Number of the Month

February 2001


and now for the whether forecast .....

10 was the temperature in degrees Celsius in the south of England on February 2nd. Nothing remarkable there, you might think, but it is 20° higher than the temperature in the "long term" forecast in all the media a week before, causing the populace to batten down the hatches. Whether you choose to believe such forecasts is your affair, but in general the successful organism learns by experience. Another miracle of prediction from the people who brought you Global Warming!

The battle of all mothers

9% is the reduction in educational attainment for each year that a mother works before her child is five. The Sunday Telegraph, February 4th:

CHILDREN under five whose mothers work go on to achieve exam results inferior to those whose mothers stay at home, according to the latest research measuring differences in achievement between siblings with separate upbringings. 
The study, by Essex University, found that for every year that a mother works before her child starts school, the prospects of gaining at least one A-level fall by as much as nine per cent. The greatest impact is felt when the mother works full-time. But the research shows that even part-time employment during a child's pre-school years is detrimental to its academic prospects. 
The study calls into question the Government's strategy of pressuring mothers to go back to work and will add weight to those who argue that they should be given greater encouragement to stay at home with their children. It states: "There is strong evidence of an adverse effect of a mother's full-time employment on her children's probability of achieving one A-level or more. 
"The effect ranges between a seven and nine per cent lower probability. There is also evidence of a negative effect on education of the mother's part-time employment, but this is smaller in magnitude." 
The findings, which are drawn from an analysis of families taking part in the Government-funded British Household Panel Survey, are significant because they have been reached by measuring differences in achievement between siblings whose mothers worked during the childhood of one but not the other. That means that the only variant in the children's upbringing is the amount of time which their mother spent with them.

 It is difficult to criticise the actual numbers, as few details are given, but it is an interesting social phenomenon that such  a truism only becomes acceptable if some piece of research has produced numbers to attest to it. We nasty old cynics have long deplored the blackmailing of  mothers into work by the socialist-feminist state through manipulation of  the tax system and the assault on the institution of marriage. Anyone who has observed the development of small children, and is not blinded by fashionable prejudice, knows that the mother-child bond is vital in those crucial early years of  development. Number Watch confidently predicts that this is one piece of social research that will be completely ignored.

Thanks for the memory

As we frequently observe in these pages, junk stories appear on a daily basis, but every now and then along comes one of such wondrous fatuity that it almost takes your breath away. From the Sunday Times of February 4th, and worth preserving in its entirety:

Computer-mad generation has a memory crash 
Cherry Norton and Adam Nathan

GROWING numbers of people in their twenties and thirties are suffering from severe memory loss because of increasing reliance on computer technology, according to new research.
Sufferers complain they are unable to recall names, written words or appointments, and in some cases have had to give up their jobs.
Doctors are blaming computer technology, electronic organisers and automatic car navigation systems. They claim these gadgets lead to diminished use of the brain to work out problems and inflict "information overload" that makes it difficult to distinguish between important and unimportant facts.
A preliminary study of 150 people aged 20 to 35 has shown that more than one in 10 are suffering from severe problems with their memory. Researchers from Hokkaido University's school of medicine in Japan said the memory dysfunction among the young required further investigation.
"They're losing the ability to remember new things, to pull out old data or to distinguish between important and unimportant information. It's a type of brain dysfunction," said Toshiyuki Sawaguchi, the university's professor of neurobiology. "Young people today are becoming stupid."
One high-flying 28-year-old salesman treated by Dr Sawaguchi was forced to give up his job when he found himself forgetting where he was going, who he was supposed to be seeing or, when he finally got there, what he was selling.
Although no formal studies have been undertaken in Britain, experts are increasingly recognising the problem. Professor Pam Briggs of Northumbria University, who recently chaired a British Psychological Society symposium on the effects of technology, said: "I think increased use of the internet and computer technology is starting to have an effect. Everyday memory might be at threat if you are using the computer as a kind of external memory."
Dr Takashi Tsukiyama, who runs a private clinic in Tokyo, said he had seen an increase in severe memory problems. "In the past two years, more people in their twenties and thirties have presented themselves with memory impairment," he said.
One sales assistant aged 28 said she suddenly found herself unable to recall written words and was dismissed from her job. "Ageing affects the brain's hardware, but errors may occur in the brain's 'software' that have nothing to do with age but are related to someone's lifestyle, such as not using your brain enough," said Tsukiyama.
Dr David Cantor, director of the Psychological Services Institute in Atlanta, Georgia, who has treated patients for memory and attention problems for more than 20 years, said: "Many experts believe information overload is making it difficult for some people to absorb new information, as they have reached a limit of what they can store in their brains. These people forget things because they were too distracted to absorb them in the first place."

For those who have not read Sorry, Wrong Number! this piece of "research" is a prime example of  The Missing Link, in which an effect is observed and related to what the proponents believe to be the cause, but no evidence is advanced as to the link between the two. Characteristically, notable social developments are completely ignored. This is the generation that has seen worldwide dumbing-down of education. Specifically modern educational theories ban rote learning of  things such as multiplication tables and poetry, to which us oldies owe thanks. As with other human faculties, the memory grows by exercise. As always, the extreme example is found in the Dark State of Insanity, where abortions such as "whole math" have been imposed on unfortunate young Californians.

People are not getting more stupid. That would be a biological impossibility in one generation. It is just that more stupid people are being brought into the fold. The code word for the current wave of dumbing-down in Britain is "Access" and in a very few years some of the world's finest universities have been converted into giant technical colleges. It has been nothing less than heart-breaking to those of us who have devoted our lives to higher education. Many universities have switched to no-exam degree courses (The Times, January 21st). Even at the once prestigious Bristol University students can take an honours degree in English without sitting one timed examination. Qualification by coursework not only favours the carthorses over the racehorses, it encourages cheating on a massive scale - see here for example.

As more stupid people are brought into the fold they penetrate to higher and higher echelons of society, even becoming professors of neurobiology.

All of which is not to say that information overload is not a problem. At the risk of banging the drum too often, Information Overload is the title of an entire chapter in Sorry, Wrong Number! 

A red letter day

80% is the proportion of tax in the price of a packet of cigarettes under the British Soviet. Having failed to stem the inevitable tide of smuggling from the rest of the common market, where they are half the price, Her Majesty's Customs and Excise are now making illegal seizures of  cigarettes legally imported  for personal use (the Daily Telegraph February 5th). Are we in the Common Market or not? Apparently, only when it suits our masters. Remember this date! It is more than just another trip of the pawl on the ratchet. At least all the burgeoning snoopers and officials have so far adhered to the rule of law. Now it is a different and even more sinister ball game.

Porcine Avionics section

The Times must be pulling our legs! They announced on February 5th that Roger Coghill has been invited to sit on a Government panel to monitor the safety of mobile phone technology. If you would like to savour the true scientific glory of Dr Coghill's work see the Weird Guys section of our links

The Times also tells us that Dr Coghill, an independent scientist who runs Coghill Research Laboratories in South Wales, is an expert in bioelectromagnetics, the study of the effects of electromagnetic radiation on living tissue. Number Watch, which is edited by Albert Einstein, naturally accepts the truth of what it is told. 

But we have not heard the last of the Doctor. This week he is planning to announce the results of tests on a silver pendant, invented by a Japanese researcher, that he has found to protect cells against the effects of mobile phone radiation. He has previously accused the Government of seeking to cover up studies that cast doubt on mobile phone safety, and is among the most prominent scientists to raise safety fears about the use of depleted uranium in military shells.

In the same vein, the UN announced that Global Warming would cost £200 billion a year (exit left pursued by a levitating mammal of the family Suidae).

Play it again, Salmon

(enter right pursued by an oleaginous member of the family Salmonidae

Special notice to pregnant women: stop stopping eating salmon and start again. Despite last month's warning of dire pollution in farmed salmon it now emerges ( from the University of Bristol again, Daily Telegraph  February 6th ) that eating oily fish when pregnant increases the visual development of the child. Confused? Well here is the situation according to

So what's the score at the moment? Over the last month or so, we have been told to limit consumption of oily fish like salmon, (due to "contamination" of farmed fish with PCBs - at a rate, according to Number Watch [scroll down to "A Fishy Story"], of about 1 part in 300,000,000,000 - see also "Fish Balls", Error in salmon study undermines toxin claims, BBC 'created health scare to plug programme'), US FDA & EPA issued a bizarre advisory over mercury "contamination", suggesting women of childbearing age limit consumption of oily fish (for the sake of the developmental health of a possible fetus - see FDA's Mercurial Fish Story), but wait - there's more, women should increase consumption of oily fish, (for their own health's sake - limit stroke risk, coronary infarction...) and, increase oily fish consumption, (for the developmental health of a possible fetus).

The cup is half full, not half empty!

Sub-editors are not always a morose lot. This headline (The Times, February 7th)  effectively celebrating the failure of the usual flu epidemic to emerge, is really quite cheery. Nasty old cynics might take a different view, especially in the light of the subsequent numbers.

Waiting list rise slows by 30%

MINISTERS claimed success yesterday after NHS hospital waiting lists rose by only 13,200 during December .
The rise, about 30 per cent lower than in December 1999, was hailed as proof that extra planning and investment soaked up winter pressures.
But Opposition spokesmen said the main reason for the better figure was the absence of a significant flu outbreak. Waiting lists stood at 1,034,400 in England in the last month of 2000.
John Denham, Health Minister, said: 'The small rise in the NHS waiting list was expected and will probably have risen again during January. The fact that the rise was almost one third less than the rise in December 1999 is a real tribute to NHS staff." Every NHS trust was ordered to come up with a plan for easing pressure on hospitals during the winter months. Even so, figures showed that ten patients were still waiting for longer than the maximum 18-month target set by the Government, and a total of 48,400 had waited for more than a year, a rise of more than 600 on the previous month.
But many hospitals might have cancelled routine, elective surgery to deal with winter problems, meaning waiting lists could increase in the coming months.
Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: 'There has been no winter crisis or flu epidemic this year, but with the NHS running at full capacity even the usual winter stresses are enough to push lists up.' 


The eye of the beholder

Here are two headlines. The first is from the web site and the second from The Times of February 10th. Compare and contrast.

 Climate change 'could kill thousands a year'

 The good news about global warming

In fact they are both about the same story from the same source, a report by “experts”, which you can find here.

Mathematicians talk of imaginary numbers which are based on the square root of minus one. The numbers here are based on the square root of minus zero, which is the amount of believable evidence there is that global warming is happening at all.

Among the key predictions is the likelihood that cold-related deaths will drop substantially by perhaps 20,000 a year, but a further 2,800 cases of heat-related death may be seen.

About 10,000 new cases of food poisoning might also result from global warming and more natural disasters will be experienced such as coastal flooding and severe winter gales.

How appropriate that the Department of Health web address starts with "Doh" (to be pronounced with the voice of Goofy or Eccles)!

Hail the heroine!

Regular readers of Number Watch may have become weary of the continual banging on about the disaster overwhelming British higher education, a disaster of truly Californian magnitude. Such opinions are completely contrary to what appears in the media. At last, however, a new heroine of truth has appeared on February 11th. She is Melanie Phillips, a regular columnist in the Sunday Times. What precipitated her rant was the new outbreak of social engineering launched by the Prime Minister. The nationalised universities will now be bribed to take a larger proportion of students from “low participation neighbourhoods”; and how is this to be done? Would you believe by postcodes? This crude method, which has been used by epidemiologists to fiddle with their source statistics, as shown in Sorry, Wrong Number!, is self evidently flawed.

Phillips, in a relatively brief article, summarises the whole debacle, which has resulted in the emergence of hosts of new graduates with meaningless degrees. Academic standards have plummeted vertiginously and real vocational training has all but disappeared. At least someone in the PC infested media has come out on the side of truth. Will this be an isolated event, or will the national passivity continue? If you think all this is nothing to do with numbers, read through our archive.

Tubby or not tubby; that is the question

All over the British media on February 15th were stories about British fatties (who still have not caught up with American fatties by a long way). The culprits are unequivocally fast food and television. The origin is yet another audit. You can find the whole of the Audit Commission’s 72-page report here. There is an executive summary for those with poorly developed masochistic tendencies.

21 percent of British women and 17 percent of British men are now officially obese. By 2010 they will have caught up with the USA.

Regular number watchers will find many old friends in the small print, including the Harvard Nurses Health Study and other data dredges, risk ratios of less than 2, correlations as causations, missing links, non sequiturs and costings with only one side of the balance sheet shown. It’s in the book!

While possibly agreeing that fat kids are a sad, bad aspect of our modern society, readers might wish to consider a few facts before reaching a judgment

Government and bureaucrats have colluded with the media and SIFs in hyping scares about paedophiles, drunken drivers and other perceived risks, resulting in children being cocooned.

Changes in legislation have fostered the rapid growth of the compensation industry, while health and safety laws and the concomitant snoopers have grown beyond reason. As a result children’s playgrounds have closed down on a massive scale (e.g. every pub garden playground in our part of Hampshire has disappeared).

Politically Correct local councils have deemed that competitive sport is inappropriate, which justifies selling off sports fields to become supermarkets.

There are no brownie points for physical education in the oppressive auditing and league table generation that overwhelm teachers and even determine their salaries.

Being “linked with” is not causation. For example your bending author became fat after getting arthritis and having to give up sport.

Premature deaths do not cost the health service more, since they obviate the costs of geriatric treatment such as hip replacements and dementia.

The recommended recipe is more bureaucracy, more targets and more league tables, the bureaucrat’s answer to everything. The National Health Service is urged to take urgent action. Nasty old cynics, taking account of the numbers quoted above (The cup is half full.....), might conclude that there are one or two things slightly more urgent on the NHS agenda.

Synchronised Slimming

The obesity drive provides a fine example of how the media passively allow bureaucrats to set the agenda. The Times supplement, for example, dutifully followed up the next day with a long feature demonstrating that fatties are always failures.

Fat is now firmly a PC issue and, along with ageism, fattism is now the only form of  discrimination that is openly encouraged. Scrawny models, skinny film stars, bulimic princesses and predatory businessmen indulging in mineral water lunches are now the icons of the age.

In the new age, life is to be endured and not enjoyed. Nanny says you will be thin so, as observed above,  numbers are distorted to provide the evidence to support her. Among the sources used by the bureaucrats' report are some of the most polluted in the realm of junk; just check the names against a search at

 As a writer in the New York Times stated some years ago: “A reason for the medical campaign against obesity may have to do with a tendency to medicalise behaviour we do not approve of.”  The Times remarks, without any hint of disapproval, "Today, the prejudice against fat is total. Ann Widdecombe is mocked  by the media not for her policies but her weight." Political correctness prescribes that our female politicians all be Stepford wives, which most of the New Labour MPs (Blair's Babes) manage with consummate ease.



Doctor in Trouble

Doctors were in the firing line again, with a headline in The Times (February 15th) Doctors in crisis as complaints soar. Although the over-managed National Health Service has put increasing pressure on its front line workers, this does not necessarily mean that there is more cause for complaint. The media hype of  every little medical mishap, and some rather nasty big ones, has created a climate in which the formerly docile British public is much more ready to complain. In particular, the unique incidence of a mass-murderous GP precipitated an unprecedented feeding frenzy in the media and an unequaled opportunity for the bureaucracy to make its move and impose stultifying regulation. The accompanying diagram to the Times piece, however,  provides a nice little exercise in chartmanship.





The emissions from the Green politicians who have hijacked the United Nations IPCC have now become so ludicrous that there is really no point in wasting words on them. They have abandoned any attempt to pretend that they are dealing in real science. The slavish way the media hang on their every number is a remarkable testament to the retreat from rationality that marks our age. A six degree temperature rise in the next decade is the last straw and Number Watch promises to cover no more IPCC inspired stories. No doubt will continue to do its painful duty.

Follow the yellowbrick road

Australia has not had much mention in our columns up to now, which is a shameful neglect as there is a faithful band of number watchers down under. Regular correspondent John Williams rightly gets hot under the collar about the effusions from his local power company, which offers the choice of “pure energy” thirty percent dearer than the ordinary stuff. Your bending author, despite having a PhD in Electrical Engineering, is unable to offer advice on how you check that the stuff coming out of your wall socket is your expensive pure energy and not someone else’s nasty cheap impure energy. Since, as John points out, the installed wind power is enough to run just 179 boiling jugs, either the purists are a very select elite or (surely not!) someone is operating a scam. The real delight of the story, however, is his description of the locale.

The windmill is at Kooragang Island in an area around Newcastle that exports 30 million tonnes of coal a year. The huge coal export stockpile is just over the road from the said windmill. Within 80 km of it are six large coal fired power stations. This all makes the EnergyAustralia website, with its flowers and butterflies, a double delight.

Australia also has its small band of healthy cynics as a counterbalance to its large band of dupes; see, for example,  the excellent Still waiting for the greenhouse in our links.

Nanny Technology

On the 19th of February Nanny launched her very own web site with the announcement "Cradle to Grave" internet services unveiled. Already branded by the media as it is the epitome of patronisation as entertainingly described by George Walden. Rainbows and universally smiling faces (except in the section on bereavement) waft you into a make-believe world of  benign government. The numbers, like the words, are all carefully sanitised. Only nasty old cynics will detect the authoritarian iron fist inside the soothing velvet glove.

Sleep safely in your bed

New comfort from the people who brought you the beef-on-the-bone ban. According to the BBC (24th February), Britain is to take a leading role in an international effort to defend the Earth against a catastrophic collision with an asteroid or comet. Included in the television text version of the report was the development of plans to evacuate areas likely to be hit. Just think about the numbers involved for a moment (such as advance of warning, accuracy of prediction and movement of people) and reflect on reports that a large pie was seen in the sky heading towards London.

Chicken Little calling

2/3 is the proportion of Britons estimated to own a mobile phone (The Times January 9th). Nasty old cynics are beginning to wonder why there are no epidemic outbreaks of terrible diseases. Newspaper articles appear almost daily warning of links between the phones, their masts and all sorts of afflictions. In The Times Interface supplement of February 26th  for example, Nigel Powell offers a two-page treatment that bends over backwards to present both sides of the argument. As readers of these pages and the associated book will recognise, however, the two sides of the argument are not of equal status. The scares are all based on “research” that reveals all of the typical characteristics of junk science – unacceptable risk ratios and confidence levels, isolated anecdotes based on the post hoc fallacy etc.

Recent studies in America and Denmark have detected no link between mobile phone use and cancer, but what is the point of such studies? The whole of society is a permanent test-bed for such possible links. Say there is a tiny probability (e.g. 0.0001) of contracting toe-nail cancer from using a mobile phone. Would not someone in the health service notice the 4000 extra patients appearing in the wards with the disease?

This is the amazing thing about the scaremongers. They carry on blithely delivering their message when the population at large can see quite clearly that none of it is happening, so 5.68 million Britons bought mobile phones for Christmas.

Mad, mad, mad!

15,000 and rising rapidly has to be the number of the month for February. This is the number of animals being slaughtered in the latest farming crisis in the UK, the Foot and Mouth outbreak. In Sorry, wrong number! the following comment was made:

 Is it an exaggeration to say that Britain has gone mad? If you went back twenty years and told people that they would one day have secret hoards of T-bone steaks and garden sprays, they would have put you away. These are just two of the results of the activities of MAFF, the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, who implement senseless bans while encouraging such dangerous practices as the widespread abuse of antibiotics in farming. They have been completely out of control for years. The SIF organisations, dedicated to engineering panic, are now firmly in the driving seat. The Government lurches from one alarm to the next. Typically, it found itself Janus-like facing both ways when it was defending GM foods and attacking beef on the bone. Naturally, it backed down on the former under concerted SIF pressure.

It therefore comes as little surprise to find a justifiably savage article from the Daily Telegraph ( for the full article see here). Is this madness, or is it not?

If foot and mouth spreads, blame the men from Maff

By Alan Judd

News: Foot and mouth may have spread to Europe

WHATEVER the origin of the current outbreak of foot and mouth disease, we can be sure that responsibility for its alarming spread will not be acknowledged by those to whom it belongs: politicians, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Maff). As has been pointed out on the letters page of this newspaper, the closure in recent years of many small abattoirs - slaughterhouses, in honest Anglo-Saxon - has made the outbreak worse than it might have been. Animals have to be carted much greater distances, which means that an infected animal transported hundreds of miles can turn the slaughterhouse into a nationwide distribution centre for disease. And that is not the only ill-effect of this politically permitted, bureaucratically driven cull of slaughterhouses. 

Officials in Maff wanted a more centralised, bureaucratic system of meat control. The EU's Single Market directive 91/497 gave them the opportunity. The Continental system was different: they used specialised vets to inspect slaughterhouse procedures. With that genius for bureaucratic imposition and for acting as if guidance were regulation, Maff devised a system that combined ours with theirs, and more than decimated our slaughterhouses. Until 1990, we had about 1,400; by 1999 there were 400, and they are still closing. We could end up with only 75. 

This was not, as Maff tried to argue, because of overcapacity and because smaller slaughterhouses were uneconomic. They were rendered uneconomic by needless bureaucratic burdens and by costs that increased, in some cases, thousands-fold. The process was supported by the factory-scale slaughterhouses that stood to gain by the change. 

And it wasn't even really about hygiene. As a 1993 Department of Trade and Industry report stated: "One of the most striking features . . . was the extent to which the negotiations - which were ostensibly solely about hygiene standards - were driven by other, wider issues." 

Then came the BSE crisis and Labour's creation of the 400-strong Food Standards Agency, which has, against the advice of a parliamentary select committee, executive authority over the 1,500-strong Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) whose activities it is at the same time supposed to police. 

Many vets employed by the MHS to supervise slaughterhouses are from the Continent, particularly Spain, and are not vets at all in the way we understand them. Here, veterinary surgeons are concerned with the welfare and treatment of live animals, but the Continental veterinaire in question is not an exact translation - he is an inspector of carcasses. 

These "vets", whether British or foreign, have to be permanently present in the slaughterhouses and paid for by them. Smaller operations find that the one or two MHS staff they are compelled to employ may cost more than the rest of their staff put together. 

Nor are these the only costs that have driven so many efficient and - in terms of animal welfare - beneficial small slaughterhouses to closure. One invented requirement was that lorries carrying live animals and those carrying meat had to enter and leave by separate entrances - which in practice may be only a few yards apart. 

The new "vets", some of whom have inadequate English and can't tell a pig from a beef carcass, must have showers and offices, even if they use them only 10 minutes a week. What is more, the organisation responsible for these rules - the MHS - is also the one that decides how they should be enforced and the fees it may charge for doing so. This is state monopoly money farming of a sort that, practised by a private company, would be called extortion. 

And all this in a country in which there were 307 deaths from food poisoning (1997); some 3,278 deaths on the roads; 3,499 accidental deaths in the home (1996); and 3,445 suicides. NHS hospitals kill some 5,000 patients a year with diseases they didn't go in with, but anyone killing a pig is legally compelled to wash his hands 14 times. Our current meat hygiene regime is a prescriptive system concerned more with process than outcomes. 

"It is," says Owen Paterson, Tory MP for North Shropshire, "impossible to exaggerate the damage to rural abattoirs of these insane rules, and difficult to exaggerate the effects of the closures on farming, on the rural economy, on meat standards and on animal suffering." Not only, he points out, have there been no demonstrable gains in health safety, but one slaughterhouse owner also reported that the greatest avoidable cause of meat contamination in his operation was the new inspecting process itself. 

Now, says Mr Paterson, with foot and mouth we have a disease so easily spread that cattle lorries travelling hundreds of miles rather than 10 or 20 to a nearby slaughterhouse may act as mobile contaminators, with a countrywide rather than local effect. 

Nor is that all; the ultimate source of the current outbreak may yet turn out to be overseas. One result of what the Soil Association has called this "remoteness tax" on small slaughterhouses is more imports, including those from countries where safety regimes are less strict than here. 

Equally remote from the minds of those who drew up these self-serving regulations was animal welfare. Anyone who has crammed reluctant bullocks into a lorry or unloaded them after a long journey without water will know the stress that movement imposes on animals. The longer the journey, the more they suffer. 

And when they arrive at one of the large slaughter-factories so favoured by the new system, the time between unloading and death is likely to be longer, more crowded and more stressful. Enzyme production increases, which means the meat is less tender. They also defecate more, which means more E-coli. In fact, the serious 1996 E-coli outbreak in Lanarkshire originated in meat produced at a large ministry-approved plant of precisely the sort favoured by Maff and Brussels. 

Where Number Watch comes from all the footpaths are closed because of the emergency and rural events have been cancelled. Not far away giant funeral pyres send the  last hopes of much of the farming industry reeking up to heaven. And what were our governing party doing? Believe it or not they spent the day debating their hunting ban. To compound the insult, when time became available to debate the crisis owing to a bizarre and fatal rail accident, the minister responsible put up a brave performance, but the Government benches behind him were egregiously empty. Number Watch usually tries to adopt a detached and ironic view of the doings of our masters. It does not often happen, but this time words simply fail. So here are some pictures:



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