Why the Tories' pregnancy error is alarming

The party's dystopian view of Britain -- exposed.

One of the early lessons of the pre-election campaign is that statistics aren't the Conservatives' strong point. At the beginning of the month, Chris Grayling was caught out when he manipulated statistics in order to falsely claim that violent crime had increased hugely over the past decade.

Now, a new attack document from the party, Labour's Two Nations, claims that in the ten most deprived parts of the country, "54 per cent [of teenage girls] are likely to fall pregnant before the age of 18".

In fact, the figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families show that, in the areas concerned, 54.32 out of every 1,000 women aged 15-17 fell pregnant, which gives us a figure of 5.4 per cent, not 54 per cent.

This was clearly more cock-up than conspiracy: someone at CCHQ left a decimal point out. But what's more extraordinary is that no one sounded the alarm and pointed out that, regardless of your maths ability, 54 per cent is not a plausible finding. That the figure was repeated three times makes this failure even more remarkable.

Labour can justifiably claim that the error reflects the Tories' dystopian and distorted view of British society.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.