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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
The politics of numbers
Parliament and Big Ben
Could Norway's approach to statistics in politics be copied here?
On More or Less this week we looked at the relationship between politics, statistics and the media and how Norway's chief statistician's approach to this relationship could help to counter allegations of spin in the UK.

Imagine at the next election Britain's national statistician holds a press conference.

"So what?" you say. In the past, civil servants have taken a back seat when politics gets dirtiest so why should we expect anything interesting?

But this one steps up before the media and announces the key measures of government performance, sets out clearly the key data on the economy, public services, crime and immigration; in effect issues an election briefing for the British public on the statistics which the national statistician, not the government, thinks important.

BBC Radio 4's More or Less was broadcast on Thursday, 1st July, 1500 BST
For good measure, the press conference also includes a correction of a recent ministerial statement.

Fantasy? Not in Norway. Svein Longva is the national statistician there.

When he wanted to change the system, he didn't ask anyone's permission, he simply wrote to the government and told them.

Could it be that the reason he feels confident to do all this is that his independence, unlike that of his British counterpart, is protected in law?

That's not to say Norway's politics is spin free. There are still many arguments about how to interpret the statistics. But could its example help counter allegations here that spin has become everything?

In More or Less this week, we examine the problem of spinning the numbers, talking to politicians, statisticians and the media about what goes wrong and how to put it right.

And we also report the astonishing finding that Herman Melville's great novel Moby Dick predicted the war on terrorism as well as having something to say about Tony Blair.

The future is in the numbers and all in More or Less.

Click here to have your say about the programme.


Producer: Michael Blastland
Editor: Nicola Meyrick

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