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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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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