Have the spinners lost control of the “official statistics”?
There’s a big story running this morning about with the highly embarrassing news that the number of foreign workers increased by 175,000 to 2.4 million last year while the number of British workers fell by 234,000 to 27 million.
To me what makes this interesting is not the jobs story but that what used to be the all-powerful Number 10 spin operation had no idea of what was coming and that the Office of National Statistics is operating independently without reference to ministers.
What’s this going to do in the run-up to the general election?
This follows a skirmish before Christmas over a Home Office press announcement on knife crime and the use of the numbers.
For controlling the numbers – how, when and what is made public – has been one of the most important tools in the government spinning armoury. To have that taken away and for the ONS to be going “rogue” as it were could have a serious ongoing impact.
In many ways Brown and his team have only themselves to blame. Official numbers became so much part of the spinning apparatus built up in Alistair Campbell’s heyday that the whole efficacy of statistical announcements was being questioned. The ONS was set to add confidence – though I doubt whether ministers realised at the time that it would develop a life of its own.
Isn’t this also a measure of the decline of Labour’s power? Whitehall has a strong sense that the game is up and bodies like the UK Statistics Authority can launch moves without fear.
This might be helping Cameron at the moment – but how will he feel if and when the Tories are returned to power and he has no control of the numbers either?
Labour seat numbers betting for the next general election.