by Martin Odoni

It is a sad reflection on the dismal quality of political discourse in modern Britain that the main memory of the 2017 General Election campaign for many is of the notorious Diane Abbott ‘brain-freeze’. As a reminder, Abbott was being interviewed on LBC Radio by the hideously smug right-wing tabloid hack, Nick Ferrari, when she stumbled badly over a police staffing-and-funding question.

Ever since then, almost daily, right-wing foam-at-the-mouths on social media have relentlessly dragged Abbott’s name through the mud, often in online conversations that have nothing even to do with her.

Diane Abbott Klaxon

This image (origin unknown, sorry) is very useful for sharing in online conversations about something the Tories are doing wrong, as you just KNOW a Tory supporter will soon try to divert attention to something Abbott said or did wrong years earlier.

Now, I did make clear last spring that these condemnations are out-of-order in-and-of themselves, given Abbott was ill with diabetic withdrawal during the 2017 campaign. But there is an even more sinister side to the mockery, which is that what Abbott did was not as peculiar to her as her denigrators imply.

In truth, significantly more glaring and startling examples of appalling arithmetic over the last few years have been made by prominent MPs and Cabinet Ministers. As this image, c/o the Angry Yorkshireman, demonstrates; –

MPs Numbers fluffs

When you are CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER, a miscalculation of £20 BILLION is surely worth at least as much exposure as Diane Abbott’s brain-freeze’, right? Not according to the BBC.

We have no need to go very far back to find examples of shocking basic arithmetic from the Tories. Two of the most egregious are to be found in the last few months.

For instance, Boris Johnson, our illustrious Prime Minister, cannot count to the number forty correctly. Truly. What he does when he gallantly attempts to rival John Nash is to count to five, presumably on the fingers of one hand. The effort to switch over to the digits of his other hand appears to confuse him, as the next number he will call out is ‘forty’.

You think I am making this up? Well, how does Johnson explain arriving at his policy of building “forty new hospitals” when everyone else who has analysed the proposal has found that the actual total is six? That miscount is so egregious, the only explanation is that he thinks that five-plus-one equals forty.

And then of course, there is the disturbing collective miscount of this General Election campaign, in which the entire Tory Cabinet appear to have somehow decided that the number thirty-one thousand is the same as the number fifty thousand. Therefore, when ‘BoJob’ et al announced with almost fevered excitement that there would be ‘50,000 new nurses’ recruited to the National Health Service over the next term, the number they actually meant was 31,000. The nineteen thousand difference was made up of nurses who are already in the NHS, but who are projected to leave over the next five years, and Conservatives hope just to convince them to stay. Apparently, thirty-one thousand new recruits plus nineteen thousand old recruits who are persuaded to stay by means undefined equals fifty thousand ‘new‘ recruits.

Tory Maths world

In Tory Maths World, no two lines intersect, and no two sums add up

Now, I am no Isaac Newton myself, but I find this ‘abacus-ineptitude’ startling. I should add (pun entirely intentional), my late father was one of Britain’s leading mathematicians of the 1970’s-to-the-1990s. Despite him being an impassioned Thatcherite Tory, I am pretty confident he would have an apoplectic fit seeing arithmetical duncing around of this standard.

(NOTE FOR THE HARD-OF-THINKING: The above paragraph is sarcastic. I am well aware that what I am presenting as innumeracy is actually just grossly misleading Tory spin. But the bottom line remains the same; why would you find politicians who deliberately try to give you the wrong idea less objectionable than one MP who forgot her insulin on an exceptionally busy day of interviews, in which she still only made the one mistake?)

The more serious, highly sinister aspect is that these sorts of ‘mistakes’ are ignored or lampooned, not on grounds of the ineptitude involved, but on grounds of who made them. Diane Abbott gets vastly more condemnation for her brain-freeze in 2017 than any other MP gets for similar mistakes noted here. This is in spite of the fact that Abbott’s mistake is extenuated by illness, and the fact that a £20 billion mistake by the ‘Grand Poobah of the Treasury’ will likely have more implications. Why should the treatment be so uneven?

While I realise that many a right winger will roll eyes and bemoan any (as they see it) playing of the ‘race card’, it is very difficult to picture any likelier reason than the fact that Diane Abbott is a black woman. It may be semi-conscious racism and misogyny, of the type where the beholder judges similar facts differently because of the race/gender/both of the person under scrutiny, but without noticing. It may also be because the media have made so very much more of Abbott’s bad interview than they have of the other examples above. That in turn may also be because of semi-conscious racism and misogyny. It may even stem from a simpler root of party political bias. But that is not a great deal better.

In truth, Abbott is a highly intelligent woman, with a degree in History from Cambridge, and a successful political career triumphing over the obstacles societal racism has put in her path. How many of her detractors can claim that? Given how much abuse she takes, she is a remarkably tough woman as well. So would I rather a woman who had a car crash interview while ill got into Government than the imbeciles mentioned above? Hell, yeah. Why? you ask.

Re-read the above, and do the math.