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Electionwatch: testing the politicians' numbers

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Richard Knight Richard Knight 18:02, Friday, 30 April 2010


We're nearly there - less than a week to go - but the More or Less election team still needs your help.

Our job is to explain the numbers being thrown around by all candidates during the campaign. Our presenter (and the FT's Undercover Economist) Tim Harford is broadcasting our analysis on PM and Today. You can find an archive of our work so far on the More or Less web site.

It's been fun. But after weeks of going line-by-line through speeches, combing data-sets and finding functions on our calculators we didn't know existed, we're getting tired.

So here's how you can help: if you spot what you suspect is a rogue statistic - or simply a confusing one - please contact us at moreorless@bbc.co.uk.

What sort of thing should you be looking for? Here's an example which caught our eye on Wednesday.

This is Sarah Montague and David Miliband on Today:

DM: The biggest complaint the IFS have is that we haven't had a spending review, a detailed spending review. And the second biggest complaint is that we haven't set out plans up to 2016 and 2017, i.e. into the Parliament after next. When it comes to the four years... br>SM: They say £44 billion of cuts remain undefined in Labour's plans... br>DM: For 2016, 2017.

We nearly choked on our morning croissants when we heard that one. You can see here (PDF) that the well-respected think-tank the IFS were perfectly clear: they say £44 billion of 'mystery' cuts - cuts Labour has so far failed to specify - will need to be made by 2014/15. (The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, incidentally, have similar black holes on their plans).

During the final PM's debate Nick Clegg said "80% of people who come into this country come from the European Union" - and therefore, in his view, it was dishonest of David Cameron to suggest there could be a meaningful cap on immigration.

But that 80% figure is wrong. Actually, it's about a third. On Friday morning Vince Cable, speaking on Today, said his leader was referring not to all immigrants, but to 'workers'. The Lib Dem press office pointed us to their source, an article in The Economist which included the following claim: "Workers from outside the EU make up just one-fifth of all immigrants when students (who pay valuable tuition fees) are excluded".

As my colleague Oliver Hawkins has discovered, however, the fact that one-fifth of all immigrants are workers from outside the EU does not prove that the remaining four fifths of all immigrants are workers from inside the EU.

What about other types of immigrants, like dependents?

In fact, ONS data show that of all the people who come to the UK to work - who aren't British citizens - 60% come from the EU.

In the same debate David Cameron claimed that Gordon Brown had got his facts wrong on the Conservative proposals to cut child-tax credits: he said they would only be taken away from families earning over £50,000.

As our colleague Stephanie Flanders has pointed out, however, the IFS has called that description of the proposal "incomplete at best and misleading at worst".

All families with an income over £40,000 would lose some of their tax credits (and most families earning over £48,175, who get tax credits now, would lose all of them).

It seems, even at this late stage in the campaign, we need to keep our eyes open. If you can help, please do.

Richard Knight is series producer of More or Less


  • Comment number 1.

    I heard Tim pour oil on the troubled waters of the decline in manufacturing in the UK on PM last night. I just want to say that he may say things are not too bad, when he looks at his statistics, but I can see, when I visit my old town in north London, all the stores selling foreign made goods that stand on sites that were once occupied by factories. I can only see one old company left along the North Circular that was there when I was a boy in the fifties, and there were quite a few at one time; I didn't have to travel miles to get a day's work. It's the same along the A10, just a lot of super-stores, but no factories. I think I will trust my eyes rather that trust Tim's figures - statistics, damn lies and all that.

    Is there any chance of getting the figures on the UK's proportion of new patents, and a comparison with fifty years ago?

  • Comment number 2.

    Having just read the BBC's viewership stats on the recent economic debate certainly countered my current view on the level of voter apathy in UK - I guess it remains to be seen exactly what the turnout will be at the voting stations before anybody can deem it to be a bogus figure ;)


  • Comment number 3.

    @2 Anna - I definitely agree with your sentiments on UK voter apathy. I don't think the readership/ viewership stats are a good indication. Citizens want to know what will happen but don't really think they can influence the decision much. Either that or they really do believe that none of the candidates currently running are going to be capable to do the job.

    I think BBC should publish a summary fact sheet online that readers/ viewers can check against.

  • Comment number 4.


    Would the UK Debt = the bonuses paid to the bankers over the past 13 years or maybe just the past 4 years ?

    If it does could this be classed as fraud, paying out monies that is not their own only the clients ?


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