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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?

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

  • Paul Marks

    So people were misled by Facebook stuff to think that crime is going up when it is really going down – but why would that make them vote Labour? The Labour Party is led by Social Justice types (Mr Corbyn, Mr McDonell and so on) who support crime – as part of the Social Justice agenda. Anyway, according to socialism, criminals are “the real victims” – the “victims of capitalist society”.

    Why would anyone who is against crime vote for a political party that is in favour of crime? It does not make sense.

    Of course the Conservative Party is led by people who also say they are in favour of Social Justice – and who refuse to discuss any matter in terms of principles (indeed the Manifesto contained very strong ATTACKS on anti socialist principles).

    I do not remember any actual attacks from the Conservative Party H.Q. on Labour Party PRINCIPLES at any time during the campaign – it was all “strong and stable government” (yawn) and “we are honest and hardworking – and on your side” (when politicians come out with rubbish like that it just provokes mocking laughter). No where did the Conservative leadership do the basic thing of explaining why the principles of Mr Corbyn and Mr McDonell are evil.

    It was almost as if the Conservative leadership (Mrs May and so on) were not capable of making a principled case.

    As Ayn Rand put it about the Russian Civil War.

    “The Reds believed in plundering and in rule by terror, and the Whites believed in NOTHING – therefore the Reds won”.

    The Reds lost in this election – but not by much. They will probably win in 2022 (the Credit Bubble economy will have long collapsed by then – and most people will be suffering in dreadful poverty) then the plundering and rule by terror will really get under way. With the full democratic consent of the electorate.

  • Mr Ecks

    Its being so cheerful wot keeps you going eh Paul.

  • How many of the youth voters who saw this video listen to Radio 4?

  • Though I’ve never met him, I feel I have known Paul for a long time (well, 13 years).

    It’s being (justly) angry that keeps him going. Long may it last.

    Best regards

  • Paul Marks (June 21, 2017 at 3:07 pm), the reason the lie affected the vote is the same reason that “5000 less police officers” (whether true or not) affected it. Law and Order is indeed a Tory issue where few expect Corbyn (!) to do better, but if the Tories (in a voter’s eyes) are not doing well on it then it makes less difference: might as well decide your vote on something else.

    The same thing applies to the NHS, a Labour issue. Show that Labour caused today’s NHS problems and that helps the Tories, not directly – Labourites will shout “But you can’t turn to the Tories – they don’t care about the NHS” and many will believe that but they will be less motivated to see that issue as crucial if they think both parties can’t solve it, so more motivated to decide which party to vote for based on something else.

    I’m thinking here of swing voters – voters already unsure which party to chose. There are also voters unsure whether to bother voting. Demotivating those who would vote Tory if they bothered is electoral gain to Labour.

  • Natalie, this kind of “what’s true” analysis is really good; thanks for posting and for making the effort to type it out. I note that the BBC – in a programme few heard (and few might know of, but for you) – have given us a bit of value for our license fee. Let us grant credit where it is due.

  • bobby b

    The unfortunate part about this is that the mass of people who saw and were misled by the facebook posts will never encounter this after-analysis. Too complex and boring, and not nearly as fun as “damn those evil conservatives!”

    The conventional wisdom will now reflect what the facebook posts claimed. “Bush lied!” continues to be an effective campaign strategy.

  • Lee Moore

    It’s long been very obvious that Starmer is a hard hard lefty with a smart suit.

    Why would he bother about a useful lie ?

    For all the image of the Blair / Brown government as being moderate (except in the matter of the public chequebook) they certainly managed to stack the apparat with some genuine hard cases.

  • NickM

    This is taking things a bit OT but it is in response to Niall. A couple of months ago I spent four days in Stepping Hill hospital (South Manchester). I had pneumonia. It cleared up via IV antibiotics. I have no complaints as such about my NHS treatment except some biggies…

    Nobody told me what was wrong with me* and the getting out when cured was not easy. Those are number one. The second happened yesterday. I was discharged as A-OK. Nobody mentioned anything about any follow-up but yesterday I got home from two weeks holiday on Crete (highly recommended BTW) but and I saw in my mail that an appointment had been made for me to see a consultant for a follow-up. If my holiday plans had been a day out I would have missed this through absolutely no fault of my own. The consultant, Mr Das, an Indian fellow of hobbit-scale was actually apologetic. He examined me, got a chest X-ray and actually explained the issues and why I had been summoned. Stepping Hill had discharged me as “sorted” but the Difference Engines of the NHS had forwarded me back to my GP and then back to Stepping Hill because this was standard OP for the GP**. So my time and the consultant’s time was essentially wasted. That is why Mr Das (a consultant cardio-thoracic surgeon) was apologetic. He was apologetic not just to me but for the system. Both of us would much rather he was spending his time and all of our monies on someone who was actually sick rather than someone who had spent the best part of the last fortnight swimming in the sea and photographing the fishes with my Praktica and climbing over Minoan ruins and getting lost wandering around towns called things like Anoyia with no ill effects. In fact I felt pretty bloody good.

    So what went wrong? Comms is the answer. Organisation as well. The great myth of the NHS is in the “N”. I was initially sent to Stepping Hill by a GP (who was verging on rude to me – and I was not well) that was not my GP but one three miles down the road where they operate out of normal hours but that was Derbyshire, not Cheshire (I live very near the border). She called an ambulance to take me. there followed a comedy of errors that I wasn’t quite bad enough to not appreciate at some level. Her printer didn’t work so she typed my notes and then wrote them down from the screen. The ambulance lads were grand but they had a similar issue. They had a Panasonic Toughbook (an expensive rugged-ish lappy) which should, but didn’t, tell the receiving hospital (Stepping Hill) what was wrong with me. Apparently they could connect to Macclesfield but not Stepping Hill and they knew not why because it was just one of them mysteries. This meant of course more pen and paper and more explaining upon arrival. More time = money. More worry for my wife. More hassle for me. More cost to the taxpayer (inc. me) and all the effing rest. What ought to have been a three minute Buddy Holly song was transmogrified into Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

    I am not saying I wasn’t sick and I am not saying the NHS didn’t treat me well but they did it so inefficiently that it inevitably raises (and answers) a major question. The NHS is not underfunded. It is chaotically organised. If organised properly my treatment would have cost less. Partly this is due to the lack of communication between NHS trusts and partly due to insane IT procurement. An ambulance with an expensive laptop that can’t connect to the nearest A&E? A computer that can’t print despite being connected to a printer? Keeping folks in until a consultant can let you go (unless you “create” as I did). Not telling a sick person what is actually wrong with them? Getting sent back for no compelling reason to see a top fella ($$$) who was utterly vague as to the “why?”. I’m pretty sure he only ordered that X-ray because he had to like, you know, do something beyond saying, “Nick, you are in fine form and I have no fucking idea why the lilac-scented buggery we are both here talking about this”.

    The NHS is not short of cash. It is though thoroughly, structurally, disorganised. It is very clearly not fit for porpoise (or any other mammal – marine or otherwise).

    Timmy goes private. That works like a dream. He is insured. His healthcare providers are highly professional and well organised. They only work out of a smallish place but all their kit (including digital X-rays) is state of the art. Indeed they are one of the best outfits of their type in the North West of England. They are skilled, smart, caring and efficient.

    They are vets and Timmy is my cat.

    *I finally found out from the Ward Sister who was most excellent. She got me discharged all pukka like. Otherwise I would have been bed-blocking despite being entirely well on a surgical ward which for some bizarre reason I’d been transferred to in the dead of night. Thing was it was a Friday and all the consultants who give a cursory look at the charts and wave a pen were knocking off and they normally have to sign you out.

    **I was told by Mr Das that the GPs had reffed me back to the hospital because they didn’t have digital X-ray machines and it would take “weeks” to get the films processed. That is why I was booted back. Why they don’t have that tech at the GPs (and it is a pretty big outfit) is a mystery. But one essentially down to lack of organisation.

  • Jamesg

    I get quite a few Independent stories drop in my facebook feed. Just reading between the lines of the accompanying article makes you realise the headline is basically fake news. Normally it is the ‘it has been reported’ bullshit. But the confirmation bias addicts lap it up.

  • CaptDMO

    Say…Has that liable case of Professor Michael E. Mann STILL stalled due to “discovery” of
    what the definition of “is” is?

  • The Pedant-General

    Politician lies. Film at 11

  • bobby b

    NickM
    June 21, 2017 at 10:45 pm

    “I have no complaints as such about my NHS treatment except some biggies… “

    I’ve tried getting treatment in the government-run Canadian system. Horrid. I’ve gone through the insurance system in the US. Better, but . . .

    Best system I’ve encountered came when I cancelled my non-catastrophic health insurance and found a clinic that takes credit cards. Decent prices, fast service, and they have a vested interest in making me happy.

    (Of course, then Obamacare wiped out catastrophic coverage, so now it’s a bit riskier, but I’ve been spoiled by being well served. It helps that I see a doc maybe once every three or four years.)

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Mr Ecks – absolutely, ITMA (It’s That Man Again).

    Niall – yes I think I see now, thank you for showing me the indirect effects (depressing the number of people who vote Conservative even if they do not vote Labour).

    Nick – I hope you fully recover soon.

  • Rob

    I get quite a few Independent stories drop in my facebook feed. Just reading between the lines of the accompanying article makes you realise the headline is basically fake news. Normally it is the ‘it has been reported’ bullshit. But the confirmation bias addicts lap it up.

    Also a newspaper which cries quite a lot about “fake news” – by their opponents, of course.

  • llamas

    NickM – your mistake is in assuming that the comedy of errors you describe was not the result intended. It absolutely is the result that the system desires, and indeed tries its best to produce. Massed confusion and GMBU – more employment, more expenditure, more resources, more institutional growth.

    It helps if you approach any consideration of the NHS with the viewpoint that actual healthcare – healing sick people and keeping them well – is a long way down the list of priorities.

    I’ve linked this here before, it’s 40 years old but still a perfect description of the preferred NHS approach.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-5zEb1oS9A

    It’s too big to fix.

    The NHS-vs-vet care example has been done to death here before, but precisely because it was and remains true. The situation in the US (where upwards of 50% of all healthcare is now Government-run single-payer as well) is just the same.

    Glad you are better.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Julie near Chicago

    Niall, June 21, 2017 at 5:26 pm:

    An excellent comment altogether. :>))

    Note this last from the comment, in particular (my boldface):

    “I’m thinking here of swing voters – voters already unsure which party to chose. There are also voters unsure whether to bother voting. Demotivating those who would vote Tory if they bothered is electoral gain to Labour.”

    This is precisely the principle that the so, so brilliant people who take the “why bother since your vote can make no difference” position miss (though note that our Democrats understand it very well and use it to the hilt: Get out the vote!). It is Demotivation on steroids, and that is precisely why I keep ranting about these people. (This time I’ll skip naming names.) That they do this and are considered Important Philosophers and/or Pundits by other supposedly bright people is just outrageous.

    [That’s the side of my anger that comes from the obvious practical, political effects as noted by Niall in his comment. The other side comes from the sheer stupidity and shallowness of thinking and complete misunderstanding of the use of mathematics (here, statistics) that is intended to support the Demotivating Argument, as above.

    [It is enraging to see people who make things worse, and who do so based on their utter stupidity where the particular issue is concerned, glorified as Brilliant Minds.] 😈

  • Julie near Chicago

    llamas, you are indeed our most apt and beloved savior:

    First, some years back you recommended the documentaries Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, which are by far the most excellent programs of their type I’ve ever seen. (Of course I paid for this; my wallet became thinner than it had been. Fortunately eBay came through for me.)

    And again, right here, you link to a scene therefrom. This lightened and brightened both my heart and my day; the wondrous clip taking my mind fully off the chronic dyspepsia which resulted in my remark above. Best of all, I see that several (I assume) episodes are again available on UT, although most of them are slightly cut off at the top and bottom. Excellent, because the DVDs are in my room, whereas my workstation (a.k.a. the kitchen table) is in the kitchen. So of course I had to watch one episode (compulsory: even libertarianism cannot prevent all compulsions). Thanks! :>)))

  • Julie near Chicago

    NickM and llamas,

    Our medical offices are also a mess. People are regularly given other people’s lab orders … so-called charts are misfiled or lost altogether … medical records are not sent to the requested recipients … doctors forget or are not told that they need to call the drugstores to okay prescription refills … appointments are not noted, or are set for the wrong times … we’re told we’ll see Dr. X and on the day it turns out we see nurse-practitioner Y … in the hospital or nursing home the paperwork says to give the patient medication X, but what he or she gets, if he or she gets anything at all, is something else entirely … and on and on and on.

    Bureaucratic foul-ups of one kind and another, some of them merely nuisances, but some very serious indeed. It seems to me this has become much, much worse than it was in the days when most doctors kept one-person or two-person offices.

    Personally, I think this is partly a result of trying to put everything On The Computer. The System goes down, or out to lunch. There are bugs in software. The Computer is trusted as the Reigning Authority on Everything, with little or no human checking that the Authority’s answers or records are correct. (This is also a reflection on the quality and training of the office staff.)

    Humans make mistakes too, of course. All the time. But nowadays there is so much paperwork and so much interdepartmental communication required, that keeping up with it all proliferates the opportunities for error, and also requires more and more office help, both human and electronic.

    Innumerable government regulations must be followed as well, which adds to paperwork and the amount of help needed, and also affects the results of training-by quota, certification-by-quota, and hiring-by-quota.

    I’ll end here, but the situation is a nightmare of bureaucracy.

  • Laird

    Julie, I suspect that the government-mandated attempt to get all of our medical records computerized is the root of many problems. (And of course HIPAA is the root of that; it manages to restrict access to my medical records by the people I want to have it, but permits unlimited access to government functionaries who shouldn’t have it at all. But I digress.)

    Recently, I was referred to a specialist by my regular doctor (specific malady irrelevant). They are in different offices, but both practices are owned by the same gargantuan medical conglomerate which controls 80%+ of all health-related services in my area. My doctor transferred my records to the specialist electronically. (Why they aren’t in a common database accessible by both is a mystery to me, but no matter.) When I got there the assistant began asking me the sorts of basic medical history questions which are in the chart, including the reason for my presence. That rather annoyed me, and I got rather snippy about all that being in my records and why weren’t they showing up on her screen? She left and found the specialist, who was at his desk busily reviewing paper copies he had printed out! To this day I don’t know if they have actually been uploaded to his office’s computer system.

    We are doomed.

  • Dr Evil

    Political parties need to monitor Facebook and respond to lies. They need a digital strategy and digital officers to enforce it.

  • Derek Buxton

    NickM, Sir, I do wish you well and can confirm what you say. I was sent to the same Hospital for, they said a simple keyhole job to remove a lump on a kidney. Two days they said, three at the most. I duly went on the Thursday just after lunch, was aneathetised and woke up on the Sunday morning to be informed that I had lost a lot of blood and my kidney and spleen. None the less, I was thrown out on the second Friday lunchtime against the so called protocols with highly swollen feet. The nursing care was a joke!