Here we go again.
Polly Toynbee had a narrative rant this week after Danny Boyle’s Olympic opening ceremony. Half of it is soaring rhetoric; the other half an assortment of claims alleged to be proof of the rhetoric.
Ooooh Danny Boyle … the hypes, the hypes are caaaalllling
From yen to yen, we must remake the past
It’s this week’s attempt to make the Right the Donkey, and to pin a tail on it somewhere, anywhere:
… above all, thanks for the story of the struggle of the powerless against the forces of conservatism. Suffragettes, Jarrow marchers, CND, punk or hip hop, all these were fiercely resisted by the right, so often proved pleasingly wrong in the end. All our happy endings tell of forces of repression falling under the wheels of people pushing for democracy and a fair share of power and wealth.
(CND? Dear God, the people who did so much to prolong the Cold War.)
Any support for Danny Boyle’s performance from the Right was by definition cynical:
before the election he (Cameron) pretended to support the Danny Boyle Britain with those beguiling but bogus cameos staged on Arctic snow sledge or in grim estates, promising to abolish poverty and embrace equality. Even so, despite all that cleansing, the smell of his Conservatism was still too pungent to give him victory against a Labour party on its knees.
(Keep quiet about Emmeline Pankhurst being a Tory – it makes history far too complicated, not to say it risks the account becoming objective.)
But it has all gone wrong, the world has gone to pot, and it is all much more terrible than it was in the times she remembers from n years ago.
Since the days of those confident history textbooks charting milestones of social advance, so much has gone into reverse.
To wit, just another week at Villa Polly.
The High Pay Commission reports that BAE’s top director is paid 8,000% more than in 1978, while median pay rose by just 556%. The link between pay and performance is broken: in the past decade the average bonus for FTSE 350 directors rose by 187% while share prices declined by 71%. If these were benefits, they would be called “something for nothing” pay.
That link is broken in the original Guardian article, but it is lifted straight from the Foreward of a High Pay Commission report: What are we paying for? Exploring executive pay and performance. Perhaps that is an indicator that the secondary source linked by Polly hadn’t actually fact-checked the source properly.
Though, as noted below, Polly had a hand in the original report, so she should know. Perhaps the problem was that it involves numbers bigger than two.
This is the graph in the original report (Graph 4.1):
Just a look at that graph suggests that the claim is bunkum.
An 80% fall in share price between years 2000 and 2001?
Don’t you suppose someone might have noticed if the value of our top 350 companies fell by 80%? That should be caught by a 13 year old who reads a tabloid on the way the school.
And I’d expect Polly to know that report in detail, because she is on their ‘Expert’ Panel.
Here’s the graph of the FTSE Index for the period:
Incidentally, Polly has used ‘past decade’ – which I would take as ’10 years to date’ – without stating that the data is two and a half years old, since when we have had most of the financial crisis. Which might be expected to be relevant.
There’s also the small matter of whether an index, where the constituent companies changed significantly over the period, can be used in a straight ‘share price’ comparison. Total Market Capitalisation might be a valid comparison, which is in a separate graph, but that refused to ‘fall by 70%’, so doesn’t meet the required criteria for a column.
One more. Polly says nothing about whether dividends were retained or not in her calculation. A significant factor since it represents a 3% return or so per annum over a decade.
So much for Polly. The Grande Dame of Bleat Street strikes again.
There was something slightly weird going on with the High Pay Commisson report. The stats work on share price changes in the FTSE350 was done by Incomes Data Services, and they are a reputable outfit. And I really don’t know how they would produce an 80% share price fall in one year 2000-2010.
Finger trouble in a spreadsheet that no one noticed while the ‘expert panel’ were reviewing the High Pay Commission report, or the authors were fact-checking their … ahem … facts? And that no one noticed when it was published, despite the vivid claims for the media?
I’d be quite interested to hear what actually happened.
It’s quite a revealing comment on the quality of data in political media debate, and why the whole lot needs to be treated with extreme scepticism, especially from people with Arts Degrees (or romantic sillies with half an Arts Degree who then ran away to be a Worker).
Anyhow, I’ve passed this latest bit of Mathematical Pollymorphism (the ability of numbers to exist in a different form when they are in a Toynbee column) to the Guardian Readers’ Editor, to be a friend to the correction already on the piece:
This article was amended on 31 July 2012. The original said the Post Office was to be sold off shortly. The government has passed legislation to privatise Royal Mail, not the Post Office.
(Which is exactly the same error Polly made only 3 months ago on April 12th when she wrote about “Post Office privatisation“).
Does anybody have any idea what the record is for a single Polly article?
God Save Thee, Ancient Orator,
from facts this vague you guess,
Why write this dreck? – Around your neck
You’ve hung an albatross.
In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
She searched for ‘facts’ to mine;
Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
Still glimmered her trite moonshine.
Photo Credit: Derrick Coetzee.