Wednesday 4 March 2009

Phil Woolas: ‘Who Will Rid Me Of This Troublesome Statistics Body…?’

The independent statistics body for Britain has a 'sinister' attitude to immigration, a minister has claimed.

Phil Woolas questioned the motives of the Office for National Statistics in publishing figures showing one in nine UK residents was born abroad.
I guess that’s the inconvenient thing about these independent bodies, isn’t it Phil. They have a habit of letting the cat out of the bag…
The immigration minister revealed that he had tried to prevent the organisation publishing the data and accused it of 'playing politics'.

Ministers appear to be going on the offensive against the ONS and its chief statistician, Karen Dunnell, after a series of rows over official data.

But Mr Woolas's broadside is likely to trigger a backlash from MPs, who say the body must be able to collect information and provide impartial analysis free from Government interference.
So, he tried to prevent an independent body from publishing data, and he accuses them of ‘playing politics’?

Ministers were said to be 'fizzing' with anger last month after the ONS published figures showing the growing numbers of immigrants getting jobs while the British workforce declines.

It revealed that the number of foreign workers increased by 175,000 to 2.4million last year while the number of British fell by 234,000 to 27million.

Labour sources suggested the timing of the release was a political act designed to embarrass Gordon Brown over his controversial 'British jobs for British workers' slogan.
It was unfortunate, yes. Perhaps Broon shouldn’t have opened his mouth, if he knew the evidence would discredit him? How come he didn’t? Isn’t he supposed to be some kind of control-freak?

But then, if we’d been talking about a Conservative government, would any of these ‘sources’ be claiming the same thing? Of course not!
It came as construction workers took part in wildcat strikes in Lincolnshire and Kent, angry about jobs going to foreigners.

Then last week, the ONS published statistics showing foreign-born people make up one in nine of the population of the UK.
Because that’s what they DO - publish statistics. It’s hardly their fault that each new statistic shows the true picture, and not the one painted by government spin doctors.
In a letter to Sunder Katwala, head of the Left-wing Fabian Society, Mr Woolas said most people believed it was the Government that had released the data.

'In fact, it was the ONS with no ministerial involvement and indeed despite my objections,' he added. 'What's worse is that the press release highlighted the one in nine figure as the main finding.

'So, Government gets the blame by some for whipping up anti-foreign sentiment when it is the independent ONS who are playing politics.

'The justification from the ONS who had, out of schedule, highlighted the figure two weeks earlier because it was "topical" is, at best, naive or, at worst, sinister.'
Suck it up, Woolas! They are doing their job. You aren’t. And that’s all there is to it….
Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: 'The way ministers are behaving over crime and immigration figures is little short of a disgrace.

'When they can, they manipulate the figures for their own political purposes and when they can't they launch hysterical rants at the independent statistics office.'
It’s called ‘losing the plot’. And it’s going to happen more and more often, until we finally get rid of this bunch…
Sir Andrew Green, head of the MigrationWatch think tank, said: 'It's extremely unfortunate if a minister gives an impression of bullying the official statisticians for doing no more than setting out the facts, however inconvenient they may be for the Government of the day.

'To imply that there is some sinister motive in simply telling the truth is astonishing.'
But not surprising, given this control-freak government.
Last night, Mr Woolas was unrepentant saying: 'The ONS need to be aware that they are entering shark-infested waters. It's not the role of the ONS to dictate the debate.'

A spokesman for the ONS said: 'We will not be responding to this letter.'
Or in other words: ‘F*** you, Minister!’

Mark Wadsworth has the possible reason for the ONS to decide not to play nice with Broon’s Bunch, and Unenlightened Commentary has a great post title for his take on this!


Oldrightie said...

I suggest the ONS publish the number of times this lot have attempted to influence data.

Old BE said...

Spot on Julia. The very point of an independent agency is that it cannot be bossed around. Woolas has some interesting points about the data itself, but has muddied them with this ridiculous "outrage" at their very publication.

We need better stats not worse.

JuliaM said...

"I suggest the ONS publish the number of times this lot have attempted to influence data."

Now, there's a huge job...!

"We need better stats not worse."

'Publish and be damned' indeed!

Anonymous said...

Since the immigration minister seems very conscious of the fact that most voters in Britain would not be happy to hear how high the number of immigrants is, one might hope he'd consider it part of his job to actually reduce the level of immigration, as opposed to merely hiding it.

Since this seems to not be the case, the voters might want to consider electing people who have a better sense of how democracy is supposed to work.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Ta for link.

I don't even see how the figure is in any way surprising. If you ask a cross section of people how many people in their area were born abroad, it might range from more or less nil in the Lake District to fifty per cent in inner cities, average that out, you get about one-in-nine.

Anonymous said...

It's bizarre isn't it? How could straight forward facts be so controversial?