If only the DCLG hadn't dropped a bollock

Sometimes, when you're the sort of sad sack who likes to mock how the tabloids spin and distort Government figures and documents (along with other documents they don't like), the Government doesn't do itself any flipping favours.

It looked like there was a doozy in today's Mail with the headline 'Councils ordered to carry out charm offensive for migrants and travellers' to add to my last posting, but the DCLG had to go and shoot itself in the foot and lose a toe.

If you hadn't guessed, the report is about the myth busting information packs I mentioned in 'At last they admit: the tabloids have damaged Britain' - sort of. And it's a real pity the DCLG makes a blunder, as the article was shping up to be a fantastic example of how the tabloids make use of a rhetorical crowbar to make the facts fit their agenda - so I'll look at that first, and then the blunder.
Ruth Kelly is ordering councils to take part in a huge charm offensive on behalf of migrants and travellers.

The Communities Secretary wants town halls to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money 'combating misinformation'.
Says the article in the opening, almost certainly talking about the myth busting packs mentioned in the report 'Our shared future', but maybe not. This is left ambiguous for a reason, and that reason is that the fact sheets the article go on about are from way back in April, and not connected to the report at all. So, bear in mind that the report was a set of recommendations, which may or may not be taken up by Ministers. The 'ordered' bit - just a tad fanciful.

The next bit is great, it's why it really is such a shame that the DCLG dropped a bollock. It says:
Her officials have produced sheets of pro-migrant information. But critics warned that Miss Kelly was asking councils to promote 'selective propaganda'.

The messages councils must give out include the statement that: "Romany Gipsies [sic. Remember, this is the paper's preferred spelling so it can avoid accusations of siscriminating against Gypsies] have very strict customs about hygiene and cleanliness, developed over many years to cope with living on the roads."

See that? Any positive massage about 'migrants' = selective propaganda. As opposed to the considered, balanced message put forward by the Mail. Stop laughing. It fantastically uses that point to segue into talking about how Romany Gypsies have rules about cleanliness, leaving us no doubts about what the Mail thinks about that. And check out the use of the word 'must'. The information 'must' say this. Except the actual pages on the DCLG website say this:
The information in these pages contains a number of facts which can be used by local authority frontline staff to discredit many popular myths as well as being provided to councillors and candidates when impartial information is required. [Emphasis mine].

See, 'can' doesn't mean 'must'. That's why they're, you know, different words. And on:
Councils are also told to claim that the Health Service would 'literally collapse' without migrant nurses, doctors and cleaners.
Umm...because it would. Next:
Supposedly impartial civil servants are instructed to plant favourable stories in local newspapers, and even take part in election campaigns where immigrationis a big issue.
Not quite. Here's what the DCLG site actually says:
The code of recommended practice, which regulates local authority publicity, does not prevent councils, while exercising proper caution, from providing accurate and impartial information during an election campaign, without making reference to a particular political campaign.
The Code of Conduct on Local Government Publicity also makes it acceptable for councils to respond to events during an election period, as long as their responses are factual and not party political. In practice, this means councils can, and should, refute any untrue or misleading information circulating in the area that could lead to racial hatred or damage relations between people from different racial groups.
The site doesn't talk about favourable stories, but using facts to counter misinformation. Presumably , the Mail would prefer Councils to let stuff like BNP claims about Africans being given thousands of pounds to move into an area go unchallenged. Along with the garbage it churns out itself, obviously. Next:
Officials are told to seek 'quick wins' by planting stories in local newspapers and on TV. The website says: "Promote human interest stories in the media locally, for example how migrants volunteer and contribute to society in various roles."
Since the site is peppered with references about facts, and given that there's a 'for example' before the bit about migrants volunteering, it's clear that this is only being suggested to councils to say if it's true. Next:
Time must also be spent preparing councillors to take part in the charm offensive. The DCLG says: "Ensure members have good accurate information and advice so they can speak with confidence on controversial issues."
What would the Mail prefer? Clueless councillors who have no idea whether the negative stuff they hear about migrants is true or not? I think we should be told.


But critics said many of the claims are themselves open to challenge.

One states: "Priority for social housing is based solely on housing need." But the Government's own integration commission last week said social housing should no longer be provided for particular groups.
This is being a bit loose with the facts. 'Our shared future' talks about restricting funding for single groups provided by charities and housing associations and so on. Not the direct allocation of Local Authority housing. Here's what it says:
All agencies, including Local Authorities and affordable housing providers, should operate inclusive allocations and lettings policies. Unless there is a clear business and equalities case, single group funding should not be promoted (see Annex D). In exceptional cases, where such funding is awarded, the provider should demonstrate clearly how its policies will promote community cohesion and integration.
But then!
Another claim is that: "The belief that Britain has a particularly high rate of immigration is false. About 5 per cent of the UK population was born abroad."

But data produced by the Office for National Statistics for MPs said 5,699,000 people living in Britain today were born overseas - 10 per cent of the population.

And it was all going so well! The 2001 census puts the level at 1 in 12, or just over 8%.

And then:
The fact sheets also state: "There is no discernible statistical evidence that migrants from accession countries contribute to a rise in claims for benefits."

Yet Government figures show there have been at least 92,000 successful benefit claims made by Eastern Europeans. The bill is likely to be £100million.
This is the Mail being a little bit dishonest with what the DCLG is saying, but only because the DCLG have given the paper the opportunity by not wording things very well. Since the section of the site this is taken from is talking about the myths surrounding employment, and follows points about how Eastern Europeans come here to work rather than claim benefit, it is pretty clear that the Department is talking about unemployment benefit. Here's the full quote, along with the point that comes directly before it:
  • Data shows that migrants come to the UK to work, not to claim benefits. 99 per cent of applications for National Insurance numbers made by new migrants from May 2004 - Sept 05 were for employment purposes.
  • There is no discernible statistical evidence that migrants from accession countries contribute to a rise in claims for benefits. In the same period only 4 per cent were allowed to claim Income support and Job Seekers Allowance benefits
  • Migrants are only able to claim income related benefits once they have worked legally in the UK for a full year.

This last point is followed by some rent-a-quotes from the Tax-Payers Alliance and MigrationWatch, and that's it.

This article still shows what the Mail does. You can so easily imagine the hack (James Slack - natch) seeing the bit about myth busting packs and buggering off at top speed to find them. I should have guessed the Mail wouldn't ignore the existence of the myth busting packs, but move to trash them as early as it could. Anyway, that what he found was a couple of months old and not exactly what the report was talking about didn't matter. In it goes as if it's new, getting jumbled up and made to look like it's a set of new diktats rather than old guidelines that predate 'Our shared future'. Add lashings of snide implications about minority groups (Gypsies are just dirty you know) and some great suggestions that anything not rabidly anti-immigration must be dodgy propaganda and away you go. Never mind the site actually emphasises over and again the importance of combating myths with facts. But then, one of those facts turned out not to be true.

Poor show, DCLG, poor show.

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