Fraser Nelson

Today’s Brownies

Today's Brownies
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Gordon Brown gives interviews like he is programming a computer. In his pre-election appearance on Today at 8.10am he fired off statistics, as if they spoke for themselves – sounding passionate, one might argue, and knowledgeable. But on several areas his information was misleading or simply false. Here’s what jumped out at me.

1). “We’re about to take a million children out of poverty”. A million children? The figure is 600,000 from the benchmark year of 1998/99, and that’s going by his narrow definition of children whose parents have incomes below 60% of the median. Choose a different threshold, say 40%, and it’s 400,000. Millions is spent trying to massage this figure upwards. Rounding up to a single digit is a far cheaper way of doing it.

2). “If young people are able to stay on at school to 18 which is the new legislation we’re bringing in and not 16 then that is a fundamental change to the education system”. Em, nope. Everyone is “able” to stay on to 18. Brown proposes forcing them to do so – risible, for a government that can’t even control truancy in primary school.

3). “We have the fuel price rises, now we’ve got the food price rises, now we’ve the uncertainty. All of that has come out of America”. Huh? The sub-prime started in the US – but petrol? Two thirds of the increase is tax, from the Treasury. Food prices have nothing to do with America. Much of the rise in imports is connected with the 12% collapse in sterling since August. As the Bank of England’s chief economist noted, this is the same fall as seen on Black Wednesday (h/t Guido).

4). “The agreement to build 3 million new homes” Now meaningless. The housing market has ceased up, new building has halted and Persimmon spelt out what this means last week: “In a market place where you can't sell property, there is little point in opening new outlets”. It is as if Brown has genuinely conflated his aims with reality.

5). The tax burden. John Humphrys challenged Brown over the UK tax burden rising above 40 percent. Brown reacted as if he’d said today was Monday. “That’s just not correct, John. The overall tax rate is not 40p it’s around 37 pence, em, per cent. And the highest rate of tax ever charged in this country is under a Conservative government where it went up to 38 percent and nearly to 39 percent. Your figure is absolutely wrong.” The Humphrys figure was absolutely right – according to the OECD Britain’s tax burden has been above 40 percent since 1998 and is 42.5 percent this year. Even Treasury figures say it’s 39 percent, not the 37 percent Brown claimed. But the device he uses here is a complex one, worth explaining in a separate Brownie which I will post later on.

Thing is, only a small number of people sit there and think “that’s a porkie”. I suspect most people hear a barrage of statistics and get the impression of a Prime Minister so in love with his targets, plans and figures that he has lost sight of the real world. One of the Tories’ main election hopes is that Brown will be forced during the campaign to confront his worst enemy – the microphone. Today’s interview will do much to reinforce this theory.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

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