Quote of the day 29th March 2023



Paul Holdsworth said…
Not at election time (if only!) but, when he became our latest PM, Rishi Sunak promised us 'integrity, professionalism and accountability'.

In a statement to the House of Commons in December, Sunak claimed that the asylum backlog was HALF the size of the backlog left by the departing Labour government in 2010.

Not so, it seems. It was actually NINE TIMES GREATER than when Labour left office!

Now he's been called out on this untrue statement by the UK Statistics Authority, I'm sure the PM will demonstrate his integrity by correcting the record, in the Commons, at the earliest opportunity - as required by the Ministerial Code.

And it won't cost us a penny!
Paul Holdsworth said…
Hi Chris. I submitted a comment about Rishi Sunak's promise to restore integrity to government not costing a penny, but you've not published it. Can I ask why not?
Chris Whiteside said…
Because I had not had time to check it until now.

Having done so, I have now released it.

However, there is some rather important context which is available in press reports of the Statistics Authority's comments which you left out of your comment, and which I think is really quite relevant.

So absolutely no apology for not releasing this one for publication until I had time to check it and include the appropriate balancing point.

Specifically, it is significant context to mention the basis on which the PM, and two other ministers, had almost certainly been advised, and believed at the time they made their statements, that what they said was correct.

They, and I quote, "appeared to be referring to figures from the then chief inspector of borders and immigration and UK Border Agency."

The UK Statistics authority have since looked at those figures and concluded that there are serious data quality issues with the UK Border agency figures. UKSA said that the Agency had made the mistake of including in their figures "a large number of duplications, errors or applications" which had been moved to a “controlled archive”, and "contained applicants who were untraceable, dead or had become an EU citizen through another channel."

If the Statistics agency is correct, then the PM and the two other ministers involved were wrongly advised, but they were reporting in good faith what they had been told.

I would certainly hope that the truth of the matter can be established as soon as possible, and any errors in the numbers which the Borders Agency is working on corrected so that they can do their job based on accurate information.

If the Statistics Agency is indeed right then I would agree that the record should be corrected.

In terms of the actual issue of asylum backlogs, there is no doubt that they are too high and, in everyone's interest including that of asylum seekers, need to be come down. I therefore welcome the Home Office statement that:

“We are taking immediate action to bring the asylum backlog down. We’ve set out new plans to clear the initial asylum decision backlog of legacy cases by the end of next year.

We have also doubled the number of asylum caseworkers to more than 1,000 and we will double it again while rolling out a successful pilot scheme nationwide to boost the number of claims processed.”
Paul Holdsworth said…
What's happened to my response to this, Chris? Did it cross the blog-moderation line - has my self-censorship failed again?
Chris Whiteside said…
Certain parts of it went over the line, yes.

I don't have a problem with the point being made that the backlogs are far worse than was admitted at the time, or that the mistake should be corrected.

It should.

However, very busy people should be able to trust the information they have been given, and when someone repeats in good faith the numbers provided to them by a government agency about the work of that agency, I am not minded to publish criticism of them for doing so in the sort of language used in that post.

I will, however, admit that there is an unfortunate problem in that the excuse of having repeated in good faith something which one claims to have been advised, or not advised of, by one's officials has been over-used in the last few years, with the result that it has less credibility when it is actually justified.
Paul Holdsworth said…
As Thatcher said: "Advisers advise, ministers decide". In this instance the Prime Minister decided (apparently) to take at face-value advice that was wildly wrong, and therefore he should bear criticism for that decision.

Unfortunately your readers can't see the language I used to criticise Sunak, because you've chosen not to publish it. I can only say the language I used was mild indeed.

I'll grant I was more robust in my criticism of yourself, for repeatedly calling into question the veracity of the advice of the UK Statistics Authority. That seemed to be an unjustified slur on the integrity of that body.

Do you still consider that the UK Statistics Authority might have got it wrong?
Chris Whiteside said…
I'm sorry, but only someone who has already decided what I think and is determined to read into whatever I write the opinions they had already predetermined that I hold could possibly conclude from what I wrote above that I was casting slurs on the integrity of the National Statistics Authority.

For the avoidance of doubt, I absolutely disavow that suggestion.

The English language is an incredibly nuanced and subtle thing, and I am sure everyone reading this will have met people who can make a statement imply the exact opposite of what the words appear at face value to mean, but I do not believe that the words used above imply any criticism at all of the NSA and I certainly did not intend any kind of attack or slur to be inferred from them.

It is a perfectly normal usage of the English language to say "If person X is right then Y follows" without intending to imply that one thinks person X is likely to be wrong.

No inference that the Statistics Authority is wrong was intended to be drawn from my comments.
Paul Holdsworth said…
Happy that you've clarified that, Chris.

Although I've got to say that my reading of your statement that:

"If the Statistics Agency is indeed right then I would agree that the record should be corrected."

is potentially questioning the veracity of the UKSA statement seems not unreasonable, even though that's not what you meant, apparently.

I think you're somewhat unfair characterising me as someone:

"who has already decided what I think and is determined to read into whatever I write the opinions they had already predetermined that I hold".

After all, you did exactly the same on my comment about Raab not being suspended, and you wouldn't damn yourself in similar fashion, would you?
Chris Whiteside said…
I will absolutely accept that I made the same misjudgement about you with respect to Raab which I think you made about me in the thread above.

And when you explained the matter I published your clarification instantly on seeing it, and apologised.

Perhaps we both need to be a bit more careful not to project our preconceptions onto each other.

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