Slack's back!

There's something bizarrely comforting about reading a James Slack immigration article in the Daily Mail. A bit like putting on a pair of old slippers that the cat's weed in. They're nice and familiar and comfortable, but they smell of cat's wee. You know what's coming in a Slack immigration article, but you know it's not going to be nice.

This Saturday saw him get away with the article 'Now the Lords is forced to admit that each migrant is only worth 28p A WEEK'. See, the headline's so comforting - we know it's going to sound indignant and outraged. In this instance though, the paper really should be sounding quite chuffed. In January 2007, another Slack headline was ''Migrants bring only 4p a week in financial benefit', says report', so you'd expect pleasant surprise at finding out they contributed at least seven times more than the paper originally thought. But it's not the job of Mail hacks to do anything other than be negative about immigration.

Let's get this out of the way first. The headline has left out that the 28p per week is 28p a week more per member of the entire population than everyone else. It's what you get when you divide the extra contribution of immigrants to the economy by sixty million and then again by fifty two. You'd get a low number like that for just about any arbitrarily defined group. People with curly perms, or blue eyes, say. You'd get a low number doing the same calculation with nurses. If the Mail was consistent with its logic (I know, it doesn't have any in the first place) it would also be calling for doing away with nurses.

*UPDATE* While I was actually typing this post, the headline has changed to 'Immigration has 'no positive effect' on Britain, finds landmark report'. The opening few paragraphs have also been changed to beef up what was originally there, hanging things more on comments by Lord Turner. That only alters what follows a little bit, but bear it in mind.

On to the article. One of its central claims is impossible to test at the moment. It says:
But the most in-depth study of its kind by a parliamentary committee will conclude this is not the best measure of the policy's success or failure.

In a blow to the Government, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee will say on Tuesday that the amount migrants boost the economy per person - rather than overall - is far more relevant.

The report isn't published yet so it's impossible to check. The paper gives the impression that it will be published tomorrow so I'll look at it then, but for now, I'm familiar enough with how the Mail treats the contents of reports to be sceptical. It's entirely possible that the report follows up that statement by pointing out that the per head contribution of any relatively small group will be pence per week. I don't think the paper will be a massive indictment of immigration, since the Mail can only find this one tiny thing it's negative about.

Going past that, it's possible to look through the rest of the article and the padding in it to test its honesty. Especially after having looked at so many earlier articles, which makes it possible to see what a lot of this one is based on.

For starters, there's this:
Experts say this shows only a tiny net contribution to gross domestic product, worth as little as 28p per week.

Note the 'as little as', which dismisses higher estimates. Professor Coleman (co-founder of MigrationWatch and Daily Mail immigration darling) claimed the figure was 50p in 'Academic hits back in migration row' in the Telegraph at about this time last year.

Further on, the article claims:
This has to be balanced against the enormous strain they place on schools, hospitals and other series - valued at almost £9billion.

This is a reference to Slack's earlier article 'Influx of immigrants 'costs every UK household £350 a year'', based on a submission by Professor David Coleman to the House of Lords Committee. A quick point-by-point rundown of what was wrong with that article:

1. The figures in David Coleman's evidence includes a big disclaimer that says, 'For many of the items discussed below it is questionable how much of the cost should be attributed to immigrants or to their descendants, and how much to the indigenous population,' and another that says, 'These different estimates should not be added to make a total. They are preliminary and some categories may overlap with others.' Slack arrived at his total by adding the estimates together, despite disclaimers saying he shouldn't and telling him why he shouldn't.

2. Slack's version of the figures include numbers for the cost of treating immigrants with HIV and the cost of immigrant crimes. Coleman's do not. They only include figures for 'minority populations' connected to those things. Slack has just changed the wording to make the figures look better.

3. Slack rounds up a figure of £3.08bn to £4bn, adding close to an extra billion to the total he shouldn't have been adding together in the first place. He almost makes up for it by rounding down another from £31m to £3m, but the total should still be £7.9bn. He's casually added an extra billion pounds here.

There's more on that article in 'Still worried about Professor Coleman' and 'Coleman's figures. Again.'

The rest of the article just goes over the fact that there has been a Committee examining evidence about the benefits of immigration from people both pro and anti, with the Mail slant we've become accustomed to as the paper overplays the anti's hand. For example, with this:
But critics of government policy have long argued that simply judging the success or failure of Labour's open- door migration policy on their contribution to GDP is short-sighted and misleading.
The use of the term 'open-door' is the typical bit of tabloid hyperbole we know and love. The second part of the paragraph/sentence there is the second bit. The government does not 'simply judge the success or failure' of its immigration policy on their contribution to GDP. The Home Office evidence is here on the Parliament website. It's 43 pages long, and includes way more than a mention of the contribution to GDP. It even includes over a page about the contribution to GDP per head.

Then we get the usual guff about what Sir Andrew Green, of MigrationWatch infamy, has been saying. Obviously without mentioning that his original estimates of GDP per head were out by quite a big factor and based on figures that were only supposed to cover Eastern Europeans. Or that the co-founder of MigrationWatch put the figure at more than 12 times his original estimate.

This is followed by another mention of Coleman's figures. remember, they should never have been added together in the first place. Note the 'at least £330million to treat illnesses such as HIV' which refers to a figure in Coleman's evidence that doesn't actually refer to immigrants, and Slack changed to say that it did.

The article ends with a quote from a critic of the government's immigration policy. In a shocking finding, he doesn't like it much.

All the techniques here are familiar. We're obviously going to see the opposition to the Mail's arguments misrepresented and belittled and critics referred to as 'experts' while their opposition aren't. But the references to misleading figures from the paper itself are things you might not notice if you hand't read what has come before. The paper sets up its position on the matter like this - misleading article referred to by another misleading article and on and on.

We should be grateful that the paper's dropped the 4p claims by now, I suppose. Which makes me ask the question again - does Slack know how poor his reasoning is, or does he genuinely believe it? If you're prepared to add figures together and change what they're supposed to refer to, why would you drop another figure that has turned out to be misleading?

*FURTHER UPDATE* The article keeps getting changed and beefed up. Apparently, the Committee reveals all this stuff 'today', which suggests the story won't make the dead tree version until tomorrow since the Economic Affairs Committee says it won't be published until then. I'll be checking back to see how much the article changes and how much extra nonsense gets injected. The 28p a week figure has already gone (only referred to in comments that might also disappear), Slack's name has disappeared from the byline and all the references to Coleman's 'nearly £9bn' have gone. Slack's still included with a link from journalisted.com


septicisle said...

Hoped someone was going to take this apart. The Mail was rather fortutiously opened to the page this article was on when I went to get the Grauniad on Saturday, and my immediate thought was how much, even if the article's right, that means they're actually contributing. 28p x 52 = £14.56 x however many is still hell of a lot.

kenromford said...

The worrying thing is people really do take this stuff seriously. I was in an East End pub on Saturday and some bloke came in, thumped his copy of the Mail, and said to nobody in particular, "28p! That's all they're worth to us! 28p!"

He was of the large, skinheady persuasion so I resisted saying "But it's in the DAILY MAIL! Don't believe a word! And are you including the Irish landlord standing not three feet away from you in your general disdain of immigrants?"

And as Septicisle says, that's rougly £1 a month, which for, say 3 million immigrants (DM-style guess) is £3million per month. You can bet your last zloty that if the 28p was a cost, not a contribution, the Mail wouldn't be using the weekly-per-person figure in their headline. "IMMIGRANTS COST US AT LEAST £40M A YEAR, EXPERTS SAY".