Could Brown rue the day he made the ONS independent?
When historians come to examine the final period of Mr. Brown’s career and Labour’s losses in the 2009/2010 general election will the decision to create the UK Statistics Authority and make the Office of National Statistics independent be seen as the decisive error?
For yet again this morning the big news in several of the papers stems from official statistics that are hugely embarrassing to the government – numbers that used to be in the sole control of the spinners.
For the independent ONS has ruled that the recapitalisations of RBS and Lloyds should be part of the national debt – a decision that totally undermines the way that Brown and his ministers have been presenting the totals. And when you add in the Â£1.5 trillion that the ONS insist upon then you create horrifying totals that are likely to dominate the coming general election campaign.
One of the key parts of Brown’s rhetoric that we’ve heard time and time again is the success that he’s had in controlling the national debt. Of course it all depends on what you include in the totals and the ONS approach deflates the PM’s boasts.
The Daily Mail gives a taster of the impact today with its front page. These are, of course, complex matters that are exceedingly difficult to communicate – yet to divide the overall by the population of the country and then present it as what it means to every individual in the country is going to resonate.
This is the third “intervention” that we’ve seen in recent months over official numbers. In December Sir Michael Scholar, chair of the UK Statistics Authority had to write a firm letter over the use of knife crime numbers. Then, only last week, the Number 10 press office found itself dealing with an embarrassing foreign job numbers story that it was unable to control.
The challenge for ministers now is that they cannot rein the statisticians in without creating what could be a bigger problem.
All this, surely, is going to make David Cameron’s task that much easier. Maybe after he has come back from the palace to Number 10 on the afternoon after the election his first toast should be to “The Official Statisticians”. The only problem is that PM Dave will have to live with independently issued numbers as well.
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