China changes government. Exclusive in the Observer.

The Observer is a strange newspaper. Here’s a bit from its business page today:

Disturbed by the lack of similar action in Brussels and in Frankfurt – home of the European Central Bank – investors fear that the eurozone is sliding ever closer to recession. They are also worried about a sharp slowdown in China, following moves by the ruling People’s party to tackle escalating state sector debts.

China is ruled by the People’s Party, rather than the Communist Party of China? How did that happen? Shouldn’t this seismic world-historical event be on the front page?

The worrying bit here is that the Observer‘s shtick is a sort of cold war liberal style. It throws a ton of reporters at international news and takes it very seriously, although it always adopts a very pronounced westernist tone, if that’s a word. It has the good bits of this – lots of foreign coverage – and the bad ones – far too close to our spooks and the diplomats it likes.

The second worrying bit is that the best thing about the paper is usually the business section, which is tightly reported, critical, and readable. Back when it was a whole pull-out broadsheet in its own right, I often thought that I’d happily pay for the business section on its own.

But here we are with the business section of the paper that prides itself on big-letter International news, and it doesn’t know which political party is in charge of China. There must be more stuff in there that’s as wrong as that, just I don’t know what it is.

I expect this sort of shit from opinionators like Andrew “that book was a while ago now” Rawnsley, but I hope for better from the business pages. Here’s Rawnsley.

I’m a tad suspicious of big, round numbers. Complex problems rarely resolve into anything so neat as a figure ending in a zero. The merit of big, round numbers in politics is this. They make people sit up and pay attention…

The Lib Dems’ promise to spend £1bn more than the Conservatives is turned into peanuts and Labour’s pledge of an extra £2.5bn is chump change compared with the £30bn that Mr Stevens says will be necessary if the next government, whoever forms it, wants to avoid a crisis.

Rawnsley ought to be more suspicious of big numbers. The £30bn is over the six years from here to 2020. As far as I know the others are changes to its annual, but recurring, budget. So the Labour offer is 6×2.5bn, about half the Stevens report, not the whole wad, but not “chump change” either. It might be rather more or rather less depending on how Labour and Stevens respectively deal with inflation.

It’s not hard. Is the number in real terms, or cash terms? Is it annual, or over several years? How many years? Is that a total, or an average? What is it as a percentage of the budget? What is it as a percentage of GDP? If it’s a growth rate, is it comparing years or months or what, and which ones?

I would love it if a national newspaper would commit to stating all numbers in money as real terms, annualised, and all numbers in budget proposals as percentages of GDP. Newspapers have style guides for words. They should have them for numbers. And their sub-editors should enforce them.

But if they don’t check if they got the ruling party of China right, what hope is there of that?

1 Comment on "China changes government. Exclusive in the Observer."

  1. I wonder if some kind of campaign could at least nudge the Grauniad group towards a style guide for numbers? They’re trying the “patron” model at the moment as an extra funding source – could be a vector for leverage…


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