For those who love email trails, the Public Administration Select Committee has served up a feast – the emails flying around when Brown released premature knife crime figures last December. You can read the full trail here, Email Trail PDF .
From my reading, it seems that the decision to use unready statistics came straight from Gordon Brown himself. The only No10 official named in the email trail is Dr Matt Cavanagh, who is the very opposite of a Campbell-style No10 praetorian spinner. He’s a former academic (and published author of a book which was well-received in The Spectator) and the emails kick off with him asking the ONS for permission to release data on knife crime
“Here is the statement that the PM would like us to publish tomorrow as part of the knife crime announcement”
Internal emails then fly between ONS officials saying they not be used, given they are “potentially inaccurate and may possibly give the wrong impression”.
The Department of Health then warns the ONS that No10 “are likely to publish the data irrespective of the concerns raised”. Andy Sutherland then sends another email saying
“If No10 go ahead and publish against our will then they are going against two fairly fundamental principles of statistics: (a) that decisions onpublication of statistics are taken by professionals and not by politicians; (b) that publications of statistics are preannounced – we dont just publish out of the blue…. On a practical note, this will look to observers as if the govt has cherry-picked the good news and forced out publication forpolitical ends-is this really what they want?”
In No10’s defence, I note that nowhere in these emails is there an example of the ONS conveying this urgency or level of alarm back to No10.