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On immigration, Europe and much else besides, it’s time Cameron stopped letting myth drive policy

Posted on 15 December 2013 | 3:12pm

If anyone needs any more evidence of how sustained media lies and distorted agenda setting has created a people out of touch with its own country, please take a look at this piece of work by IpsosMori and King’s College London.

It is a survey of what British people think are the facts behind some of the important issues facing Britain.

For example, asked how many teenage girls get pregnant before they are 16, the public think it is 15per cent. If they divided that by 25, they would be right – 0.6percent.

More than half of people think violent crime is rising. It is not.

Around a third of people think the government spends more on JobSeeker’s Allowance than on pensions. In fact pensions takes up 15 times the budget of JSA.

Benefit fraud is another area where myths are more powerful than fact. The public think that £24 out of every £100 spent on benefits is claimed fraudulently, compared with official estimates of seventy pence out of every £100.

Overseas aid is another one. Spending on aid accounts for just over one per cent of government spending. A quarter of Brits think it is in the top three spending items. Asked to name the issue that costs the most, more people chose aid £in fact £7.9bn) than pensions (£74bn) and education £51.5bn.

Religion has the mythmakers in charge of opinion too – we think a quarter of the population is Muslim. It is actually five per cent. We think 34 per cent classify themselves as Christian. It is 59percent.

Doubtless some of these impressions are driven by their own lives and experiences. But much of it is down to the fact that the papers they read, and the broadcasts unduly influenced by said papers, tell them lies often enough so that they believe them, or regurgitate them even if they don’t.

This is bad in itself because a country whose people do not actually know what is happening in their own land is not, to quote John Major’s goal for Britain, which recently he said he failed to meet, ‘a nation at ease with itself.’ But it is also bad because too often the politicians feel they have to meet the demands of this false agenda rather than the reality of problems facing Britain, and that can lead to them pursuing the wrong priorities, and making the wrong decisions.

Out on my bike this morning, as the rain started, I took a break at a cafe in Regent’s Park, and picked up a copy of the Sunday Times, where I read of yet another crackdown planned by the Prime Minister on immigration, yet another target or quota or cap, yet another attempt to curb the shift of Tory support to UKIP.

But if Cameron had challenged this agenda rather than pandered to it, he would not have to keep pandering some more. UKIP are to him what the SDP and Lib Dems used to be to us, irritants, skilful protest vote scavengers who pick up good poll ratings and the occasional mid term win but, because they are not a credible party of government, tend to fade as election time comes. Now that the Lib Dems are part of the coalition, clearly they can no longer play that role. In allowing UKIP, and the largely isolationist and possibly xenophobic right wing press to set his agenda on both Europe and immigration, Cameron has got himself in the position of making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons, not a good place for a leader to be.

His objective is economic growth. His strategy is austerity. His political strategy meanwhile is to blame Labour, Europe, immigrants and anyone else he can find for the fact that the growth strategy is not working as planned.

Instead of listening to Nigel Farage, or the bilious and deliberately ill-informed, ill-informing lie machines in several of our newspaper HQs, he should listen to the Domino Pizza boss who said recently he had a thousand jobs to fill, but despite high unemployment levels he could not get Brits to fill them. He should listen to those who sat on the LSE Growth Commission and cited immigration as one of the three main reasons – along with competition policy and investment in public services and infrastructure – why Labour delivered ten years of growth and prosperity before the GLOBAL (my emphasis to rebut the crap about ‘mess we inherited’ mantra) financial crisis.

The politics of immigration are tough, always have been. But in basing his political strategy on myths and lies, he is putting his economic strategy at risk.

Similarly he no more wanted to be in a position where the UK (with or without Scotland) left the EU than he wants to get rid of private schools and their embedded advantages for the rich and powerful. But that is precisely the position he has got himself in because of his tendency to be driven by the media weather rather than make the weather himself, according to what he really believes. So he has to ‘take on Europe’ because it bans straight bananas, wants to abolish the British Army, not to mention Cheddar Cheese and fish and chips. The fact that it has helped deliver lasting peace and rising prosperity for millions of people should not be allowed to get in the way of the myths and the lies. The lies might sell papers (though the evidence is inconclusive on that.) But they should not guide policy.

  • Michele

    Re ‘Cameron has got himself in the position of making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons …..’ this applies in so many other areas as well as those driven by Farage.

    I wish when the Govt spouts a threat such as fines for NHS hospitals that are not providing 24/7 consultant attendance that someone would explain the point of the punishment (if it is actually meant to be anything like a solution) and the destination planned for the fines.

    I agree with the need for 24/7 attendance but doubt it exists in all private hosps so are they to be fined too? Mind you, am also aware that not many private facilities include emergency care anyway (they’re also not keen on hanging on to patients that are dying ……).

    • Ehtch

      It’s all bullshite Michele, any nonsense to fill the morning breakie telly news, to fill us full of untrue crap into our brains. TURN THE TELLY OFF!!

      • Michele

        I don’t even think of TV and sitting still during daylight except for an hour on Wednesdays.

    • Michele

      Oooops, my ignorance, apparently it’s not the hospitals that will be fined if consultants won’t switch days, it’s to be the consultants themselves.

      So, another break of employment contracts is in the pipeline.
      Has the willy waver (sorry to be sexist) made any private companies do anything like it yet or is it a practice confined to the state sectors he despises so much?

      • Gillian C.

        The Indi. had a piece about this on 15/12/2013. It sounds as if it would be the hospitals rather than the consultants that would be fined. On the other hand it may be just BS.

    • Gillian C.

      This threat of fines for the NHS is outrageous.
      Maybe they think the NHS is not going bankrupt quickly enough.

  • Ehtch

    Our media is de-sanitized, hypocritized, de-genetisized, miss-informationized, and many other izes – it is a total disgrace, and is now a load of gormless hysterical bumf.

  • Ehtch

    George Galloway on his Russia Today telly programme, last Saturday morning, going on about the true hypocrisy from the West on Mandela’s passing away, amongst other things,

  • Ehtch

    Slightly off topic maybe Ali, Fergie last night – reminds me a bit with the beeb of the West and Nelson from last week…

    Another great Sports Manager, who also too got a gong last night, his highness The Gats. Hope they both had a good chat with each other afterwards, Ali…. ; )

  • Ehtch

    Bugger it Ali, might as well post the four minute or so highlights of the Oz vee Lions final test from last summer, to make a proper job of it,

  • Bob Ashworth

    It really is time for the Labour Party to start putting out a more positive/accurate message on migration. Their are British communities all over the world, working, doing business or learning. Why do we expect different of people in other countries?

    Also more should be done to promote language learning in primary schools, as this promotes greater awareness of other cultures…. similarities and differences! In Spain many primary schools are moving towards bi-lingual status… what a great goal that would be!

  • georgewoodhouse

    I agree that Cameron (and other politicians) tend to think very short term over may things; believing that any headlined issue requires them to act – or at least appear to act. But I think it too easy to dismiss the attitude to immigration in the UK as being trumped up as a false picture created by the media, which is then taken advantage of by opportunistic politicians like UKIP. It is also false, and somewhat insulting to think that most of the public are too ready to believe what the media tell us to believe. I am quite sure that the electorate are not, in the main, willing to follow blindly where their newspaper – or their politicians – lead them. In the case of immigration, it is wrong to label those concerned about the level as isolationist and xenophobic. Some are but the huge numbers who are worried about immigration cannot be dismissed so readily and have other things on their minds; and it is more to do with the uncontrollable numbers arriving in specific areas of the country with little or no planning for housing, schools or other services. Objections to immigration because of the inability of a very small % not being able to speak English may seem unreasonable – but it isn’t when a small area has a much higher % of immigrants arriving over a short time span, which in turn dramatically changes the the neighbourhood in which their families have lived for generations. It is also clear that a high level of immigration, applying economics at its most basic level, has contributed to lower wages. And little wonder that some industry bosses are very much on favour of immigration – otherwise they would have to offer wages higher than the minimum wage.

    As to the EU, which is after all the reason why so much immigration has taken place in recent years, it is of course an excellent principle that we should have a united Europe, all working together in harmony and for the good of all inhabitants. I am personally very happy about free movement of people around the EU. But, as usual, our politicians have got it badly wrong. The structure of the EU is wrong, the way it works is wrong, the way it spends money is wrong. The bigger government is and the further removed from the electorate – the worse it’s decisions are and the longer it takes to even admit mistakes, let alone correcting them. In fact have the EU ever admitted to getting something wrong? There is nothing democratic about the EU; it has evolved through the power of the bureaucracy at the centre which has no democratic mandate and who are unaccountable to anyone. The puppet EU parliament is a joke or a sideshow (as described by Sir Christopher Pissarides) and is even more disconnected from the electorate than our own parliament has become. A central facet of a democracy is persuasion – if you cannot persuade the electorate of your case for something you are wrong. It seems the majority of the electorate is not persuaded about the benefits of the EU. The politicians job is to persuade us that not only are the benefits real, but that the control of what goes on in the EU is in the hands of the electorate.

    The underlying problem with the EU is that to be really effective, and democratically controlled, our sovereign governments have to release real power to a USEu which needs a democratic mandate. Yet I see no move to do this.

    It is significant I believe that the US constitution begins: “We the people of the USA….”.

    n complete contrast the constitution of the EU begins by listing all the heads of government in the EU who resolve to change to way we are governed – no mention of We the People or that we are involved, consulted or even matter. Says it al really!

    • Gillian C.

      An excellent post Mr Woodhouse. Well said.

  • Gillian C.

    These statistics seem dubious to me.
    59% Christian. 5% Muslim.
    I suppose that’s what you mean by ‘mythmakers’

    • Michele

      I took a look at the link in AC’s OP and the questions themselves and not sure how ‘free’ the survey was, the multiple choice offers were vague, no mention of ‘minimum’ or ‘not more than’ so exactly what were respondents limited by?
      Who were they anyway? No mention of how the survey was conducted, whether on the street (pick a redneck if you need a giggle) or by phone (avoid East Enders or Newsnight schedules) etc.
      I’m afraid that if my reaction to surveys is typical they’re virtually useless 🙁

      On the topic of under-age girls getting pregnant or even having sex it’s certainly time that something was done about explaining what ‘age of consent’ means, in school and maybe even as an introduction to law in general (how it serves different priorities and is often benevolent).

      I’m sick of reading about girls being ‘groomed’ and thereby being ‘willing’ ….. a girl does not have the right to agree to sex before 16, if she does so it is still, in legal terms, rape no matter the age of the ‘partner’.

      There’s an interesting difference in some US states and European countries where the AoC is lower (14 or even 13 …..). The difference is that such a young girl’s partner must not be more than a stated difference older (often a matter of months).
      So what does this have to do with the survey ……. ho hum ….. waiting for the urge to attack the gardenful of sloppy leaves and slugs and snails to hit 🙁

  • The Conservatives and UKIP simply pander to these myths.

    While this is to be expected of UKIP it is just ridiculous that the Conservatives do this.

    I think the Conservatives are frightened of the Daily Mail and other right wing papers.

    I think we would all be much better off if the Conservatives actually argued the case for the UK remaining in the EU instead of playing silly games, like this latest business from the Home Office about re-negotiating the freedom of movement in the EU.

  • Nigel

    “… I read in the Sunday Times…(para11)” – or in other words, you started to read “evidence of how sustained media lies and distorted agenda setting (para 1)” is setting the agenda for this week’ blog.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    Either the media (you included) is a trusted conduit of politics, or else it has to be challenged. If it needs to be challenged as you imply, them get source material from original quotations. It’s all to easy to pander to a distorted agenda.

    I myself read somewhere that Alistair Campbell used to write this blog in 45 minutes.

  • reaguns

    Anyone ever read Cameron’s articles from years back when he was a regular Guardian columnist (which should make right wing conservatives say “of course he was…”)?

    Funny one here about tax, but I thought in the interests of fairness I’d include what he said of brown in it. Full article is here:

    And the line in question re Brown is:

    “Whether they are for tax and spend or against it, all the pundits seem to agree that Mr Brown is one of the greatest chancellors since William Gladstone. The economic record in terms of growth is undeniable. And I agree that he is a figure of colossal power and intellect; his presence in the Commons and command of the chamber are indeed awesome. “

  • reaguns

    “More than half of people think violent crime is rising. It is not.”

    Good to see Alastair endorse the crime and punishment polices of the coalition there. So everyone from Ed Balls to Tony Blair was wrong then, ie in a recession/economic downturn the “causes of crime” should skyrocket, and so should crime. Even though we were much poorer in the old days and had less crime.

    The answer is as always: prison works.

  • reaguns

    “Religion has the mythmakers in charge of opinion too – we think a quarter of the population is Muslim. It is actually five per cent.”

    Wow! I thought that the entire black/asian percentage of our population was around 3-4% and that muslims were about two thirds of this ie 2-2.5%.

    5% of our population being muslim is massive compared to what I thought it was! That is not necessarily a problem as long as we do not have muslim ghettos, every decent town in America has a Chinatown and a Little Italy, and the towns are the wealthier for it, its questionable whether our Little Bangladesh’s and Pakistanitowns make the same contribution.

    I am fine with it until immigrants, or their children, then start hankering after sharia law or other concessions. They should be told very clearly: “We welcome your labour. If you are 2nd generation, we welcomed your parents labour and contribution to this country. Those who chose to come here, did so because their prospects were better in this country than their homeland. One of the reasons is we have capitalism, secularism and democracy. If you don’t want any of those things, then stay in or return to your country of origin.”

    • Michele

      Take your pick of which criteria’s quantity suits:

      ‘Second generation’ usually describes people born here so no matter what their religion or politics there would be nowhere to tell them to bogoff to :-s
      If there were I (as I suspect you too) could be bogoffed to RoI !

  • reaguns

    Arguing with right wingers is tough. The great thing with arguing with lefties, is that it takes less time, because you can just ignore them, get on with life, and sooner or later they will contradict themselves. For example all the greanpeace/rainbow warrior treehugger hippies who joined forces with the soviet union who called them “useful idiots” when they campaigned against nuclear weapons in Britain, who couldn’t laugh a few weeks back when Russia through a load of them in the slammer. Likewise when ironically steven fry, peter tatchell and no doubt the greenham common lesbians now get to understand whether they backed the wrong horse with Putin’s crackdowns on homosexuality.

    Lets be clear that many on the right were hopelessly wrong about Mandela, but lets never let the left forget about the USSR.

    “he should listen to the Domino Pizza boss who said recently he had a thousand jobs to fill, but despite high unemployment levels he could not get Brits to fill them. He should listen to those who sat on the LSE Growth Commission and cited immigration as one of the three main reasons – along with competition policy and investment in public services and infrastructure – why Labour delivered ten years of growth and prosperity before the GLOBAL (my emphasis to rebut the crap about ‘mess we inherited’ mantra) financial crisis.”

    1. Therefore we need to educate, train and motivate our people to take those jobs. Beyond me how labour of all parties misses this?

    2. We should listen to Dominos ceo should we? Why stop there, I am sure Fred Goodwin and Bob Diamond and Rupert Murdoch have good ideas about how we should structure our immigration and employment policies eh?

    3. We had the largest deficit (11%) in the western world and the largest banking sector (500% of gdp) in the world. (Switzerland and America by contrast have about 150% and less than 100% respectively.) We had an enormous recession when others had next to none (Switzerland) or none (Canada) or growth (Australia) or huge growth of 8% (China). We took, almost unbelieveably, house prices out of our inflation calculations. Tell me whats Global about that?

    • Michele

      You show very little sign of that preference for getting on with life.

      Why not show how it’s done chez reaguns?

    • Michele

      Pirouetting of the selective editing type yet again.

      You look so pretty at it though 😉

    • Dave Simons

      You can’t have been around in the 1960s, otherwise you wouldn’t keep trotting out such rubbish. In 1968 there were student demonstrations against the Vietnam war in March AND the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August. There has in fact been a lively debate on the Left about what went wrong in the so-called ‘Soviet’ Union since the 1920s. Certainly some people in the 1960s on what’s broadly called ‘The Left’ opposed Western capitalism only to embrace far worse systems in the USSR, China and other countries that called their bureaucratic states ‘socialist’. I blame the Thacher/Reagan counter-revolution on recycling all this kind of naivety about the relationship of the Left to bureaucratic state control. I expect people to have at least read George Orwell, who picked up on the theory of ‘bureaucratic collectivism’ for use in ‘1984’. I’ve yet to meet all these ageing hippies and Greenpeace people who supported the Soviet Union – the ones I’ve met inclined more to some definition of anarchism. You sometimes sound like a ‘Daily Mail’ parrot.

  • Ted

    Alastair – there is no doubt that there was a global economic crisis. However, and incredibly importantly, Labour was running deficits of £30bn+ per year in the years running up to the bust. During a boom of unprecedented (and unsustainable, shaky etc etc) stature, the Labour government couldn’t even balance the books – Britain was in an awful fiscal position before the crisis even hit. It wasn’t always like that though; you were left a healthy budget surplus by Major in 1997. And all of this doesn’t even begin to to mention Gordon Brown’s immortal quote(s),”no return to Tory boom and bust!” (he said this over one hundred times in the Commons). The global financial crisis was not caused by the Labour government; the severity and sheer scale of the fiscal crisis we are in now though, very much lays at the Labour Party’s door. Accepting that, and even more importantly, acting upon it in the future, will allow the Labour Party to become a credible and responsible party of government.

    • Michele

      Got proof of your claim re 1997?
      If so, remember to express it by ALL the relevant criteria, value, percentage, increase or decrease on the year/s before and projections for the year/s after and whichever others you choose, don’t post as if it’s a classful of 9yr olds at a feeder for Eton.

      It is so easy and spurious to spout one stat and while I’m not a huge fan of HuffPost there’s a lot for you to swallow in this writer’s OP :

      PS: Know what the gold was sold to pay down (or chose to ignore that as it didn’t suit your purpose to remember it for even one day)?

    • Janet Edwards

      I think you need to look again at your figures. Labour did not inherit a surplus in 1997 and did not overspend in the run up to the crash:

      You might also wish to query why George Osborne would commit to matching Labour’s spending before the crash if they were being profligate:

      Labour’s economic mistake was to under regulate the banks. The Tories, at the time. argued for LESS regulation: ‘A Conservative government should relax banking regulation’ See page 64 –

      It’s worth reading the whole report to fully appreciate just how opposed the Tories were to regulation of many areas of finance including mortgages.

  • Ehtch

    ref. Twitter and Cameron on Team Nigella Ali, oh yes he did, at a Brussels’ Euro summit press conference, where the Judge on the case gave a good slap on the arse to Dave,


    What a tw…it!

  • Ehtch

    By the way Ali, sad news our legend in sports growing up has left us, the legend David Coleman. Did you take any lessons from him Ali…

    And don’t ask me what is going on in Cardiff, with Mack, but it looks as if sadly… etc.. Inevitable now. Gunnar Sol is hot favourite to take over. Done well in Norway, winning two championships in a row there.

  • Michele

    Is it possible to have a news industry that just publishes fact when raw fact itself is so often just about what someone has said ?

    All the way down the line there is subjectivity and opinion and so often they just amount to distortion.

    Today I heard that the Woolwich killers had been approached again and again by our security services hoping to persuade them to spill about fellow hardliners.

    What proof is there of this when it is coming from the gobs of people so cynical they would kill someone for just which reason? Because he’d served in Afghanistan or so as to draw Police to the location then wave an unloaded gun at them in hopes of being shot down ……. which was it?

    They wanted to be deemed martyrs or wanted to cause yet another Inquiry and accusations of Police murderers? If the latter had happened we know that some sectors would have gobbled up the crap.

  • Michele

    Further to puzzlement about the purpose (and proposed destination) of fines imposed re non 24/7 attendance in A&E by consultants I could be wrong but I don’t think any mention has been made by Hunt et al about a study done in 2009 published in 2010 on the very same topic (at which stage consultant attendance had been increasing and without all the mucho macho waving mentioned earlier ………..)

    I wonder who’s the bad guy about the ignoring / non-mentioning or admitting of this history?

  • timinsingapore

    Some concerns about immigration are legitimate. Some concerns about the current form of the EU are legitimate. But Cameron (of whom hitherto I have been a fan, generally) has headed off in a crazy direction by pandering to the denture-gnashers of UKIP. It just stokes them up, and leaves them wanting more, more …

  • Michele

    I don’t know how well-informed anyone can be by ‘our’ media or how certain of the research, it’s certain that some journalists are told what to write in their own name :-s.
    Is that akin to being owned?

    Today we hear again words to effect of ‘foreign nationals WILL have to pay’ as if that’s a new/incoming situation but it’s not:

    Haven’t all EU member countries always debited each other?

    I posted last week about the ’09 report from the Kings Fund re the increases of attendance by consultants in hospitals at weekends and know first hand that as late as ’00-01 GPs were so high-handed they actually refused to tell Govt how many patients they had on their lists or how many they saw per session (and that it took little treats to make them do so).

    I really wish that ALL the pragmatic changes brought about by Mr Milburn and later occupants of that role would be broadcast widely (along with descriptions of the high handed situations that existed before).

  • Michele

    Today I was as excited as ever to receive the local councillors’ ‘toot-toot aren’t we great’ mag – its front page was about what the Lib Dem councillors call ‘the final victory’ that our hospital is not to be illegally downgraded by their party propping up a Tory govt after all (a plan that would have left locals at the mercy of the forever-clogged South Circular Rd or A21 to reach an A&E).
    They had the audacity to show a pic of their attendance at one of the several marches – events organised by Labour MPs and councillors and peopled by mostly-Labour residents.

    The article was full of ‘Labour ‘s PFI’ as if Govt had signed the contracts the local Trusts had ….. yet one of the boroughs with a nearly-bankrupt PCT is 85% Tory-led and the other 22%. The borough which’s hospital was to be exploited to rescue them is 80% Labour and used PFI to make huge improvements in its buildings around the same time.

    ‘Labour’s PFI’ sounds as if Labour invented the system :-s
    How strange then that it was used in Oz three decades ago and is a centuries-old system.

    A few weeks ago I posted whingeing about why all the bodies that are in such bondage because of contracts they signed years ago when BofE rate was 6% or more
    don’t get together and demand re-negotiation against the interest rate of now. I felt a little silly and to be shot down for such a la-la-la notion but have read that in fact it’s something that has been done in the past so why is THIS Govt not doing or facilitating that instead of threatening those it deems its subjects with hospital downgrading?

    They are fond of bleating about the ‘mess’ they inherited so unwillingly well this is a mess they CAN intervene on (and not illegally viz Hunt’s plot).
    They will of course upset all those people with shares in the backers of PFI ‘loans’ but that shouldn’t affect them doing so should it?

  • Ehtch

    HNY Ali, and to yours close. Been here last few weeks, sense it can be going places, open expression, since google has fecked up youtube. On first named terms with the CEO of it, Dave, and are google running after his tail with their corporate crap!!! Oh yes!

  • Ehtch

    Come on Al, you silly sod, how about a new blog thread, lazy arse! : )
    Did you get the pipes out late 31st?

  • Michele

    Am bemused by Ed Miliband’s eagerness this week to stop agencies paying immigrant workers less than their clients pay permanent employees.

    As the same happens (and always has) with indigenous temps maybe they could (should) be defended in the same way?

    It’s always been a stinky business, I daresay employers just charge the invoices to misc expenses and have no idea how unbalanced the charges vs the temps’ paypacket are

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