Like most other people, I really don't know what to believe anymore when Gordon Brown grandly delivers a volley of statistics to support some government project or another.
Yesterday, I listened with interest to his speech on new immigration measures but already, there are complaints that if he wasn't simply being economical with the truth, the figures were downright fiddled to show a brighter picture than the one that actually exists. The Spectator magazine describes this and other statistics of convenience, like this:
THE BROWNIE: "Some people talk as if net inward migration is rising. In fact, it is falling – down from 237,000 in 2007, to 163,000 in 2008, to provisional figures of 147,000 last year" (Downing Street website, 26 March 2010).
THE TRICK: He used two different sets of statistics that should not be directly compared without caveats. For 2007 and 2008 he used Long-Term International Migration estimates. These include data from the International Passenger Survey, the Irish border (separate until recently), incoming asylum seekers and migrants who arrive on short-term visas but stay longer, or vice versa. For 2009, he only used the Provisional International Passenger Survey estimates. These do not include asylum seekers or people who overstay their initial visa. Unsurprisingly, this gives a smaller figure.
So for those unhappy residents of Norfolk and Suffolk discovering homeless migrants living in their potting sheds or in lean-to's at the bottom of their gardens, the good news is that these are in fact passing faeries who will, in due course, be subject to a skills-related points test before being offered permanent garden residency, unless of course they happen to be European little-folk, in which case, all bets are off.
A silly analogy I know but regardless of what our leaders appear to think, people are increasingly less-prepared to be fobbed-off by statistics in which they have increasingly little faith, given our Government's poor track record of accuracy in such matters. It's only natural that people will migrate to where the opportunity is greatest, which is why so many people from this country are now seeking to emigrate to Australia and why millions left Europe for the United States in the last century. Given the expansion of the European Union, we have, to all intents and purposes, lost any real control over our borders and now, even selling the 'Big Issue' is seen as an employment opportunity for people seeking work from the farthest fringes of Europe.
Many years ago, I left Thanet, where I was a teacher and went to work in Saudi Arabia, a decision which gave me the opportunities that altered the course of my own life. I have every sympathy for people who make similar decisions in an increasingly restricted and recessed world. However, Government really has to try and properly understand and tackle the many complex and inter-related problems that surround the immigration debate and why indeed, so many people, as expressed in the BBC Newsnight interview with people in Thanet, are upset by the progress made to date.