If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 11 March 2010


The great thing about statistics is that they consist of numbers, and most people think numbers are hard (in both senses: numbers are difficult to work with; and numbers are factual and not open to interpretation). So when most people hear statistics from a politician, they assume that what they are hearing is, at least factually, correct - after all, if the politician is giving them numbers, and numbers are factual and easily checked, then the politician is unlikely to be lying, right? If a politician says that X has risen, and provides numbers to support that, then most people will assume that he or she is stating a fact. Of course, most people don't have the skill, time or inclination to check the numbers for themselves, but they assume that someone else will. Well, now someone has.

Gordon Brown played a blinder in PMQs the other day, asserting that defence spending had gone up every year under Labour. He even had the audacity to add that spending had gone down under the Tories (of course it would - we didn't have Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan to worry about then; thanks, Labour). Although I was surprised to hear that, I assumed that - in strictly literal terms - it would be true, as it could so easily be proved false.

Wrong, as Channel 4 have found out:

The man is an inveterate liar. He bludgeons us with statistics, assuming we won't, or can't, check how true they are. Thank you, C4.


  1. More insidious than that is that he - like many of the trained lawyers currently infesting Parliament - is pretty good at avoiding outright lies. What he says is usually, at some level, undeniably true. It just isn't what the rest of us understand it to mean, particularly in the context it is presented. I believe that this is one of those occasions: where the net defence budget did actually increase, just not in real terms. Or any other terms that would traditionally be viewed as leading to having more actual money to play with.

    As the ex-Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Boyce rather crossly pointed out: "He's dissembling, he's being disingenuous." Which, in mandarin-speak, is about as rude as it gets. I like "disingenuous" as a word, anyway - it implies rather more premeditated insincerity and evasiveness than simply lying. Which sums up Brown for me perfectly.

    I thought Cameron scored quite a good hit with his riposte that a big reason for the budget reduction in the early 90s was that we stood down from the Cold War on the Conservatives last watch.

  2. You are being too generous to the scowly Scot - he did in fact say that defence spending had risen in real terms year-on-year. That's not disingenuous; that's wrong, and if done deliberately, lying to the House.

    Profumo resigned after being found lying to the House.


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