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« Fact of the day | Main | Voices from Blair's Britain »

Office of National Lies & Distortion

Back in 2005 I noted Labour's declaration that they would legislate for the operational independence of the Office of National Statistics. The ONS would be run by an independent board of governors Gordon said. It would have a similar degree of independence as the Bank of England we were told.

At the time I pointed out that it was unlikely ever to happen, which is why I was thrilled to read in the Times this week that I was largely correct. The bill has now almost completed its progress through Parliament and the Economist has reported its key features.

  • A new National Statistics Board will be set up. This body will be responsible for preparing lies on behalf of the government and can take the blame if they get found out.
  • Its remit will not cover all statistics - only "national" ones, thereby avoiding any unpleasantness over say, crime figures or other politically risky lies.
  • It will not be allowed to collect any figures that ministers find inconvenient. The ONS is to concentrate on lying in non-critical areas.
  • It will not be allowed to dictate the timing of the release of figures - the correct timing of a lie is often crucial in ensuring it goes unnoticed ("burying bad lies").
  • Ministers will continue to see figures before release in case the ONS try to sneak anything truthful out.
  • Explanation of the figures is not to be prepared by the board in case they try to explain what the figures actually would have shown if the government weren't lying about them.

Really though, this has been a masterful piece of politics. Announce a policy to take the sting out of the opposition, then delay and obfusc like your life depended on it before producing an emasculated shred of legislative nothing. Then just keep on lying.


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