[Another article in a series about the use and abuse of statistics in the discussion of immigration]
I love the Spectator magazine and I rush out to buy it every Thursday. Under the editorship of Boris Johnson it was patchy, but under Frazer Nelson it has become consistently bonkers and therefore provocative and highly entertaining. Several of its regular writers are masters of the art of the well-turned insult flung against the idiotic, slack-jawed and conventionally correct. That’s the way, as KC and the Sunshine Band once famously said, I like it.
Imagine my disappointment, then, when the magazine’s Barometer statistics column got it completely wrong over immigration statistics this week. The magazine used ONS numbers to come up with the headline prediction that a minimum of 1.3 million Turks would end up living in the UK in the event of Turkish accession to the EU.
Sadly, not many people read the Spectator. But a lie goes around the world before the truth can get its boots on. And this was a lie, pure and simple. The million plus number was used by the Daily Express – the most rabid of the anti-migrant newspapers – to concoct a front page headline. In the nature of these things, the Express will eventually be quoted on TV thus making it true by definition in the estimation of many. We have thus witnessed the birth of a “factoid” – a factual, even scientific, sounding proposition which nearly everyone comes to believe, but nobody can actually track down to a source.
The million-Turk factoid, like all of these things, does have a basis in actual data – the actual facts about Polish migration to the UK in recent years. For some reason the Poles simply can not get enough of England. They are almost as bad as the Scots (whose last King was Polish as it happens) in this regard.
There are now 688,000 people of Polish origin living the UK. This number amount to 1.6% of the population of Poland (39 million). Over 600,000 of these new arrivals came after Poland joined the EU.
To arrive that the figure of 1.3 million Turks, the Spectator simply assumed that the propensity of Turks to head towards London or to work in the vegetable fields of East Anglia would be exactly the same. The population of Turkey is 79 million. 1.6% (the Polish migration propensity) gives you by simple arithmetic your 1.3 million Turkish invasion. Child’s play.
In fact, the magazine continued, this is most likely an underestimate. Turkey is poorer than Poland and “according to the International Monetary Fund” therefore “Turkish migrants would have more incentive to travel”. This higher-than-Poland propensity is hinted as being about a third more – so about 2.0% and this would get you about 1.6 million Turks and rising. But why stop there? There’s no indication why the Spectator could not have likewise pulled a propensity of 10% out of its ear, resulting in an impending Turkish inflow of 7.8 million people. Better yet, why not base the figure on the Scottish or Irish propensity to move. That must amount to something like 50% over the years of Ever Closer Union with England.
Using the facts of Scottish and Irish migration (combined with the reliable principle that things in the future always turn out exactly as they did in the past) you are looking at a minimum of 30 million maybe 40 million Turks fronting up in hot spots such as Green Lanes in Tottenham or odd spots round the back of Heathrow within the next few years. The news filtering back to Izmir of over-supply of labour resulting in 29 or 39.9 million unemployed and homeless fellow countrymen milling about aimlessly the streets of Edmonton and Chatham will of course be no deterrent.
The magazine could have found more solid ground by looking at the facts concerning migration from Romania and Bulgaria which the statisticians treat a single entity with a population of 27 million. Using the higher “poorer than Poland” 2.0% propensity to come to the UK, we should by now have 540,000 Romanians and Bulgarians in the UK. The actual number is 172,000. Even the actual Polish propensity to come to the UK produces a vast over-estimate when applied to nationalities other than the Poles themselves.
Why is this? One possibility is that the Poles are noted anglophiles, and might well be less keen on settling in Germany – the migrants obvious destination of choice. Romania and Bulgaria were allied to Germany and Austria in the past, and there are much smaller historic communities in the UK. Turkish migrants are much more likely to want to travel to Germany: there is a larger community already resident, than to the UK – if they want to travel at all.
Large scale migration has become a fact of modern economic life and it is hard to see how that can be reversed, even if that were thought desirable. The discussion of these issues and problems is not helped by the naked bending of statistics which serve as nothing more than exaggerated scaremongering and propaganda designed to distort a series of issues which need to be considered calmly and on the basis of the facts.