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Lies, damn lies and statistics: the top three times politicians fudged the numbers

Even the most indefensible numbers can sometimes be defended on a technicality, if it has been cooked with enough ingenuityd

By Prospect Team   March 2018

The Vote Leave bus. Photo: PA

£350 million a week

The claimed saving on EU membership fees which earned the “Leave” campaign an official reprimand. Despite ingenious flannel from Dominic Cummings about £350m being the amount which the UK will take back control of, it remains flawed.

First, it is a gross number, ignoring everything we get back from Brussels.

Secondly, it ignores the rebate (£75m a week).

The supposed payment of £350m is, in reality, never made.

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Photo: PA

£21bn for the NHS

A claim Gordon Brown made to lift Labour spirits in the July 1998 Spending Review, a time before the public spending taps were turned on, when in reality health budgets were very tight.

He managed to achieve this impressive number by agreeing to a modest real increase, overlaying it with the automatic increase for inflation, and then cumulating it over multiple years.

All of which rendered it completely meaningless in the context of the NHS budget.

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond. Photo: PA

0.9% productivity growth

The productivity growth for July to September 2017, which chancellor Phillip Hammond leapt on to declare the “largest quarterly rise” in six years.

But movements over such short periods are extremely volatile and often meaningless.

As would have been clear if he’d put it in the context of the bigger picture, which is that productivity has now flatlined for a full decade, and is down by a full fifth on where it would have been on pre-credit crunch trends.

Now read Paul Johnson on what we get wrong about statistics

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