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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Pants on fire

It's a sad life when you can claim to have actually watched a HoC Treasury Select Committee in action on Parliamentlive.tv, as indeed I did on 1st December 2015. The interest was in seeing the admirable Andrew Tyrie  torture Gideon Osborne over the  EU migrants and benefits figures headlined by David Cameron and hastily justified by a DWP that looked very much as though it had been caught with its pants down. Tyrie went as far as to call the numbers "bogus" to which Osborne replies (13:36:38) "...it's the most accurate estimate we have available to us."

We now know, thanks to the dog with a bone like qualities of the indomitable Jonathan Portes that at best Gideon was equivocating and at worst perjuring himself. I guess the best that can be said is that views differ as to the desirability of Chancellors of the Exchequer being economical with the vérité.

 Portes' FOI request to DWP and HMRC forced them to admit that they have  numbers  for recent migrants on tax and national insurance payments as well as benefit payments.  But they refused to put them in the public domain and turned down the FOI request on the grounds that the numbers related "..to the formulation of Government policy" and were therefore exempt from FOI disclosure.

Play that by me again. A department of government in a so called democracy has information  about matters of fact that are highly relevant to a public debate that is taking place to a large extent in a factless vacuum and fueled by the worst sort of media hysteria. Moreover, at some point, as yet to be determined, that public will be asked in a referendum to vote on the UK's continued membership of the EU. Is there anyone who thinks that in this context accurate factual information about immigration should not inform this debate?

Clearly the answer is yes: the DWP, HMRC and the current Government. As somebody who has a professional interest in data I'm appalled. As a citizen I'm outraged. 

This insignificant little story, which has had a piffling media half-life tells us more about how we in the UK are governed and the attitudes of the governing class towards the rest of us than more or less anything that has happened in Westminster over the last few weeks. We are governed by people who do not want facts to inform public debate. What kind of a democracy is that? A confederacy of dunces?

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