Politicians do not like being told that they lie.
The English language hides the necessary directness beneath such wording as disingenuous, economical with the truth or actualité. But even the Economist, frequently feriously supportitive of the Tories, has conceded that Iain Duncan Smith is a liar, in a roundabout fashion:
”And this is the only the latest in a series of questionable press releases. Earlier this month, Mr Duncan Smith claimed that the benefits cap had encouraged 8,000 people to get jobs. Yet as Jonathan Portes, the director of the National Institute for Economics and Social Research pointed out, the Department for Work and Pensions has never made an estimate of the behavioural effects of the benefit cap. At best, Mr Duncan Smith’s figures simply showed that 8,000 people who were to be affected had got jobs. Perhaps some did because of the benefits cap—but we have no idea.
Even before that, there was the matter of 878,000 people who apparently dropped their claims for disability benefits when faced with a doctors test over the past four years, as the old Incapacity Benefit system was replaced with the new Employment and Support Allowance. Again, this figure was absurd. It took no account of the churn—the number of people who come off benefits each month anyway. The most glaring error was that the figures completely ignored the fact that a lot of Incapacity Benefit and ESA claims are short-term—and so a lot of claimants simply got better before facing the test.
All of these are technical, even wonkish objections. “Yes, we twisted the statistics a little”, I can hear a hypothetical Conservative MP saying, “but so does Labour, and the fundamental truth is that the benefits system costs too much and is need of reform.”
Well, quite. The welfare system does indeed need reform. But the whole point about government statistics is that they are meant to be at least sort of objective. Ministers can quote the ones which support their case—but they shouldn’t manipulate them and distort them to tell stories that aren’t actually true. There is plenty of evidence to support welfare reform without resorting to such disgraceful abuse of numbers.
But the problem is, they get away with it—they have done for a long time. Even before the election, Chris Grayling, then the shadow home secretary, was alleging that gun crime was soaring, using distorted data to prove his point. In fact, gun crime began its precipitous decline under Labour. Similarly, much of David Cameron’s “Broken Britain” rhetoric ignored—or denied—dramatic and unexpected improvements in social indicators. “[My emphasis.]
The Economist is too polite. I blame lying Tories, myself.