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Politics

When was the ‘truth’ era?

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THAT was one of the questions posed at a recent panel discussion hosted by the Royal Statistical Society to consider whether we really are in a post-truth world of ‘alternative facts’, and if so what we can do about it.

These terms have become commonplace as people try to make sense of a global political landscape that looks and feels different to what many would have predicted a year ago. So it was refreshing to hear a more critical take on the concepts such as post-truth, fake news and echo-chambers.

That isn’t to say that the panellists thought all is well. It was accepted that misinformation, ‘fake news’, and a lack of regard for evidence in some quarters are issues worthy of addressing, and that it’s vital for the health of our democracy that we do so. What’s more, Helen Margetts (Oxford Internet Institute) presented a compelling case that the Internet and social media may be exacerbating the problem.

“Is anything particularly new about the challenges we face in defending the importance of facts and evidence?”

What was questioned was the notion that there is anything particularly new about the challenges we face in defending the importance of facts and evidence.

Or, to restate the earlier question – against what previous golden age of ‘truth’ are we implicitly comparing our modern era to when we use the phrase ‘post-truth’?

This sense of perspective is welcome. William Davies’ recent piece in the Guardian, which has generated much discussion in the statistical world, painted a gloomy picture of the supposedly waning power of statistics. But as the National Statistician pointed out in response, our supposedly ‘post-truth’ era is also characterised by both a yearning for more trustworthy analysis to make sense of the world and an abundance of data out there to help inform it, if only we can tap into and make sense of it.

And that is central to our mission here at the Office for National Statistics. We are constantly striving to produce better statistics to support better decisions. We have ambitious plans to harness big data and exploit its potential to help us understand the modern world. And we are always looking to better understand current and future user needs and respond to them where we can.

“We will continue to champion the value of evidence and statistics, even in our supposedly post-truth world.”

It’s not just about producing better statistics, however. There are challenges in explaining to a wide audience what the evidence says about any given issue when the matter at hand is complex, the evidence is not always clear cut, and the methodological limitations of statistics need to be made clear in the name of transparency.

The difficulty with that, as panellist James Bell from Buzzfeed explained, is that when it comes to dealing with a mass audience and a controversial issue, a simple and clear message usually beats a complex one.

Those of us working in the field of official statistics always need to challenge ourselves to communicate better and in a way that is clear and accessible. But we cannot get away from the fact that by necessity we deal in complexity and nuance, which can make it tricky to get our message across where others may be peddling a simpler line and in a louder voice.

The answer, as argued by Full Fact’s Will Moy, lies in recognising that the ONS and UK Statistics Authority, along with other bodies such as new Office for Statistics Regulation, are part of a bigger picture including civil society groups, media outlets, businesses and ordinary citizens. Working together is crucial to help people make sense of the world around them, to continue to build the case for evidence, and to challenge those who wilfully misuse or disregard it.

That’s why, for example, the UK Statistics Authority is partnering with Full Fact, the House of Commons Library and the Economic and Social Research Council on the ‘Need to Know’ project. And it’s also why the work done by organisations such as the Royal Statistical Society to improve statistical literacy is so valuable, so we can all understand the importance of evidence and challenge its misuse.

Responding to Mr Davies’ Guardian piece, the National Statistician argued that “this is the moment when we can make our greatest contribution to society” by seizing the opportunities open to us to produce the statistics that Britain needs to answer the big questions of the day. That’s something we certainly intend to do. And working with others, we will continue to champion the value of evidence and statistics, even in our supposedly post-truth world.

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Campaigners Thank Local MP, Ben Lake, for Championing Community Energy

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Today campaign group, Power for People, thanked local MP, Ben Lake, for holding a debate last night in the House of Commons to promote community renewable energy by creating a ‘Right to Local Supply’ in law.

Central to the debate was a proposed new law, known as the Local Electricity Bill, that Mr Lake is co-sponsoring and which is supported by 212 MPs. The Bill aims to help rebuild local economies whilst increasing clean energy generation.

If made law, the Bill would empower community-owned local energy companies to sell locally generated renewable electricity directly to local households and businesses.

Currently customers can only purchase electricity from nationally licensed utilities. The Bill’s supporters say this means money people use to pay their energy bills is not helping to rebuild local economies and local clean energy infrastructure.

Responding to the debate, Energy Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng MP, said, “It is certainly something that I as the Energy Minister will be willing to engage with and have a discussion about … I think that with a co-operative spirit, we can get very far.”

Campaigning group, Power for People, are calling for MPs and the government to make the Bill law and are leading a supportive coalition of organisations including Community Energy Wales, Community Energy England, Community Energy Scotland, WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the RSPB. 62 local authorities have also pledged their support.

Ben Lake, MP for Ceredigion, said, “A Right to Local Supply will empower and enable new community energy companies to sell energy that they generate directly to local people which will accelerate our transition to clean energy and help strengthen local economies. The Local Electricity Bill would enshrine this in law and I will do all I can to ensure it succeeds.”

Power for People’s Director, Steve Shaw, said, “We thank Ben Lake for holding a debate on the Local Electricity Bill in the House of Commons. If made law, the Bill would unleash the huge potential for new community-owned clean energy infrastructure and for this to boost local economies, jobs, services, and facilities in communities across Ceredigion, Wales and the rest of the UK.”

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Politics

Ceredigion MP urges UK Government to back Welsh farmers

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THE UK Government has rejected the latest attempt to require imported food to meet domestic legal standards from 1 January.

The Agriculture Bill – designed to prepare the farming industry for when the UK no longer has to follow EU laws and rules next year – returned to the Commons on Monday following amendments by the House of Lords.

During the debate on the Lords amendments in the Commons, Ben Lake MP stated: “This Government have long talked up the benefits of taking back control and of how, post-EU, we will be able to set the terms of our trade with the world. Those terms should be quite simple: UK market access for imports should be dependent on meeting equivalent UK food production standards. Without this safeguard, this Bill threatens the future prosperity of Welsh farming.”

The UK Government says EU rules banning imports of chlorine-washed chicken and other products will be automatically written into UK law once the post-Brexit transition period ends on 31 December.

But peers made a number of changes, including one which would give MPs a veto over sections in trade deals relating to food imports, which would be required to comply with “relevant domestic standards”.

They argued these changes were necessary to make it impossible for the US or other countries to export chlorinated chicken or beef injected with hormones.
However, MPs voted by 332 votes to 279 to back government plans to reject the amendment.

In response, Ben Lake MP said: “Last night, Plaid Cymru supported amendments that would have protected food standards in future trade deals and strengthened parliamentary scrutiny of trade negotiations.

“Yet again, the UK Government has let down Welsh farmers when given the chance to protect their livelihoods. Despite all their promises and manifesto commitments, the Government defeated the amendments, exposing our farmers to unfair competition and lower production standards in future trade deals.

“Plaid Cymru will continue to put forward a positive vision for our food producers based on a greater say for our devolved governments and the protection of food standards. This is not because we not only believe them necessary now, but because they are fundamental to our collective tomorrow.”

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Politics

Ceredigion Conservative Association Elects a New Chairman

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On the 18th September, the Ceredigion Conservative Association held its Annual General Meeting, attended remotely by Conservative Members from across the County. The Association was formally re-established and Patrick Loxdale was elected as the new Chairman.

Commenting on his new position, Patrick says:

“ I am very honoured to be given the opportunity to serve in this position. I believe passionately in democracy and the democratic process. The Welsh Conservatives came second in Ceredigion in last year’s General Election, increasing the Conservative vote share by more than the national average. It shows that Conservative values are widely held by people of all ages in Ceredigion, and it is important that we have a functioning local association, and strong candidates to allow their opinions to be heard.”

Patrick, whose family have lived in Llanilar for five generations, previously served as a Medical Officer in The Royal Navy for almost twenty years, qualifying as a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon. From 2001 to 2016 he worked as an NHS Consultant in Devon. Moving back to Llanilar when his brother passed away, Patrick now farms from his family home and enjoys acquiring new knowledge in organic farming and rural management. Patrick adds:

“Ceredigion is a fantastic place to live, with a world beating environment. There are great opportunities for our future and our children’s security, prosperity and fulfilment here. Yet the Labour run Welsh Government continues to fail to grasp this and rarely provides any real focus outside of the M4 corridor! In next year’s Senedd election, the people of Ceredigion deserve a credible alternative choice; a choice that rejects both the on-going failures of Welsh Labour and the separatist ideology of Plaid Cymru. It is time for the people of Ceredigion to vote for the Welsh Conservatives.

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