The Tory shadow home secretary, Chris Grayling, went on the Today programme this morning to deny that the Conservatives have been using misleading statistics on violent crime.
The dispute is over a claim, made by Tory Central Office, that violent crime in "broken Britain" has risen by 70 per cent in the past decade. But the statistics used to reach this conclusion are not directly comparable, due to a big change in the way the numbers were recorded with the introduction of the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) in 2002. The BBC's Mark Easton, who uncovered the discrepancy, explains:
Before 2002 the decision as to whether an incident was a violent crime had been taken by police. After 2002, officers were obliged to record all incidents as violent crimes if the alleged victim said that is what it was. The aim was to stop police fiddling the figures and to get a better picture of violence. The obvious consequence was to send the raw numbers shooting up.
Grayling's defence this morning was as follows:
There are certainly changes in the recording methods, but the point is that they are the only comparators available. They are published by the Home Office . . . As an opposition party, we don't make the statistics. We can only use what the Home Office publishes.
This is a slightly disingenuous line of argument (these are the only two sets of numbers, so we should compare them, even though to do so is inaccurate . . . ?). As Easton points out, the Home Office document cited clearly highlights that "figures before and after [April 2002] are not directly comparable". Grayling's fellow Tory Iain Duncan Smith agrees with Easton that the NCRS "changed recording methods significantly and has rendered direct numerical comparisons with pre-2002/03 levels inaccurate".
The numbers, distributed to Tory MPs to use in local campaigns, imply a 236 per cent rise in violent crime in Milton Keynes, translating to roughly one attack every 90 minutes. This is inaccurate, as it includes very minor public order offences -- which is a shame, really, as an attack every hour and a half sounds rather reminiscent of the violent American TV show the Wire . . .
Grayling has got more. He dismissed the findings of the British Crime Survey, which found that people were experiencing roughly 50 per cent less violent crime on 1995 levels, arguing:
If you talk to anybody in the streets, and particularly in the poorest areas which are most affected by violent crime, you will find people will absolutely say that violent crime has risen sharply over the last ten years.
The reality is that that is the life they are experiencing. The problem we have got to deal with is not debates over statistics. It is actually sorting out these problems.
Excellent. Man implicated in statistics fiddling row says that statistics aren't really the point at all. Case closed.