As the furore continues over former London Mayor Boris Johnson’s revival of the false EU referendum campaign claim that Brexit will mean an extra £350m a week for the NHS, let’s recall the Foreign Secretary’s history of numerical misdemeanours when he was in charge at City Hall.
The chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, has told Johnson that the £350m NHS reference in his recent Telegraph article is a “clear misuse of official statistics”. It’s not the first time this independent statutory body, accountable to parliament, has had cause to rebuke him.
In March 2011, one of Sir David’s predecessors, Sir Michael Scholar, wrote to the then Mayor Johnson criticising as “poor practice” and “damaging to public trust” his “selective prior release” of transport-related crime figures for a media event before they had been formally published in full, in line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.
Eight months later, in October 2011, Sir Michael wrote to the then chair of of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, urging him and his fellow committee members to look closely at claims Johnson had made to them about the effectiveness of a project City Hall was involved in at the Feltham Young Offenders Institution in cutting reoffending rates. According to Sir Michael, figures Johnson had proffered “do not appear to stand up to scrutiny”.
Johnson had claimed that the reoffending rate among the “low risk” young people who’d been placed in a unit in Feltham’s Heron Wing was an impressive 19%, but would later admit that the true rate was at least 40%. Sir Michael’s letter to Vaz had a background note attached which said Johnson had made his claim on the basis of “anecdotal information” from the scheme’s managers which “did not represent a re-conviction rate” and should not be used publicly.
The previous November, Johnson had claimed during a visit to Heron Wing with the prisons minister that the reoffending rate was just 10%. When questioned by members of the London Assembly about the matter, he accused Sir Michael, who’d been a private secretary to Margaret Thatcher when she was prime minister, of being a “Labour stooge”.
Also in 2011, Johnson dismissed a former Home Office criminologist who had shown there was no straightforward connection between the incidence of knife crime in London and the number of stop-and-search interventions by police officers as “some professor”.
Yesterday, Johnson accused Sir David Norgrove of misrepresenting what he wrote in the Telegraph. But when it comes to misrepresentation and funny numbers, it is the former London Mayor who has past form.