Gordon Brown admitted yesterday that he had misled the Chilcot enquiry. He had said that defence spending had risen in real terms year on year since Labour came to power in 1997. However it turns out that there were 4 years in which spending actually fell in real terms in 1997/1998, 1999/2000, 2004/2005 (at the height of the Iraq war) and 2006/2007.
Thursday, 18 March 2010
I think this sort of thing matters. It matters because Brown is the statistics man. He tries to bludgeon his opponents into submission by firing out stats that supposedly show his government in a positive light all the time. He makes broad sweeping statements about how great he has been as Chancellor and PM which he then backs up with these. It matters because he was not just slightly out in one year, he was way out in several years. It matters because the media reports of how Brown performed at Chilcot were largely very positive and they would not have been if he had told the truth. This makes me suspicious about the motives behind the incorrect figures. I would like to believe it was an honest mistake and yet the stakes are so high in the run up to the election that I am not sure I do believe it.
Above all it matters because we need to be able to believe what our Prime Minister tells us, not always suspect that he is twisting or distorting things in some cases beyond breaking point into downright untruths.
Now you might say that all Prime Ministers and politicians are guilty of spinning and massaging figures to their advantage and to an extent you would be right. It is part of the game of politics but I have never known a politician who is quite so keen to fire stats at us as our current PM. Given that he has built his career and reputation on them, he needs to be sure that he is not telling us figures that are totally incorrect like these in specific political situations that are then "clarified" two weeks later.
We are now entering what could be the most divisive and brutal election campaign of my politically sentient lifetime. The three main parties know there is everything to play for. I would however advise all politicians and especially Mr Brown (and his mini-me Ed Balls who has exactly the same tendencies as his boss) to be very, very careful about how they use statistics.
They need to be very sure of their ground. The electorate will not forgive any more slips like this.