Friday, 23 June 2017

Got your number!

A week and a half on from the Grenfell Tower fire (And how many unchecked variations of that name have been used across various media platforms?) and still the same old politics-as-usual. The Corbynistas have been in full flight-of-fancy mode, variously blaming the conflagration on Tory cuts, Tory councillors, Tory contractors, Tory planners, Tory specifiers Tory procurers, Tory cladding erectors and no doubt,  Tori Spelling, Tori Amos and the elusive Vic-Tory too.

As a brief respite from the opportunistically manufactured national grief, John McDonnell’s clenched-fist ‘Day of Rage’ turned out – thankfully – to be a soggy squib of an affair as a few of the unwashed persuaded themselves they would somehow ‘overthrow’ their new Thatcher hate-figure, placard by placard. Inside the chamber Jeremy Corbyn piled into the Queen’s speech, claiming it was a meagre affair, thin gruel, insufficient, on the grounds that too few radical changes were proposed. Is this, then, the duty of government, to consistently lay down law after law? Or is it rather to create an environment where individuals can flourish and people can improve their own lives?

Talking of individuals, it turns out that a further 500,000 of them were added to the population in the last year; the pace of population growth far outgrowing our ability to accommodate them, feed them and continually subsidise the lie that we need them. Actually, that figure is only what is known; the Grenfell fire has revealed that we don’t even know how many, or who, were living in the tower block, legally or otherwise; one of the challenges of the coming days is to quantify the political mileage available from the unknown unknowns.

To this end Sadiq Khan’s team have assembled a panel of experts to gather information and form a strategy for extracting the maximum embarrassment from government and the maximum funding possible from the public purse. One of the first tasks is to work out how many lives were lost, how many displaced and how much compensation could be due. Part of the process was to recruit analysts to crunch the numbers, to which end a mathematician, a statistician and an accountant were interviewed for the job of leading the task force:

At the interview the mathematician declared that with, say, 127 flats and an average occupancy of 3.4 people per flat we were dealing with a potential total number of fatalities of 431.8, minus those who had been accounted for and thus a precise figure could be arrived at for both living and dead. He was asked to take a seat in the waiting room while they interviewed the next candidate.

The statistician took a slightly different approach, based on the fact that a number of flats were thought to have been sub-let multiple times. Let us suppose, he said, that 40% of the flats had been let out to unregistered tenants and let us suppose that, typically these would be immigrant families who were on the whole the vanguard for large extended families intending to settle in London. We can take a ball park estimate, based on the probability that at any one time 50% of these apartments contained people in transit, that somewhere in the region of a 1000 people would need to be accounted for and adequately compensated.

The hiring committee was impressed with how easily the statistician had dispensed with hard facts and plucked a number from thin air which suggested they could ask for twice as much as they had originally imagined. They asked the statistician to take a seat while they interviewed the accountant. The accountant took his turn, listened carefully to the question the committee posed and answered, simply, “How many do you want it to be?”

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