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Damned lies, statistics and the countryside

Friday 16 April 2010

Our veteran countryside commentator John Sheard, who covered his first general election in 1959, admits to a cynical streak a mile wide when it comes to political claims and suggests ways in which country folk might sort the true wheat from the statistical chaff

IT IS one of the most famous quotes in political history but even the veracity of its origin is in doubt: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” It has been widely attributed to the American author Mark Twain but he himself said he borrowed it from the 19th Century English Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

Now Dizzie had a reputation for having a “silver tongue” which, in Victorian times, was a polite way of saying that every word he uttered might not be quite the 100% rock solid truth. Mrs Thatcher’s top civil servant took this divergence from accuracy a little further with a suggestion that she could be “economical with the truth.”

Who should the rural voter believe?

But over the past decade and a bit, New Labour have given birth to the “dodgy dossier” for which hundreds of good men have died - and are still dying - who might still be alive if we had first invaded Afghanistan, where the 9/11 attack on America was planned, instead of Iraq.

Now this is a column which concentrates on rural affairs so I don’t intend to discuss the complete range of often hideous problems facing Britain in the coming general election (although the inevitable austerity which will undoubtedly follow will impact at least as hard on country folk as their townsfolk neighbours)

The next few weeks will be horrendous enough without me adding my pennyworth but I wonder if a short study of those “damned lies and statistics” might be of help in sorting out those which might contain a grain of truth and those which have been proved to be dodgy.

In doing so, it should be accepted that when it comes to the lying stakes, Labour as the party in power have all the advantages: they know the truth that lies hidden in the nation’s books but are steadfastly refusing to reveal it until after the vote (when many of them must hope it is no longer their problem).

Just one of those statistics which Labour have suppressed at all costs is the true scale of the national debt to service the gold-plated pensions of millions of state employees in the civil service, the NHS, local government and hundreds of quangos. This is so secret that Gordon Brown has “kept it off the books” as both Chancellor and Prime Minister and it has not been included on the debit side of any annual budget.

At a time when private sector pension schemes are closing by the day, this debt has been estimated by people like the Taxpayers’ Alliance at sums approaching £50,000 for every family in the land. That’s an estimate. But here is one known fact: almost a quarter of all the local council taxes we pay here in the Yorkshire Dales go to pay the pensions of council employees, teachers and policemen in North Yorkshire.

This is a personal affront to me, even though I was lucky to build up my pension in days before Gordon Brown began taxing the pension companies, effectively destroying the best private pension provision in Europe. I now pay some £40 a month into someone else’s pension from money that I saved from taxed income whilst bringing up a family and which is taxed again when paid out now.

In other words, my pension has effectively been taxed three times – and I’m amongst the lucky ones. God help young people trying g to build up a pension pot today for, alongside this raid on private provision, the UK has the worst state pension of any of the leading nations in Europe.

In other words, my pension has effectively been taxed three times

Pensions are one of the major worries in the English countryside, for our population is growing older as the youngsters flee to the towns because they can’t afford a home here. The poorer pensioners who remain, often without cars, have seen their post offices, pubs and even churches closed, their bus services decimated (if they have one at all) and their doctors’ surgeries under threat. Where are the statistics on that?

That is one of the hurdles of the seeker of statistical truth: when things might not reflect well on Government, they are simply not published. If they are forced into the open, often by pressure from the media, they are often based on obfuscation.

Gordon Brown has admitted giving wrong information to the Chilcot Enquiry on cuts to the defence budget as Britain was fighting two wars. A rise in crimes of violence has been covered up by the use of differing statistics.

And, only a couple of weeks ago, another “dodgy dossier” was revealed in the Baby P murder scandal when Children Secretary Ed Balls is alleged to have forced civil servants to change their report no less than 17 times.

However, new Labour has made a terrible mistake by actually issuing facts and figures comparing their distribution of funds between town and rural councils. They were given by Barbara Follett, the minister wife of the millionaire novelist who was one of the MPs who figured large in the expenses scandal. And she published the figures more or less as a boast, to show how well New Labour was looking after their client vote in the inner cities.

She revealed that funds per resident in rural destruct councils had risen by a mere £10 as head to £95 since 1997, a 15% rise. Grants to residents in county council areas had gone up from £651 to £889 (37%). But in urban areas, the rise had been a massive 53% from £786 to £1,201.

This, I repeat, was a boast! It was meant to buy the votes of townies by illustrating this awful government’s total contempt of country folk and an inbuilt indifference to their needs. Most shocking of all, these are figures that are in all likelihood true. If you choose to ignore any other set of statistics this election time, dear country reader, remember that one!

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