Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Using economic statistics in an impartial and informed way

The BBC Trust is conducting a review on this issue, and has put out a public call for evidence. I thought I might reproduce my own evidence here because it may be of wider interest. I've decided to do this prior to actually submitting it, so that readers can add in comments any examples that go with the theme of what I am saying that would bolster my case. Note that the review is specifically about the use of statistics rather than economics.

Draft submission

I would just like to make a few specific points about the use of economic and financial data. This data should be presented in a way that informs the public, rather than in a way that is meaningless to everyone except experts, or worse still in a way that fosters some political position.

Unfortunately this standard is not upheld at present. To take just one example, I have seen a well known BBC financial journalist quote, without qualification, numbers for how much UK government debt is increasing every day, in a manner that is clearly designed to suggest that this is a very serious problem. But numbers like this are meaningless on their own. For example, we could do exactly the same for nominal GDP to give a positive impression about the health of the economy. To the layperson any number would seem large, but it would be a meaningless measure of economic health, particular if all the growth was coming from inflation. Needless to say the view that rising debt in nominal terms represent an urgent problem is a political position, and not one shared by many macroeconomists.  

Mistakes like this could be avoided to a large extent by applying some normalisation. To return to the debt example, numbers for debt and deficits should routinely be given as shares of GDP. Economic journalists should also point out that the debt to GDP ratio will not rise if the deficit is positive, but (based on current numbers) only if the deficit as a share of GDP is above something over 3%. An alternative normalisation that would make such figures more meaningful would be to divide them by total household income. Figures for aggregate personal debt should always be normalised with respect to household income, because only then can we really see if rising debt is something we should be concerned about, or just the result of growing incomes

When presenting movements over time, journalists are familiar with the danger of presenting increases in nominal terms, where any growth may just reflect inflation. However in a period like the present with large scale net inward migration, it becomes increasingly important to normalise by the number of people in the economy. The most frequent case where this point is ignored is for GDP growth. Per capita growth is much more relevant for the public, because it is closer to how fast average incomes are growing. Another example is for data on employment: with large inward migration employment will routinely be at record levels. For most purposes some measure of participation is more appropriate.  

The best way on television to put data into historical context is to show a chart. This is occasionally done, but it should happen far more often. I remember watching in despair the coverage of the 2013/4 winter floods, where the Prime Minister repeatedly said that the coalition had maintained previous levels of spending, by including spending committed by the previous administration in the numbers he used. One glance at a chart would show that in reality spending had been cut back sharply in 2011 and 2012, yet I never saw the relevant data shown by the BBC, and I could not find it on the BBC’s website. To their credit, recent Newsnight coverage of the recent floods did show this data.
Charts together with normalisation would also put the ‘protection’ given to some departments in recent Budgets and Autumn Statements into context. Health spending is ‘protected’, but if a chart of health spending as a share of GDP is shown, this makes it clear that the planned reduction in spending as a share of GDP coupled with the reductions that have already taken place are unprecedented. Viewers who otherwise may find it difficult to understand why the NHS seems to be in current crisis even though it has been ‘protected’ will immediately understand on seeing this chart. Education spending may be ‘protected’ in real terms, but as the number of pupils is likely to grow real spending per pupil will fall.
Although charts cannot be shown on radio, journalists should have them at their disposal so they can describe their main features, or as ammunition when interviewing politicians. If a chart cannot be shown, historical averages can put figures into context. Consider recent economic growth, using the more relevant and comparable measure of GDP per head. Has growth since 2013 been a real recovery? Showing a chart of growth going back 50 years or so immediately puts such claims into perspective, but failing this merely noting that recent growth is at best close to historic averages suggest that this is no recovery in the normal macroeconomic meaning of that term. (We normally think of a recovery as GDP per head returning to some trend line, whereas recent growth has simply maintained our distance below it.)

This was one example where a failure to put data into context meant that BBC coverage of the election failed to be impartial. Here are two more examples. (A more complete list of what I have called ‘mediamacro myths’ can be found at The first is the claim, repeated endlessly by Conservatives, that they had to clear up the mess left by Labour profligacy. The claim was absolutely central to their attempt to blame the previous Labour government for austerity. This claim was echoed by the right wing press, and largely believed by much of the electorate.

While it was true that in the last few years of his Chancellorship Gordon Brown did slightly bend the rules to achieve his fiscal targets, there is no way under any conceivable definition that this could be called profligate behaviour. In no conceivable way did it put the economy at risk, or require substantial austerity to correct it. The Conservative claim was therefore false, but I do not recall it ever being challenged on the BBC. Once again simply showing a chart for the debt or deficit relative to GDP over time would have gone a long way to establishing this point.

The second relates to the necessity of reducing the deficit quickly. It was austerity over the first two years of the coalition government that help stall a nascent recovery: OBR analysis suggests GDP growth was reduced by about 1% as a result of fiscal consolidation in both those first two years (figures which I never recall seeing quoted on the BBC, still less used to challenge George Osborne) . The justification given by the government for this was that austerity was needed to restore the ‘trust of the markets’. The BBC appears to have relied on economists working in the financial sector to support this claim. Unfortunately this source is biased, both politically, and in its own self interest: playing up the unpredictability of the markets fosters their self-appointed position as ‘high priests’.

At the very least journalists should have consulted those in the academic community more about this claim. (There is, for example, a widely held view among academics that since the recession there has been an acute shortage of safe assets like government debt.) However some simple use of data would have thrown doubt on the idea that the UK was about to suffer a debt funding crisis. Interest rates on government debt were lower in 2009 and 2010 compared to 2007 or 2008, both in absolute terms and relative to US rates. If you look at rates just before and after the election, they show no impact from the election result: if rates were being driven by prospective deficit levels then you would expect them to fall immediately after the election. By failing to use these simple statistics to challenge the government’s narrative the BBC failed to be impartial.



  1. The 'normalisation' point is a good one, and there's an interesting parallel with how political voting intention polls should be best reported, putting small movements in context and so on.

    I do (continue!) to wonder about the wisdom of quoting the debt:GDP ratio as one is a stock and the other is a flow. Surely debt servicing costs:GDP or (if it were in any way practical) debt:national wealth are the better measures?

  2. It is painful sometimes to see the ignorance that BBC persons have of statistics and their interpretation. But they are not alone. I presume that this arises from the same in the teams preparing the relevant items. Stat's are not easy, but failure to present them accurately is serious. But it is not just stat's often where there is a problem, because of the entertainment element and well as grabbing attention there is in general a cavalier attitude to real evidence, sources, facts and interpretation or analysis.

  3. Absolutely with you on the subject of charts to illustrate complex economic trends and issues.
    Lets take the myth that Labour have been poor at managing the economy, which even the "impartial" BBC goes along with, however if you look at the chart of economic growth
    and set it to read max, you see the recessions at 1956, 1973, 1980, 1991 all took place under a conservative government and all were caused in part by their policies , particularly 73 & 80. The final recession of 2007-8 took place under Labour but was caused by the action and events originating in the USA.
    Yet another example I read recently illustrated clearly that NHS spending as a % of GNP was indeed falling from 2012.This could have been due to several issues, fewer staff , smaller wages bill, government indeed cutting the budget , but the graph clearly illustrated a problem and not the untruth from the Tories that spending was increasing and certainly not as a % of GNP.
    The difficulty I feel with graphs in debates is how to get them viewed efficiently and to give people long enough to view them on news programs etc. They do make wonderful road side posters.

  4. Great post (again). The BBC simply seem to report and tell viewers what politicians say/ claim, repeating the data or stats used by the politicians...and then repeat the opposing views, but almost never attempt to contextualise or more accurately show using stats these views, so highlighting how we are so often being mislead and misinformed. The public are not being accurately guided or informed, when a few simple graphs and figures could easily do so. The big question is why the BBC chooses not to do this. The answer might be found by asking 'who would stand to lose by the public being more accurately informed?'.

  5. Maybe you can make use of this image:

    I like what you wrote, but it seems you ought to dress it up with a few charts!

  6. Your draft look pretty good.

    To me, the issue seems to be lack of subject knowledge by BBC correspondents, and a lack of even basic understanding of statistics.

    The BBC Trust call for evidence lists 4 questions, from which the key issues seem to be:
    - impartiality
    - accuracy
    - accessible critical analysis and context
    - challenge and scrutiny

    It's easy to be impartial (at least at a superficial level) by giving equal air time to all sides. That requires no subject matter knowledge by the correspondent. The other three issues are much more tricky.

    The easy approach is to assume that if you report "both sides" then it will all come right, as the "other side" will provide the challenge and scrutiny, and by implication that helps with critical analysis, context and accuracy. Often it does not.

    Having experts on call may be enough for some subjects, but for politically important ones such as macroeconomics, the BBC need their correspondents to have sufficient grounding in the subject matter being reported. Too often even the BBC economic correspondents appear to have an insufficient (or one-sided) knowledge of economics.

    And anyone reporting or commenting on statistics should know something about, er, statistics.

  7. This is great stuff, thank you for writing it up. I have one, negative suggestion:

    The example of health expenditure as % of GDP might not be clear as-is. I'm sure it's right that it's being cut in an unprecedented way. What grates on my hypothetical BBC-impartial glasses, is stating "the NHS seems to be in current crisis".

    Maybe that's what the media is telling us today? - I didn't immediately recognise it. (Again - I'm not saying that's _wrong_). And will someone reading this in a month's time still have that impression?

    I think it would be more objective if you could be more specific about the crisis. If the point makes sense simply in terms of the NHS budget, that would be pleasantly direct.


    Great job with the "numbers like this are meaningless on their own" section. BBC's More or Less (statistics program) ends up saying this every episode. Quoting from memory: "is this *really* a big number?". No excuse for a "well-known BBC financial journalist" to botch this in a way that we might interpret "fosters some political position".

    1. The problem with programmes like More or Less is that they give the idea that there are domains where statistics has to be discussed properly, such as the programme itself, and other domains where the reporters are allowed to be more lackadaisical, since they lack the type of 'specialist' knowledge that people on More or Less have.

      This allows a pretense that the misrepresentations that such journalists use are the product of not being able to get their head around the numbers, rather than because they're incentivised to be sensationalist and irresponsible.

    2. I think More or Less makes a good effort, repeatedly
      explaining the most fundamental analysis that should be considered when a statistic is being quoted. I.e. showing the public how simple it can be, to ask the right question and start digging. It's something you'd want to see, in a BBC held up as a bastion of impartiality, and expect them to be good at.

      It (well, front-man Tim Harford) has also been called on to the news at times. So it creates a resource and they haven't always been afraid to make use of that.

      I'd far rather have it there than not. (Even if they're not as great critics of _economic policy_ as we might think is justified). It would be nice if the rest of the journalism could approach the same standards. I personally doubt they're anywhere near reaching that point; perhaps you are less cynical than me.

      ISTM journalists themselves quoting the wrong statistics is low-hanging fruit. Even after letting all the "well-known financial journalists" (snirk) go, surely you're still covering third parties who will claim any statistic as favorable. Then if you want to inform the public, you have to be able to shut down the bad statistics to avoid lending false authority to the argument. I'm a complete sucker for appeals to authority (Aspie), so for me that seems a very challenging task.

      (And if More or Less can incubate a general skepticism of figures when you can't see them being subject to the same standards, that seems quite positive).

  8. Simon,

    I agree with what you say. The one addition I could suggest is that not only should the deficit be presented as a proportion of GDP - but it should also be made clear that it is a cash-flow figure. If the accounts were presented alongside the most recent 'whole of government accounts' prepared on a balance sheet basis this would again highlight how imperfect the current deficit is as a measure for the long-run sustainability of current government finances.

  9. Hi Simon,

    Really enjoy your blog and thanks for the post. Great to see the BBC is conducting a review of this topic and in general I think what you have to say is great, but could maybe do with a bit of repackaging. Some suggestions for your piece:
    1) I would implore you to break up your text with sub-headings. For example, "1: Normalisation", "2: Using charts", "3: Properly seeking the views of experts”. The ordering at present implicitly does this, but it’s perhaps not as clear as it could be.
    2) When talking about “normalisation” maybe try and make the language less abstract and hammer it home with a solid example. On the GDP example you could say that China’s GDP is $10 trillion, whilst the UK’s is $3 trillion, yet we don’t think of people in China as being “better off”. This is because what usually matters is not the total national income, but rather how that income is divided on average. UK GDP per capita of $40,000 is in fact greater than China’s GDP per capita of £13,000. As such GDP per capita is a far more meaningful statistic when talking about growth and changes in people’s standard of living. This really matters because... Similarly, on the debt and deficit example, maybe put it in more approachable language by saying that a number measuring “how much we owe” such as the debt or deficit is meaningless without being presented alongside a number that measures “our ability to pay”.
    3) Also on normalisation, maybe do more to highlight that what you normalise by depends on the issue at hand. If we’re talking about how well-off people are then GDP per capita is the metric to go for. But if we’re talking about global climate change total GDP is probably more important (eg when discussing the emissions intensity of the UK economy vs China).


  10. ...continued

    4) Practice what you preach on charts. A key thrust of your post is about using charts to show data, yet your post contains no charts! I think your submission would be greatly improved if you included some charts to illustrate your points. For example, show a chart of UK GDP vs GDP per capita that highlights why the per capita element is so crucial in the debate around the “recovery”. Show a chart of debt and deficit in gross terms, and then as a % of GDP. Show a chart of flood spending (maybe even the Newsnight one as a nice bit of positive reinforcement!)
    5) On the charts point, I personally think the BBC should consider allowing a set number of charts to be shown by each of the candidates in the next election debates.
    6) Minor point, but maybe avoid including a link to your mediamacro "myths" blogpost. Are they really going to bother "clicking through" to this post?
    7) Another minor point, but who is the BBC financial journalist you are referring to at the start? Can you provide a link/source?
    8) Lastly, I would maybe consider the tone taken in the article. Your entire notion of the “myths of mediamacro” is a kind of pejorative concept that works great on this blog but is maybe not the best way to go for this submission. Furthermore, virtually all the examples you give are where the BBC has given the Conservatives an easy ride, and unfairly indicted Labour. Whilst the facts may indicate this is the case, would it pain you to include at least one example where leftie/Labour spin has been swallowed by the BBC through improper use of statistics? Surely there are plenty of BBC articles about Labour’s record investments in the NHS/education from back in the New Labour days that don’t hold up when compared against real/trend spending. I know this kind of faux impartiality is exactly what you’re railing against and that “reality has a well-known liberal bias”, but a bit of realpolitik wouldn’t go amiss if it increases the chance of your recommendations getting a fair hearing! I just worry that at the moment that anyone even vaguely close-minded will think your submission is a general diatribe against Osbourne & Co, rather than a constructive contribution looking to positively affect change.

    Hope this helps and keep up the good work.


    1. Stephen - Thanks, that was very helpful

  11. I would add international comparison to normalisation and overtime development.

  12. For your eyes only:

    ... a little less about the use of statistics, a little more about the economics.

  13. One misuse of statistics that the BBC among others have been guilty of is multiplicative comparisons with inflation rates, such as `Nurses pay rise double the rate of inflation'.

  14. Your draft covers the main points very well. Some thoughts on other areas where there are problems in reporting on statistics, mainly related to the absence of critical analysis and context :
    * balance of payments - these hardly get any headline coverage at all, perhaps understandably compared to the times decades ago when they dominated news coverage. But minimising reporting of the balance of payments in the current economic climate leads to a bias in public presentation of economic issues, tending to reinforce the focus on public sector balances - the deficit again ! - to ignore questions relating to the competitiveness of the economy, and to avoid any discussion of the relative balance between parts of the economy - for example looking at household debt alongside public debt and corporate sector financial balances.
    * the financial sector of the economy - there tends to be a focus on gross measures rather than net, on the volume of financial activity rather than its underlying economic value, which reinforces the belief in the relative importance of this sector for the economy. And a focus on static or short-term movements rather than longer-term more dynamic measures - favourable reporting of bank profits quarter after quarter, with no balance against the massive wipe-out which took place in the financial crisis. This seems to be reinforced by the unbalanced use by the BBC and other media of ‘financial experts’ to comment on banking issues, with these experts coming overwhelmingly from the sector itself…..
    * the property market - statistics reported on tend to be house prices, with rises presented as more favourable than falls, little reporting on movements in the rental sector, or the issues arising from the impact on the market from investments by the super-rich. Comment comes mainly from industry spokespeople (mortgage providers, builders, or those servicing the upper end of the market in London.
    * state subsidies - there is very little reporting of public sector subsidies or tax breaks given to certain parts of the economy, tending to reinforce the focus on expenditure on ‘welfare’. For example, to agriculture, house ownership, the energy sector (with reporting on subsidies to renewables given more prominence than subsidies to nuclear power or oil and gas operations…)
    * the BBC seems to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid giving any figures in Euros, even those decided in Euros, preferring to convert everything to dollars…

  15. Two presentational points arising from previous comments:

    1. the one about saying the NHS is in crisis is good and applies generally across the board - anything that might give the slightest impression that it might be arguing a partisan case or based on 'subjective' opinion must be ruthlessly expunged or BBC execs will have a tendency and an excuse to discount the underlying point.

    2. Mention of 'More or Less' is very much on point - mht be worth mentioning the prgramme as it's a chance to (backhandedly) compliment the BBC on being able to address statistical issues properly - it would be nice if they could apply the same expertise to systematically checking and reviewing all BBC news statistics, rather than treating accurate stats as a niche interest.

  16. Run your comments by a journalist so that they are in a vernacular that those at the BBC can relate to. It makes no use for you to offer great ideas if you make them in a way that goes in one ear and out the other.

  17. A useful proposed submission. Some additional points you might want to consider with a view on trying to educate the public to have a more critical appreciation of how the statistics they are offered are built and used.

    1) Journalists should regularly remind listeners/viewers that economic statistics are estimates constructed from available data using rules or models and that all parts of these constructs are subject to error and review. Data are always selective, incomplete and or varying accuracy. A simple question such as 'what is the price of a pint of milk' has multiple answers depending on exactly when and where it was bought, the variant of milk, the supplier, the size of the container, etc. The best a statistician can do is determine a sampling strategy, choose examples according to this sample and apply some averaging rule. Getting to a price or inflation measure involves doing this across a wide range of products and services having first performed the still more difficult task of deciding which to include in the constructed index. There are half a dozen internationally recognised ways of measuring unemployment but the unemployment rate is presented as an absolute metric. Economists are well aware of these limitations but even so often speak as if the numbers were both tangible and reliable. The public has little or no idea of these difficulties.

    2) Aggregates are a particular problem, as the inflation example above shows. I suspect that one reason listeners/viewers have difficulty with grasping the statistics they are offered is that they are often out of step with the reality of their daily life. Harold Wilson once observed that “for the unemployed man the rate of unemployment is 100%” and inflation indices are built from a mixture of products or services that might be substantially different from those a particular listener/viewer buys. Regional or sectoral experiences can differ radically from the national 'average'. Such discrepancies are inevitable but an educated public should have at least a critical awareness of them.

    3) Predicted values have all the above difficulties plus those added by all the uncertainties the future offers and reliance on economic models that are always partial and based on assumptions and relationships that can be challenged. Hence ranges are to be preferred to precise predictions and even then can be exceeded in times of crisis or rapid change. Journalists should educate the public to understand this.

    4) Current rates of change can present a very different picture from that obtained by considering levels (absolute or against trend). Unemployment might be falling but still at a high level; the economy might be growing but still be well below an expected trend level. This contrast often provides plenty of opportunity for a journalist or politician to select the statistic that presents the desired view.

    5) Similarly journalists should strive to present both sides of an argument rather than just the numbers from one side. It is common to hear statements such as 'supermarket X will open bringing N jobs' to a town, with no indication that small local shops will close in consequence. In macroeconomics, we are continually provided with numbers on government debt but rarely if ever on assets, so that the sale of a public property such as Royal Mail is presented as an improvement to the debt position, even though it is neutral or often detrimental to the government balance sheet.

  18. Any chance that you could give a mention to the misuse of timescales? When an amount of money needs to appear large, it is given for a 5 or even 15 year period. When it needs to appear small, it is given for a 1 year or shorter period.
    Michael G

  19. My own pet grouse is the use of "average". Most often the mean is used even when it is misleading as a guide to most people's experience. The median could be much more informative and relevant to viewers, and could easily be expressed in phrases such as "the average worker's income" (instead of "average income from work") or "the price of an average house" (instead of "the average price of houses").


  20. I think I have to agree with every point that you have made. The relevant normalisations for statistics and the use of charts are essential for political debate and the media's reporting of it. On a lonely night I like to go up to the top of a tower and howl this into the night.

    From my perspective I think a key improvement for increasing the probability of positive reception is to make it seem politically neutral. Of course the facts aren't political neutral but I would worry that those who end up reading this will be the kind of apparatchiks who will mislabel this as an "anti-Tory" or "anti-BBC" rant. For example, by implying (correctly) on how the BBC reporting favoured the Tories in its discussion of the so called "recovery" I can see it going in the "lefty academic" pile. Side note, the "self-appointed high priests" is likely to be met with the thought - "ah, because of course the economics Professors should be the self appointed high priests, should they?" (They should, but still.)

    So if possible make the language more neutral and less emphatic except when emphasizing how particular statistics can be misleading if presented incorrectly. To help this I would put in examples where poorly presented statistics might have cut against the Tories. Maybe also some poor reporting of statistics that are neither anti-Labour or anti-Tory, the Scottish referendum is a rich source of such cases.

    To finish, let me second some of the points made by other commenters. First, definitely run it by a journalist or some other person with little formal economic training - this could easily go over the heads of people without the relevant training. Second, make your points with charts where possible because they illustrate your point in two ways: 1) what the reported stat misses out; and 2) how a chart helps illustrate that. Third, pepper with compliments, noting exemplary programmes such as More or Less, pointing out more of the instances where they got it absolutely right and pointing out "the BBC's important role as a counterweight to commercial programming blah blah blah". Finally, explicitly relate your points to the the BBC Trust's specific bullet points: impartiality, accuracy, accessible critical analysis and context, challenge and scrutiny. I bet there is a good chance that there are going to be some real box tickers looking at this stuff so make it easy for them to tick the boxes.

  21. One last point, there are many cases where what you have written is of the form "The BBC did this wrong, but you sometimes get it right." For example, when talking about flooding you talk of your despair at the poor reporting. I think it might go down easier if you turn this on its head: “The BBC did this right, but you sometimes get it wrong. Make the right thing you did a standard.” For example the section on flooding could have been presented along the lines of:

    "Newsnight in its recent reporting of flooding exemplified this practice [of putting facts in historical context] by showing the history of spending on flood defences. This made it clear that spending had on flood defences had fallen in 2011/12. Making this a standard, to report statistics in a historical context, would help ensure all reporting gave such an impartial and accurate account while providing easy to digest critical analysis and context for the audience. This would help avoid those cases where the BBC inadvertently misleads the audience, such as the floods back in 2013/14 where the BBC did not report the spending in historical context and gave the viewer the impression that spending had not decreased.”

  22. More a nitpicking.

    The summary on Brown's policies is correct and to any reader of this blog the proofs are known:
    While it was true that in the last few years of his Chancellorship Gordon Brown did slightly bend the rules to achieve his fiscal targets, there is no way...

    However and especially under the consideration of Simon's political association as advisor this sentence comes across as mere white wash of Labour policies whereas for the policies of the current government more detailed examples are given.
    A little more critical view can easily be shown with an example of what rule Gordon Brown bend and the resulting effects.

    And thanks for the years of commenting on economic issues and policy effects that gives me a chance to understand and make sense out of the topic.

  23. One issue with normalisation is that people, average people and even some people who should know better, ignore denominators. This is especially problematic when the denominator should be in focus. Take the deficit/GDP ratio. People will refer to it as the deficit, as though the GDP were constant. This leads to confusion, at times with detrimental consequences. Attempting to reduce the "deficit", by which is meant the deficit/GDP ratio, will not work as expected if the actual deficit and GDP are both reduced, as we have seen.

  24. I would suggest that it would be helpful for the BBC to have an introduction to the differences between macro-economists, finance economists and behavioural economists - in particular the dangers of supply side ideology where it is acceptable to figuratively and literally "decrease the surplus population". Merry Christmas Simon!

  25. To me this reads like a Labour leaning commentary. Just a piece of Tory bashing really. (PS I am not a Tory). Can you really call the last 5 years 'austerity'? More a readjustment after excessive public and private debt.

    Personally I agree that all parties were in agreement over the excessive borrowing and it wasn't all Brown's fault as chancellor - but it was more his fault than anyone else's!

    1. "To me this reads like a Labour leaning commentary."

      Perhaps that is because, to adapt Paul Krugman's epigram, reality has an unfortunate tendency to lean leftwards. Do you not think that, since Hutton, the BBC has become pusillanimous when dealing with anything with political implications, retreating into it's brief for balance at the expense of accurate factual reporting, and/or a more forensic examination of the claims of either side?

      As for your last, not entirely coherent last sentence, try reading the "mediamacro myths" liked in the article above, especially the one titled "Labour profligacy"

  26. Strange to think that reality has a tendency to lean leftwards as it is a relative position rather than an absolute one which might imply that 'reality' lies in the middle.

    Which would you class as the second most successful left leaning government so far? I say second - because the first would obviously be Atlee in 1945. But since then who? (I'm guessing you won't offer Blair)

    To me to be left leaning is a triumph of hope over experience.

    1. I think economic (and probably social) policy under Blair was probably the second best, so you are wrong. Foreign policy was more mixed, with Iraq a disaster.

      Forget about political preference, its hard to argue against the proposition that on economic policy issues Osborne/Cameron are incompetent compared to Brown/Blair.

  27. Luckily I don't have to speak up for Cameron and Osborne. Having said that I think their first five years in coalition were surprisingly progressive. Of course the UK was helped early on by devaluing against the Euro- a benefit that has now gone. I think that their luck might be about to run out.

    Brown was competent but fell victim to hubris: 'no more boom and bust!'

    I agree that Blair gets an unfair press - all clouded by Iraq. They achieved some really good things ie Sure Start and the infrastructure spending (except of course for PFI!) but to call Peter (we're relaxed about the filthy rich) Mandleson left wing is stretching a point!


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