Isabel Hardman Isabel Hardman

Tory battle of the letters intensifies

It’s the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice this week, so perhaps it’s the passionate letter from Darcy to Elizabeth that’s inspired such an enthusiastic burst of letter-writing from Conservative MPs complaining about stories in the press today. Earlier, we had Jake Berry complaining to the BBC, and now there are more. Sadly, the latest missives I’ve got hold of from Harriett Baldwin don’t contain declarations of love, or any insults for the recipient’s mother: instead, Baldwin is angry about an article by Ed Miliband in today’s Sun.

Plugging his party’s policy for every big firm receiving a government contract to train young people, the Labour leader writes:

‘Among the major European countries, we are in the relegation zone when it comes to youth unemployment. Only crisis-hit Spain has higher numbers of young unemployed than the UK.’

Now, as the graphs below show, Miliband is right when he says the UK has higher numbers of young unemployed than any other EU country apart from Spain, but that’s not much use as the UK also has a larger population than most other EU countries. Here are the unemployment levels for European countries:

What matters when making these comparisons is the percentage of youth unemployment, not the numbers. So here are the unemployment rates:

Baldwin found this use of raw numbers insufferable, and has written two letters: one to UK Statistics Authority chief Andrew Dilnot, and one to Miliband himself. She has asked Dilnot to ‘advise on how we can ensure that the debate over youth unemployment is not influenced by the inappropriate manipulation of statistics’.

Her letter to Miliband, which you can read in full here, opens thus:

‘I am sure you will agree that it is vital that public debate is informed by accurate use of statistics, particularly in the case of party leaders.

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