On New Year’s Day, thousands of people around the UK woke up to find an email attempting to con them into parting with their cash. Another cynical scam, you might suppose: the gangs who try to fleece gullible souls with tales of parcels that cannot be delivered or friends stranded in distant places would probably see the festive season as a fine opportunity to pounce.
But this begging letter was far more blatant than their least imaginative efforts. It was even signed by a real person, one Alan Mabbutt OBE.
In it, Mabbutt introduces himself with the boast that “I’ve worked for the Conservative Party for over 40 years”. Far from being repentant, he proceeds to try to persuade recipients, drawn from a list of supposed Tory supporters, to each send him £10 to help fund the party’s campaign in the forthcoming general election.
His reasoning would surely embarrass even the most thick-skinned of confidence tricksters. They had forked out for the last election, he says, and just look what it brought: “Brexit done. Corbyn defeated. 20,000 extra police officers hired. Taxes down. Inflation down. Investment up. Economy up.”
Could anyone, even the most committed of Conservative supporters, read this and not blush with embarrassment on behalf of the perpetrator of such outrageous falsehoods?
Brexit is about as done as an oven-ready turkey with a cook who forgot to switch on the oven. Ardent Brexiteers are in revolt over what they see as the failure to implement Brexit, while more sensible people lament the injuries, injustices and confusion that continue to escalate in the UK as it struggles to fully implement withdrawal from the EU.
Some might argue that there is a degree of subjectivity over the issue of Brexit, but the direction of inflation is a matter of fact. At the time of the 2019 election, it was 1.3%; in November 2023, it was 3.9%.
Mabbutt may choose to forget that, thanks to the brief but extraordinarily damaging premiership of Liz Truss, inflation rocketed to 11.1% in late 2022, but millions of borrowers will not have the luxury of such selective memory lapses. Hundreds of thousands of people have already seen their mortgage payments soar as a result of the increase and, according to the Bank of England, another five million face higher borrowing costs by the end of 2026.
Rishi Sunak can and does claim to have reduced inflation but, unarguably, the Conservative government is guilty of increasing it and Mabbutt is guilty of perpetrating fiction.
His claim that, since its election victory, the government has brought down taxes, is in that category too. Has he not heard the right wing of his party bemoaning the level of taxes in the UK?
Their ammunition comes from the statistics: at the time of the last election, the tax burden was 33.1% of GDP, but in the last tax year it was 35.3%. The OECD reckons that the UK is on course for the figure to hit 37.7% by 2027-28.
As someone who bills himself as “Legal Officer” to the Conservative Party, it might be hoped that Mabbutt would have a little more respect for the truth. However, he is merely exhibiting a disease that now seems endemic in his organisation: lying.
Politicians of all parties have a tendency to use statistics selectively, as do business people and even, on occasion, clinicians. But there are times when that selectivity can be so deliberately misleading as to become, as Mark Twain would have it, “damned lies”, and this government crosses the line on an increasingly regular basis.
The prime minister’s recent claims on asylum breached that line so egregiously that the Office for Statistics Regulation felt obliged to investigate them. No one interested in giving an accurate picture of the state of asylum claims in the UK could have made the bald assertion, as Rishi Sunak did and as his ministers were obliged to parrot in his wake, that the backlog in asylum cases had been “cleared”. If his gutters had been “cleared” so effectively, he would be demanding a refund.
Much attention has focused on the fact that 4,500 cases from the backlog remained unsettled, having simply been shuffled into the “too difficult” file. However, the attempt to mislead the public went much further, because the backlog that had, largely, been cleared was only that which existed at the end of 2022.
While the expanded force of asylum application processors worked their way through old cases, new ones continued to pour into the Home Office. At the end of 2023, the number awaiting a decision was even higher than in 2022.
Sunak has endeavoured to disassociate himself from the regime of the man who won the last election, Boris Johnson, whose relationship with the truth was never in any doubt: he doesn’t believe in it. Yet the current prime minister consistently demonstrates the same cavalier attitude towards truth.
Sometimes he has lost the evidence, or “forgotten” it, as he demonstrated to the Covid inquiry. Now it is clear that he is simply set on misleading the country.
Mabbutt’s plea for funds, based on massive untruths, should meet with the response it and his party deserve.