End government pre-snoop on stats
'24 hours allows for shenanigans'
The ability of politicians to spin official statistics to support their own point of view is likely to be severely curtailed – at least if UK Statistics Authority has its way.
While the Reg finds it hard to believe that any government minister would be tempted in this way, the good folk over at the Statistics Authority would appear to be a little more cynical.
At present, official statistics are "pre-released" to ministers up to 24 hours before they are made public. This practice enables politicians, if they are so minded, to digest the data, identify key points helpful to their cause and as a result, to prime national media to focus on issues and areas of their choosing, thereby shaping subsequent debate.
The Statistics Authority wants this practice to end. In a report (pdf) issued this week, the Authority proposes that government ministers should have a maximum three hours' advance viewing of official statistics – and that there should be a period of at least an hour when the only comment allowed to the press on such information would be from the Statistical Authority itself.
Sir Michael Scholar, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority, said:
The current 24-hours advance access by Ministers and their advisers contains too many dark hours during which no-one can see what is happening. In Scotland and Wales, the current arrangements allow five days advance access for devolved statistics, which is inconsistent with international best practice.
We believe that the recommendations in our report will minimise the opportunities for political influence or exploitation, and will help to build public confidence in the independence of the statistical system. The Statistics Authority also proposes that ... Ministers in all four UK administrations should look to the Authority to guide future practice. Equality of access levels the political playing field, demonstrates statistical independence, and is a reasonable arrangement which respects the interests of Parliament, the press and the public.
Concern over the possible abuse of statistics has been growing for some time. Last summer a new campaigning group started up; Straight Statistics unites journalists and statisticians to improve the understanding and use of statistics by government, politicians, companies, advertisers and the mass media
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour on 14 March, Labour peer and instigator of this campaign Lord David Lipsey warned politicians that Straight Statistics will "punish them if they misuse statistics.
"Any politician who lies must expect to be up in lights on our website, in the newspapers, as having abused the statistics to mislead the public."
Lipsey praised the impartiality of official statistics and commented that the UK Statistics Authority is "proving a very robust body in defending the integrity of our statistics ... There's some things we can do that they can't because they're an official body." ®
3 hours is still giving in to the government ministers
They should have no advanced warning. I'm sick of their Machiavellian cunning and duplicity directed at us because it shows they work against us not for us. Our government representatives see the figures when we see the figures because they work for us.
@"Could we please have some spin-free statistics to support the assertion that "they work for us"?"
At the next election NuLabour will get all the statistics it needs to show the country is filled with people who hate and detest NuLabour for their outright betrayal of our country.
For all their two faced lies, robbing and moves to wipe out our rights and create a Police State, Mandelson, Blair, Brown and every NuLabour Home Secretary should all collectively be charged with treason against the UK and against its people. Treason against the UK, as in "serious acts of betrayal of one's nation."
Lies, damn lies, and all that...
Good luck to the Statistics Authority, if they're to be believed. But they have their job cut out right now - neither I not anyone I know has the slightest trust in any govt statistics whatever. And not just because of politicians - there's a general and profound suspicion about the way statistics are generated and obtained - so often they don't fit in with people's own experience. That doesn't always make the statistics wrong of course, but in such things the perception is often more important than figures.
I can't see that changing anytime soon whatever the promises.