Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A shabby Labour appraisal of Boris

My local (Labour) MP, Sadiq Khan, joins in the Boris-bashing fun in this week’s New Statesman.  It is ironic that in doing so he commits one of the sins attributed to the Mayor of London a couple of pages before in the same magazine: making false statistical pronouncements. 

I don’t think I can rely on Jonathan Portes to point out the factual errors in the figures used by a senior shadow cabinet member, something he’d enthusiastically do if the offender was a Tory … or former Tory.  So I will do it myself.  [Update: maybe I was wrong about Portes as he even corrects my tweet]

Firstly, Sadiq claims that since 2008 “poverty has rocketed” in London.  In twitter he claims the Mayor is leaving 1/3 of Londoners in poverty.  And yet the data show otherwise: in the three years to 2008 17% of Londoners lived in households with an income 60% below the median, a proportion that FELL to 16% in the three years to 2013 (the latest data released this August).

Now, given that the official statistics make the figure available before and after accounting for housing costs, you can argue that we should be adjusting for the higher cost of living in London.  But even then, the proportion of Londoners living in poverty has just increased from an average 27% during 2005-08 to 28% during 2010-13.  That hardly allows for Sadiq’s description of “rocketing” poverty or for his rounding up of the figure to 1/3.

The second source of outrage for any statistically inclined mind is Sadiq’s claim that it is Boris’ fault that “housebuilding has fallen to the lowest level since the 1920s”.  The problem with this statistic is more serious: it is not that the number is being exaggerated, but it would appear that it is entirely fictional.  As a matter of fact, the official housebuilding statistics suggest that the last fiscal year (2013/14) saw the third largest annual number of house starts in London since 1980!

My initial reaction was that Sadiq might be referring to “affordable” public housing built by councils and/or housing associations.  But even then, more housing was both started and completed in London by councils and housing associations between 2009-14 than in the previous six years.  I have gone through Sadiq’s 2013 “Our London” pamphlet’s housing chapter in a bid to find the source for the “lowest since 1920s” claim and I am still at a loss.  

All in all a pretty shabby assessment of my Mayor by my local MP, illustrating clearly Labour's increasing reliance on populist soundbites rather than rigorous analysis of the facts.