Sometimes I forget that what I'm supposed to be doing here is explaining exactly how tabloid stories distort the truth, and kind of assume too much knowledge.
I did this yesterday, covering the classic Express headline '1.3m Poles arrived in Britain last year'. I've also uncovered some other stuff about the story in rereading it. So today I'll look through the story again, point by point this time. I be kickin' it old school.
The headline is not true. Unlike most Express headlines that get withdrawn later in the story, this one isn't actually clarified anywhere. The article is supposed to be about the Office of National Statistics' 'Travel Trends' report, which measures the number of short term visits made by people from overseas to the UK, and the same from the UK abroad. So, although there were 1.3m visits by people from Poland last year, it doesn't mean that 1.3m Poles arrived here, since some could have made multiple visits.
Plus, the report only includes figures for visits of less than a year, so it's not that these are tourist visits mixed in with people arriving to settle, they're all tourists and business trips and so on. Every single one of them. The average length of visit is 17 days.
The subheading, 'And even that's an underestimate', is backed up by one single quote from one single critic. Of course, the paper pretends the quote is from 'critics' plural, with:
But even that massive total was called into question when critics of the Government’s border control policy described it as a “drastic understatement” of the true picture.The actual quote says 'is likely to be a massive understatement', so the paper has sexed that up a bit by removing the uncertainty. More on this quote later.
How are tourist visits linked with immigration in the story?
With a bait and switch
The link is made with a good, old fashioned bait and switch. The paper starts by talking about the figures in the 'Travel Trends' document, which it already is misleadingly claiming measure visitors rather than visits, and then switching to talking about immigration without making that switch sufficiently clear. The switch comes here:
At the same time, local authorities complained to MPs that the Government’s failure to monitor the number of people in Britain was leaving them with an intolerable financial burden which had to be borne by council tax payers.There isn't any signal to show that short term visits to the UK have nothing whatsoever to do with why Local Authorities called for extra funding. Although the paper has tried to cover its back by talking about visitors rather than migrants up until this point, it makes no distinction between the two at all here, leaving the impression that the figures in 'Travel Trends' will lead to more pressure on Local Authorities.
When you consider that we're talking only about individual visits of an average of 17 days here, you'll see how far from the truth this is, and how frantically the paper is clutching at straws to link the two themes.
There are then a couple of quotes from people with vested interests that further muddy the waters.
The first is from the papers' idiot quote favourite, David Davis, and it's unclear whether he is giving his opinion of the actual 'Travel Trends' figures or the Express hack's interpretation of them. Given that he mentions Local Authorities being stretched, it seems unlikely that the figures he's talking about are the 'Travel Trends' ones, since they measure visits of an average of only 17 days long and don't effect spending on schools and so on. of course, he could be trying to mislead people too.
The second is from Frank Field. Again, it's unclear whether he actually knows he's talking about trips of an average of 17 days. Part of his quote is actually a paraphrase, which suggests that bits have been removed. Maybe those that make it clear he doesn't know he's talking about short term visits. His hobby horse is the number of jobs taken by migrants, remember, so he could be talking generally about Polish immigration without realising these figures only measure short term trips. Of course, he could be deliberately trying to mislead, too - or have been misled by the hack that asked for the quote.
Back to the bait and switch
The article then switches back to the idea these visitors working, with this:
But adding to the impression that many coming as visitors were in fact looking for work, Poles spent just an average £24 a day in 2006, compared with £129 for visitors from Luxembourg.This line is a boggling combination of the dunderheaded and the quite-clever-if-you're-trying-to-mislead. Whether or not these people are looking for work doesn't change the fact that they're only here in the short term.
It also selectively leaves out that 'Travel Trends' lists the total spent in these visits is £540,000,000.
As a further part of the bait and switch, the article goes on to say:
When Labour opened the immigration floodgates in 2004, it was estimated that barely 10,000 Eastern and central Europeans would arrive. But 743,000 have registered for work since 2004.By now, the reader must be well and truly confused. Of course, these figures in themselves are misleading. They fail to mention that many of these have returned to their home country. According to other figures this paper and others have tried to scaremonger with, up to three quarters of them may have gone. The paper also neglects to give any source for the 'real' number being closer to 900,000. Like I said in my last post, the story might as well have said 6 million people and a unicorn.
Including self-employed, the true picture is nearer 900,000.
A further deliberate misdirection with a quote
We then get this:
The figures were revealed as a senior Treasury official confessed that the Government has no real idea of the true number of people who have arrived – legally and illegally – under Labour’s “open door” immigration policy.But it seems that Christopher Kelly is only talking about the reliability of the census - not the figures in 'Travel Trends' or the survey they're based on. That's why this is a paraphrase rather than a direct quote. The direct quote comes with this:
Christopher Kelly told the Commons Treasury Sub-committee that the 10-yearly census was next to useless when it came to measuring the impact of migration.
He said: “We know we have a problem with migration statistics. Everyone accepts it.”What's wrong with that quote in relation to these stats? That's it - these figures are only migration statistics in the loosest sense of the word, since they measure tourism. Here's a quick quote from 'Travel Trends':
Note that, although data collected on the IPS also feeds in to the calculation of migration statistics, this report does not provide any information relating to international migration.The final paragraph
The final paragraph is again talking about the census, not the 'Travel Trends' figures.
One thing this article is a great example of is the way that the far right like to peddle their anti-immigration stance. Once you've poisoned the well of official statistics, you can claim anything you like. Bizarrely, you can then use the very same stats to support your own argument. You can even use figures that don't even measure international migration to support your contention that the migration figures are out of whack.