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I'm too kind...

Nick Robinson | 15:29 UK time, Friday, 14 December 2007

You know my trouble? I'm just too generous to the government.

Forgive me being a little slow but I've only just properly clocked yesterday's revelation that 11,000 illegal immigrants had been permitted to become security guards. Why am I telling you about it now then? Because it's dawned on me just how different these numbers are to what the Home Office claimed they'd be.

Weeks ago, when this problem was first announced, I listened hard to the Home Office briefings, I tried hard to treat the news calmly and I calculated hard what the figures might be. On the basis of this guidance - I wrote that "based on the outcome of checks made so far the worst case scenario could be over 8,000... Ministers insist that it is impossible to be more precise than they have been so far since they will only have accurate figures once checks are complete in December and say that 5,000 is still the best estimate at the moment".

Perhaps next time I should not listen to the official guidance and think of a number and then double it!



Ah, but these are still only an estimation, and some may have the right paperwork.

So, don't get too excited.

Anything like this just shows that the envious little power bases within the civil service, that wont reveal anything useful, still exist. The days of Sir Humphrey are well and truly alive.

I never bother blaming politicians over statistics - 9 times out of 10 they are just reading off the supplied piece of paper.

But, as in so many countries, the Civil Service stinks.

  • 2.
  • At 03:54 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Brian Abbott wrote:


My wife is a teacher and my job relates to the security industry. In both areas, new employees are required to pass a 10-year criminal records check. In both areas it is common for foreigners (any foreigner, not just illegal immigrants) to pass these checks almost without question, because their backgrounds before they came to the UK are impossible to check and are therefore assumed to be OK!

Maybe there's a Panorama story there?

  • 3.
  • At 04:08 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Ron Norton wrote:

Hindsight such a wonderful tool. If you had been asked before this story broke, how many illegal imagrants work in the security industry, and who was responsible for vetting security workers??, I am sure you would have said figures, no idea, but if there are it must be the governments fault.

The figures are outragious, but the Security Companies are to blame, they are supposted to vet all applicants, but money talks, cheap labour and all that. Why ruin a story with facts.

How many contract cleaners at the BBC are not what they seem to be???

I hope none but have you checked???

  • 4.
  • At 04:14 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Nigel Wheatcroft wrote:

Well done Nick,you are learning.Everything I hear from this government I take with a very large shovel of salt.What happened to Gordons vision of a new beginning of a government without spin? Well that was spin as well.
If you work on the premis that everything that you are told by our government should be questioned then you are working on the right lines.They are out of their depth in a puddle.....

  • 5.
  • At 04:17 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Iain wrote:

There is nothing new in this. Broadly there would seem to be two methods of getting bad news out:

1. Get it all out quickly take a hit for a few days and move on, the media and electorate have a short attention span - HMRC lost data for 25 million people.

2. Let some of it out take a hit for a few days and move on. Subsequent news on the same story arouses less comment and indignation so initial misinformation can be got away with. Relies on the same short attention span. - illegal security guards.

Sometimes I do wonder what has happened to persistent and diligent reporting, the research of facts and the holding of those who make major mistakes to account. It is easy and lazy to follow the governments agenda.

  • 6.
  • At 04:17 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Peter Campbell wrote:


Perhaps this policy of "think of a number and then double it" is how Jacqui Smith came up with 42 days? Just a suggestion.

Peter Campbell is a politics undergraduate at the University of York and Deputy Politics Editor of York student newspaper “Nouse”.

  • 7.
  • At 04:19 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Ken Tipper wrote:

It makes one wonder just how many illegals are handling luggage at the airports too. It seems that the UK and the USA have similar problems, and neither government has been able to get a handle on this growing threat to our security. Maybe the answer is in the national outrage generated here in the U.S. when "amnesty" for illegals was mooted by Washington, and when the Governor of New York state wanted to issue driver's licenses to illegals. The public rose up and were heard. Problem is that when voting day comes around so many opt to not exercise their mandate.

  • 8.
  • At 04:23 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • keithS wrote:

Surely to just double every (dubious) govt estimate is to put it mildly to stray on the optimistic side.Remember the wildly out views on new immigration from new EU member countries,the cost estimates for the Scottish Assembly building,the Millenium Dome cost fiascos etc. etc.
I am sure others can continue to quote a very long list of similar situations.

  • 9.
  • At 04:30 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • John wrote:

"Perhaps next time I should not listen to the official guidance and think of a number and then double it!"

- I've been doing this for a long time, although really it should be more like think of a number and then treble it, oh and treble the timescale too. Just look at the Olympics.

  • 10.
  • At 04:31 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • ronald king wrote:

OK, trying to keep this civilised, polite, free of obscenities, although I treat these as points iof emphasis more than anything else, here goes:
This government, more so than previous ones, hides behind figures
You ought, since it is your livelihood here, to recognise this and basically disbelieve everything you are told.
There is sound precendence for this approach, dating back 10 years now. Every figure that this lying bunch of toe-rags has produced is either:
totally false;
includes figures that have previously been released;
is misleading, to say the least,
and will be adjusted at a later stage.
Whatever the reason, and maybe society is to blame for this (to quote Peter Simple for this)you (the BBC) have stopped querying government statements, and pass them on to us, the "gullible" electorate as fact.
You may just have woken up. Its midday in the real world.
You still have some way to go.

Or multiply it by ten like the budget for the Olympics.

  • 12.
  • At 04:49 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Bernard from Horsham wrote:

Honestly Nick,
I find it incredulous that you believed it in the first place.

  • 13.
  • At 05:14 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Edmund Price wrote:

I recall that the stated reason Jacqui Smith kept this particular cock-up secret for a couple of months was so that she could get all the facts before making them public in October. Now we know better.

Instead of focussing their efforts on managing the news, why don't they just come clean and then sort it out?

Is it any wonder the public are skeptical about government announcements.

  • 14.
  • At 05:14 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Nick R wrote:

Hi Nick, like your blog, but some would say (to use a BBC euphemism) that the first line of your post qualifies you for an honorary degree at the University of Life, via the Department of the Bleeding Obvious...

  • 15.
  • At 05:14 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • brian wrote:

Nick wrote: "Perhaps next time I should not listen to the official guidance and think of a number and then double it!"

That's been standard for govt. contracts for years. Under Nu-Labour you should be guided by the Olympics fiasco and try tripling or quadrupling the estimate. 15,000 - 20,000

  • 16.
  • At 05:25 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • John Constable wrote:

The fundamental problem for political journalists such as Nick is that they have to deal with politicians on a daily basis.

In practice, that means that political journalists can only go so far in grilling these politicians or the shutters wil simply come down and they will find it very difficult to do their jobs.

Look at the real difficulties that so-called 'aggressive' political journalists such as Paxman, Humphreys et al have in even obtaining interviewss, let alone being able to freely set the parameters and context of any such interview.

The political journalist Andrew Alexander simply gave up ... "the job is impossible, they just tell lies" .. he said of the politicians and became a financial journalist instead.

Time for a change of career, Nick?

  • 17.
  • At 05:34 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • John K wrote:

Many of us think you have given Gordon Brown and his team a somewhat easier ride than they deserve over recent months.

You of all people must know that politicians in office have a default position of trying to minimise problems and maximise sucesses.

If this post means you are going to be that little bit more sceptical of McCavity Brown and his spin machine, great. We're totally behind you on that!

  • 18.
  • At 05:42 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Vishal wrote:

Welcome to the real world? Most normal, intelligent people have turned into extreme cynics about the current government a long time ago...

  • 19.
  • At 06:02 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Essex Boy wrote:

Well it's only taken you ten years to work out just how Labour will lie and lie and lie to stay in power.

It's not spin it's lying, and this lot are becoming more and more contemptible as each day passes.

  • 20.
  • At 06:51 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Carl wrote:


How about just being a journalist and reporting the news?

Your need to editorialise is always irritating to witness and is unnecessary. Most of us are quite intelligent enough to draw our own conclusions from the facts. We don't need you or your colleagues to tell us what to think.

Happy Xmas

  • 21.
  • At 06:54 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • sean wrote:

too kind or too ignorant?

  • 22.
  • At 07:22 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Steve wrote:

Too Kind???!!!

That's got to be the understatement of the year. listening to the BBC is like watching a Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Labour Party. And don't use the Iraq war as an example of BBC independence. As Richard Littlejohn said at the time...there was the BBC singing off the approved hymn sheet and suddenly Blair went all Rambo on them.

  • 23.
  • At 07:23 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Charles E Hardwidge wrote:

Perspectives can be hazy. As the government is developing a clearer picture on the situation and you're becoming aware of it things change, and rightly so, but instead of being contrary and backward a more workmanlike and team attitude will help everyone through this issue. This is similar to the donations affair and Iranian border crisis. Where people are scattered and don't communicate you get trouble. Britain has a real issue with this and by focusing on solutions, trust, and patience mountains turn into pebbles. I don't see difficulty here, I see opportunity.

Perception is reality, and when that perception changed you were shocked and doubted. This is understandable but developing more habit and reactivity makes it worse. If political, media, and public enlightenment are to be developed one must not seize past failure but let go. If you examine the select committees scrutiny and the MOD's handling of the Iran border crisis, you will see people laying thought on thought versus solution on solution. The difference in approach leads to a mountain of wind on the one hand and a more fit for purpose force on the other.

Jacqui Smith has a similar personality type to Gordon Brown. Somehow, I doubt she's much interested in the clutter and what other people may say. While people like this can look forceful and uncaring, they have a natural eye for quality and market conditions. She will fix this. Indeed, people like this tend to think many moves ahead and drive change even to their own detriment. Instead of playing catch up, you might try looking at where the puck is going to be and seeing how Jacqui Smith goes about doing her job. People like this find respect and kindness useful.

  • 24.
  • At 07:27 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • wrote:


Based on your intention as stated in your final paragraph, you could get a job with the government. The 'think of a number' technique then half it or double it or whatever it, according to the spin requirements of the day, is how they work.

The real joke on this particular issue is the proposition put forward by the Home Secretary that, when a government agency issues "fit persons to work in security" certificates, employers must not believe it. On the contrary, if employers are daft enough to take on unfit persons to whom the government has issued fitness certificates, then it is they who are responsible.

You couldn't make it up.

  • 25.
  • At 07:46 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Max Sceptic wrote:

Unfortunately, with this government one can take whatever they say with a shovel of salt and prepare for the worst.

I'm truly surprised that you, Nick, with such a long track record of proximity to the action should have taken so long to twig on. Perhaps distance from the Westminster Village offers a truer perspective.

  • 26.
  • At 07:55 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Mad Max wrote:

"You know my trouble? I'm just too generous to the government".

Why not! They need all the generosity they can get.

Did not Mark Twain immortalise the words of Benjamin Disraeli by saying "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics".

The philosophical question must be, do politicians tell lies - perhaps only when they rely on statistics?

  • 27.
  • At 07:57 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Albert wrote:

Nick, ask the incompetent British management and you might be able to find where the problem starts.
Same situation with information/data loss.
Even the Banks are now known to be loosing our personal data and that includes PIN numbers, albeit to say that the BBC only mentioned this only once last week, and that's for obvious reasons. Is that the fault of the Govt. Nick, or the incompetence of the British management?
British management is too conservative and traditional in its operational approach.
Take a look at the BBC Nick, with all those billions and yet your management fail to produce programmes of substance + the sacking of thousands because you ran out of funds. Is your problem (BBC) the Govt's fault Nick? Or due to the incompetence of the BBC management? As far as I am aware the BBC is run by British management Nick, not immigrants from the EU, or outside the EU for that matter!
Bring in the Swiss and the Germans to run our services and they will do a far better job for less money.
To prove my point Nick, I ask you to watch the southeast Councils in England to be late in gritting the roads before a freezing cold snap!

  • 28.
  • At 08:02 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • John Coyle wrote:

"Next time" pause only long enough to refelect on just about every budget announcement ever made by Gordon Brown when Chancellor.
Always 'the headline - grabber' before exposing the damaging devil in the detail. This unpleasant trait is now embedded in the character of the whole Brown government.
Dig first before you comply and before you succumb to their weasel words.
You will have to conclude pretty soon, Nick,if you have not already,that this government /collective does not even register on the 1 - 10 competence scale.
John C.

  • 29.
  • At 08:43 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Justin wrote:

Well, what's to say that this new figure of 11,000 is correct?

It may not be 2011 yet but I reckon Her Majesty's Government need to round everyone up and do a census.

  • 30.
  • At 11:28 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Ian M wrote:

Nick, it's not a case of being too kind, it's merely a case of wishful thinking. Every week I wake up and hope that I haven't been duped by the government that I voted for...

Sadly, every week they prove me wrong. Some weeks they go overboard on the proof.

Suffice to say, I won't be voting for them again.

  • 31.
  • At 02:10 AM on 15 Dec 2007,
  • Will wrote:

What do we have to do for a vote of no confidence? Or do the Opposition have to do it for us?

  • 32.
  • At 02:48 AM on 15 Dec 2007,
  • Cllr Hefin David wrote:


The language you use in this email is clearly sarcastic. Such opinionated commentary is hardly worthy of a BBC journalist. The piece above will surely encourage xenophobes and could be cited in ethnocentric propaganda, which is always a worry when such quotes are attributable to the BBC. I think that you are a first class communicator but you are clearly following the agenda of the right. Maybe Fox News would be a more appropriate berth for you?

  • 33.
  • At 09:08 AM on 15 Dec 2007,
  • John Galpin wrote:

Not just Home Office estimates either. I would at least double the time to delivery of any significant project the government proposes ( unless its actually a tax raising measure) and triple any budgetary cost estimate.

And there are numerous examples where even this would have been an underestimate.

  • 34.
  • At 09:52 AM on 15 Dec 2007,
  • Brian Tomkinson, Bolton,UK wrote:

Too many journalists not only listen to the "official guidance" but faithfully reproduce it, effectively becoming the propaganda arm of this mendacious government.

  • 35.
  • At 10:36 AM on 15 Dec 2007,
  • P Lee wrote:

So how many illegals are there in the UK 5/6/7 million - has anyone got a clue?

Are we to assume that the Home Office is going to do anything about the 11,000 it now knows about - ie deport them?

  • 36.
  • At 11:19 AM on 15 Dec 2007,
  • John Galpin wrote:

Not just Home Office estimates either. I would at least double the time to delivery of any significant project the government proposes ( unless its actually a tax raising measure) and triple any budgetary cost estimate.

And there are numerous examples where even this would have been an underestimate.


It's a typical Labour ploy, release a small figure hoping that the media will have moved on when you release the real much larger figure.

  • 38.
  • At 01:58 PM on 15 Dec 2007,
  • J Wilson wrote:

There is no perhaps about it. You should know better than to trust 'official' guidance on such matters when it is clear that they really do not know what the figures are. Strikes me that you appear to have just twigged what the rest of the voting public have known for some time, that this government is a joke, but that the joke is on poor old us.

  • 39.
  • At 03:21 PM on 15 Dec 2007,
  • Steve Garner wrote:

Is my recollection that the Home Secretary delayed briefing Parliament about this mess because she wanted to get the numbers right before she did so? If so, this latest announcement of an increase in the numbers is yet another crass example of this Government's incompetence. Someone less charitable might even call it deception (spin.

Or maybe you could open your eyes and ears and ignore the official guidance altogether.
This government is incompetent on a scale never seen before in the history administration. That's all there is to say on the matter.

  • 41.
  • At 04:58 PM on 15 Dec 2007,
  • t. smith wrote:

dear oh dear, this blog is getting frustrating. the author's relentless pursuit of the finest details of operational policy is plain dull and frustrating. the exact numbers of illegal immigrants as security guards? does it really require further comment from the bbc's most prominent political journalist? the past few weeks/months have been a demonstration of incompetence, but please, move on.. the complete disengagement, distrust and disdain of the majority for politics is extremely unhealthy; it can be blamed equally on even the most respected of commentators as on our current crop of politicians. with the likes of nick robinson on every politicians case, who would want to get involved?

  • 42.
  • At 05:11 PM on 15 Dec 2007,
  • Tanuki wrote:

It's good to see the BBC correspondents finally coming to their senses and realising that they are themselves victims of the government's spin-operation.

  • 43.
  • At 05:31 PM on 15 Dec 2007,
  • Diana wrote:

Even Civil Service officials are required to speak/spin on behalf of the government.
Many of them have signed the official secrets act, and are OBLIGED to give the government line, whatever the accuracy.

  • 44.
  • At 09:20 PM on 15 Dec 2007,
  • alhaji daramy-bassey wrote:

'Opposition-parties' need to have similar idias of "economic-history", relating to former colonies.
The british electorate are much sophisticated-enough, to realise the usual similarity of idias relating to nation building.
The exceptional cases may include humanitarian issues whereby records of individuals potray some element of civilization within society.
Spain has actually taken a 'leading-role' for similer matters.
Migrants from africa latin-america etc. often make it back home after ducational training and some small economic foundation.

  • 45.
  • At 02:34 AM on 16 Dec 2007,
  • Ryan wrote:

From reading your blog since it started it's always been quite clear you're too generous to the government, in the hope of clinching some big scoop one day presumably. Although even then they'll just give it to Marr!

But anyway, does all this 'hoo-har' mean that WE have to ID the bouncers from now on, and not the other way round?

  • 46.
  • At 10:51 AM on 16 Dec 2007,
  • Dom Hughes wrote:

interesting to read you think you are too kind to the Government Nick. Am I alone in thinking that you and the BBC political journalists have been far too kind to this government for many years. The beeb should look back on the last decade and see a deeply marred copybook.

  • 47.
  • At 11:06 AM on 16 Dec 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

When it comes to unchecked immigration under this Government, you might as well treble or quadruple it!

  • 48.
  • At 02:12 PM on 16 Dec 2007,
  • Neil Small wrote:

The change of figures is no surprise, considering that many Government departments use multiple sources for information, most of which are not checked at source.

But why can't this Government just stand up, admit failures and then take positive action to resolve these issues? Probably because they are scared for their own futures, rather than the country they are supposed to serve.

  • 49.
  • At 02:30 PM on 16 Dec 2007,
  • Chris, Baildon wrote:


You also missed the fact that the Home Office sat on these figures and when found out said the reason was to be sure they had accurate figures before releasing them to parliment. This proves that they allowed secuirty concerns to be secondary to Labour party spinning.

Bunch of incompetents.


  • 50.
  • At 04:03 PM on 16 Dec 2007,
  • technomist wrote:

It always amazes me when journalists are shocked that simply accepting what they are told by the government uncritically results in them having to correct themselves later. Nick, they lie to you all the time. Don't you get it?

Glad to have you on board the ship of cynics.

The sad fact is that the Government, or in fact any government, cannot be trusted to tell the truth.

They seem to possess a power complex where cover up, sleaze and appease are the only words in their vocabulary.

Whether it is in our best interest to be in the dark on our home affairs is another matter altogether but I can't help thinking that the state would rather enlighten us on pasty politicians' sexual liasons than the necessities.

  • 52.
  • At 01:41 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • John Portwood wrote:

This is what I said in November when you reported the figures.

"Nick, you should study statistics. It is just as likely that the sample underestimates the percentage of illegals as overestimates them!

10.5% of 6000 have been shown not to have the right to work. This gives a mean of 630 and a standard deviation of 23 ( 3 1/2 %)

This means that there is a 50% chance of the figure being higher than 10.5%, but only a 17% chance that it is higher than 14%.

So the worst case scenario ahould be 14% + 12.5% = 26.5% or just over 10,000. - this figure will be right about one in six of the time

Do I get a prize?

  • 53.
  • At 02:26 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • andy williams wrote:

You would have to be a total moron to believe anything the government produces that contains figures.

  • 54.
  • At 03:18 PM on 17 Dec 2007,
  • Simon Skinner wrote:

Don't blame Nick. It's called Stockholm syndrome, where the captive is held hostage and begins to identify and love their captor accepting anything they say without question.

Nick's spending too much time with govt. ministers and their special advisors and not enough talking to real people who don't lie, obfuscate or spin in every single statement they make.

  • 55.
  • At 08:58 AM on 18 Dec 2007,
  • Terry wrote:

Nick - Cllr Hefin David (Labour) is clearly over-egging the pudding in his criticism of your blog entry. So there's 11,000 illegal immigrants authorised by Cllr David's government to work as security guards, much more than originally estimated by Government ( I guess in the same way that 13,000 were expected to come over from the expanded EU, and then there came 1 million or so). Well, facts are facts and yes, sometimes they hurt. Accept the punishment. But people like Cllr David should not try and shout down the messenger and drown the facts with absurd accusations of ethnocentrism, racism and such like. It does him no favours; in fact it looks plain daft.

  • 56.
  • At 12:29 PM on 18 Dec 2007,
  • Philip Ashdown wrote:

Yes you are. Have you only just realised that?

  • 57.
  • At 12:33 PM on 21 Dec 2007,
  • David wrote:

Given people's frankly naive and unrealistic expectations of politicians and government, and the media's view of its own role as aggressive cynic - I'm wondering just how far a so-called 'straight talking' politican would get.

Security guards are employed by security companies, so the private sector is hardly blameless in this...

  • 58.
  • At 08:41 AM on 24 Dec 2007,
  • Quietzapple wrote:

This is a pathetic and deceitful thread whose "moderation" amounts to censorship of the most dishonest kind.

This post is closed to new comments.

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