Today, my copy of Better or Worse? fell open to page 209. On it, Polly Toynbee and David Walker write:
In February 2003, Tony Blair stepped in to make another of his eye-catching promises. He pledged to halve the number of asylum seekers within six months.
Actually, no. This is how a Guardian report from 8 February 2003 characterised what he said:
"I would like to see us reduce it by 30% to 40% in the next few months and I think by September of this year we should have it halved. I think we can get below that then, in the years to come," he said on BBC2's Newsnight.
February to September is of course seven and not six months, but even that is a relatively minor inaccuracy. Consider what the Guardian report goes on to say:
The Home Office made clear that the baseline which will officially be used to judge the success or failure of the prediction will be the as yet unpublished monthly figure for asylum applications in October 2002
So actually, the (clarified) promise was actually to halve the number between October 2002 and September 2003 -- what those of who are not numerically fragile think of as eleven rather than six months.
Toynbee and Walker go on to say in their book that:
But Blair hit his target. Asylum numbers were cut in half in six months.
The truth is quite ironic. Blair didn't meet what Polly says his target was -- a halving between February 2003 and September 2003 -- in both months the number of asylum applications was about 4,250 (forgive the imprecision -- I am reading this numbers from a graph on page 3 of Asylum Statistics United Kingdom 2004, prepared by the Immigration Research and Statistics Service, Research Development and Statistics Directorate of the Home Office. They don't provide the numbers behind the chart, but my reading should be accurate to within +/- 100. pdf link to the report here).
OK, that bit wasn't ironic, but this is. Blair did hit his actual (and not Polly's mangled) target -- asylum applications fell from 8,770 in October 2002 to some 4,250 in September 2003. And asylum applications did fall by half in six months -- 8,770 in October 2002 to about 2,500 in April 2003 -- just not the six months Polly is talking about.
Looking back on the figures, it is interesting to note, parenthetically, that Blair promised to halve the number of asylum seekers (compared to October 2002, as the Home Office rapidly 'clarified') in February 2003, in which month the number of asylum applicants was fewer than half that for October 2002 already. Committing to deliver the recent past seems a little unimpressive.
Toynbee and Walker go on to claim that:
The number who succeeded in getting refugee status fell fast too. In 2002 34 per cent were successful, but only 11 per cent by 2004.
Compare that to this, again from Asylum Statistics United Kingdom 2004, but this time page 14:
Of the initial decisions made in 2004, 1,565 (3 per cent) recognised the applicant as a refugee and granted asylum, 160 (0.3 per cent) granted HP and 3,835 (8 per cent) granted DL and 40,465 (88 per cent) were refusals.
[emphasis added. 'HP' means humanitarian protection and 'DL' means discretionary leave]
So that'll be 3%, and not 11%.