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Coffee House

Tory battle of the letters intensifies

31 January 2013

6:11 PM

31 January 2013

6:11 PM

It’s the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice this week, so perhaps it’s the passionate letter from Darcy to Elizabeth that’s inspired such an enthusiastic burst of letter-writing from Conservative MPs complaining about stories in the press today. Earlier, we had Jake Berry complaining to the BBC, and now there are more. Sadly, the latest missives I’ve got hold of from Harriett Baldwin don’t contain declarations of love, or any insults for the recipient’s mother: instead, Baldwin is angry about an article by Ed Miliband in today’s Sun.

Plugging his party’s policy for every big firm receiving a government contract to train young people, the Labour leader writes:

‘Among the major European countries, we are in the relegation zone when it comes to youth unemployment. Only crisis-hit Spain has higher numbers of young unemployed than the UK.’

Now, as the graphs below show, Miliband is right when he says the UK has higher numbers of young unemployed than any other EU country apart from Spain, but that’s not much use as the UK also has a larger population than most other EU countries. Here are the unemployment levels for European countries:

[Alt-Text]


What matters when making these comparisons is the percentage of youth unemployment, not the numbers. So here are the unemployment rates:

Baldwin found this use of raw numbers insufferable, and has written two letters: one to UK Statistics Authority chief Andrew Dilnot, and one to Miliband himself. She has asked Dilnot to ‘advise on how we can ensure that the debate over youth unemployment is not influenced by the inappropriate manipulation of statistics’.

Her letter to Miliband, which you can read in full here, opens thus:

‘I am sure you will agree that it is vital that public debate is informed by accurate use of statistics, particularly in the case of party leaders.’

She then asks the Labour leader the following questions:

1. On what statistical basis you make the claim that ‘only crisis-hit Spain has higher numbers of young unemployed than the UK’?

2. Why did you choose not to use percentage unemployment rates as a basis for comparison, as is standard practice?

3. Was your choice of comparison deliberately designed to present the UK in the most negative possible light?

4. Why did you draw parallels between the UK and ‘crisis-hit’ Spain on youth unemployment, when Spain’s youth unemployment is 2.8 times higher than our own?

5. On what grounds do you consider it legitimate to compare a country of 63 million people to countries with significantly smaller populations?

I suspect that in this battle of the letters, though, one word from the opposition won’t be enough to silence CCHQ forever…

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