in jail if you refuse.

Not that it is much better that this could perhaps only follow a conviction.

So what do the police think?

The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for stalking and harassment, Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan, said:”We want to stop stalkers in their tracks.
“The launch of stalking protection orders will help us intervene earlier and place controls on perpetrators to prevent their behaviour escalating while the crime is investigated.”

Not, I note ‘We want to bring suspects before the courts if the evidence justifies arrest, charge and a realistic prospect of conviction in a situation where it is in the public interest to prosecute, even though prosecution is a matter for the Crown, not the police.’, which would be a bare minimum of respect for the rule of law. But clearly not a shoot-to-kill to ‘stop stalkers in their tracks‘.

And what do the ‘charities’ think?

Rachel Griffin, director of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust which manages the National Stalking Helpline, welcomed the announcement.
“We are really excited that the order allows positive obligations to be put on a stalker,” Ms Griffin said.
“But of course that mental health treatment needs to be available at local level.”

This ‘trust’ is named for a murdered estate agent. I don’t see how killing the rule of law is an appropriate memorial to her. And did you note the sly hint that (State) funding is important?

And on what pretext is the rule of law being sacrificed, with a dagger in the chest for the beating heart to be pulled out and eaten warm?

Stalking protection orders form part of a package of government action to coincide with 16 days of action following the 25 November International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women.

How about the elimination of violence against the rule of law?