In terms of crime lingo, you could say me and Philip Davies have a bit of ‘previous‘ when it comes to his use of crime statistics. You see, his favourite refrain of the past few years has been to lament our ratio of crime committed to people sent to prison. On the Daily Politics show earlier this year he proclaimed that the figure was just 12.7 and was in fact the lowest in the world – no other country sent fewer people to prison than the UK. So confident of this was he that he actually said ‘If anyone can find another country that sends fewer criminals to prison I’d like to hear it’.
Luckily for him, in the days of the internet it was very easy in fact for such figures to be checked, as the website fullfact.org did. If you’re one of those annoying types who always shouts out what you think is going to happen in a film, this is the point where you shout ‘I bet they proved him wrong!’. Full Fact found that Davies was actually using massively out of date statistics for his claims, from way back in 2000, when Labour had been in power three years and the bulk of their reforms had barely begun. Full Fact believed he’d gotten the stats from a 2005 by the right-wing think tank, Civitas. So in fairness, it’s not really Davies’ fault that he was using 10+ year old data when a think tank was guilty of using them in the first place.
Even using these statistics though, Full Fact found that numerous other countries sent fewer than 12 criminals to prison for every 1000 crimes committed.
From there then, it was logical to look for more recent figures, and Full Fact found figures from the EU covering the year 2008, well into Labour’s time in government. This found that the ratio in question had actually increased by nearly 50% under Labour, going up to 17.8 per 1000 crimes.
This resulted in a twitter exchange between me and Davies where I requested that he publish the data he said he used online so I could check it against Full Fact’s data. Davies said he got the data from the House of Commons library (rather than directly from the Civitas report that Full Fact presumed he’d gotten it from). A short while later he tweeted and emailed me admitting that there was more recent data available and actually Full Fact were indeed correct. Not only was he wrong on the statistics but as Full Fact showed, the UK was about average in the EU when it comes to the number of people sent to prison per 1000 crimes.
I was pleased Davies admitted this and thought it represented a mature approach to the debate, he didn’t change his mind that he still wanted as many people sent to prison as possible but he acknowledged the rate had increased significantly under Labour and that was enough for me.
Yesterday though he got into a debate with former Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith and Spectator Editor Fraser Nelson on Twitter, and although he had updated his figures slightly he still maintained that the UK had one of the lowest rates in the world:
I consider it a success he is now using the correct figure, albeit needlessly rounded down from 17.8 when proper use of statistics would mean he should round it up to 18. However his rebranding of the idea we have one of the lowest rates in the world, if not these lowest, has wound me up. I fully accept that we have differences of opinion on law and order, not least over his support for the death penalty, but I’d at least like him to use accurate data. I tweeted into the fray (if such a thing is possible) and pointed out that we’d already had this debate and numerous other countries in the EU had a rate lower than ours. If the UK has one of the lowest rates in the world then so too does the EU given the UK’s position in this table.
As the available figures mentioned above only cover the EU – so less than 30 countries – if Davies tweets back I’m going to ask him to produce evidence that a majority of countries outside the EU have higher rates than the UK.
The fact he hasn’t done this before when we’ve discussed the issue makes me think he hasn’t seen any, but it’s possible he’s done some more investigation since his last poorly researched outbursts.
UPDATE: Davies has tweeted insisting that the UK has one of the lowest rates in the world, thereby suggesting that the entire EU is at the bottom as well. Not impossible but unlikely. Anyway, I’ve asked to see the stats. Meanwhile the incarceration rates, which is the prison numbers per 100,000 of the population, show the UK to be in the top half in the world. I wonder why Davies prefers not to use this more commonly referred to statistic.