Fake news and evidence-based policy

Two much-used buzz words of our age.

If you ever wondered whether the ‘fake news’ phenomenon was just hype, today’s newspapers should reassure you that you have every reason to be concerned.

It’s in every news outlet (which, needless to say, doesn’t guarantee it’s true) – the UK Government has been exposed, using dodgy figures to bolster its position on immigration.  The Home Office previously estimated there were 100,000 foreign students a year staying on in Britain illegally – but new data from the Office of National Statistics says there were only 4,600 last year.

“We spent five years trying to persuade the Home Office that the figures they were using as evidence were bogus,” said the Lib Dem leader, Vince Cable, who was part of the coalition under David Cameron. “But they persisted nonetheless on the basis of these phoney numbers.”

We know how this happened.  The government was under pressure from UKIP and felt they needed to be tougher on immigration.  So pluck a figure from the air and ‘hey presto’ we’re as tough as they are.  You have to laugh.  The evidence is the servant of the policy, not the other way around.  It’s like the police searching single-mindedly for the evidence to convict the guy they’ve already decided is guilty.  Evidence-based policy.

So now we know they just make shit up on this subject, how confident are we about the evidence base for other policies?

‘£350 million extra for the NHS’ anyone?

Be very afraid.

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Are we just miserable bastards?

Nothing very witty in this post I fear.

My feelings about immigration to the UK are pretty simple.  I’m frankly astonished nobody is expressing this perspective.  And massively disillusioned.

I’m lucky.  Chances are, if you’re reading this, so are you.  I wasn’t born in a third world country with significant prevalence of infant mortality, disease or civil war.  Instead I was born in an advanced economy, in a middle class family, with all the tools, aptitudes and abilities to have a relatively comfortable life.  I’m thankful for that.  My attitude to those less fortunate is that I’d be happy to share some of my good fortune with them, especially if it doesn’t materially impact my lucky situation.  If that means taking significant numbers of refugees from war torn countries or even enthusiastic economic migrants, looking for a better life, that’s all well and good.

Clearly, other people don’t think this way.

 

So what do they think?  After all, we’re all immigrants really, if you go back a couple of generations.

Has social and political thinking been reduced to the calculus of ‘how can I get the most economic advantage’?  Is there no place for the politics of fairness or -dare I even suggest – generosity?

I fear it’s beginning to look that way.

And I fear it makes us all look a bit shit.