Brexit. Let’s run the numbers.

Brexit. Let’s run the numbers.

As any toddler will tell you, the wheels on the bus go round and round. The wheels on the Brexit bus went round and round and up and down the country. And what was painted on its sides proved to have a big effect on the side that voters finally took. The most famous, now infamous, datum point was that £350 million every week. (The pro-Brexit campaign guaranteed it would be diverted from Brussels bureaucracy to healing on the NHS front line.)

Now, remove the specific Brexit arguments from the equation and consider the campaigning as an exercise in business communication. Substitute analysts, shareholders and employees for voters and you still have near total reliance on data, as opposed to careful argument, convincingly communicated. There are two points here.

First, reliance on numbers alone in any communication is a flawed strategy. Numbers are cold. Numbers are hard. That is their point. They are not about emotional engagement. They are about rationality. So to make any desirable impact, they have to be ‘good’ numbers. They must either confirm your argument absolutely, or catastrophically undermine the counter-argument.

Second, numbers are notoriously unreliable, even if they are ‘correct’. The idea of lies, damned lies and statistics has been around since Mark Twain shared his three categories of untruths. In fairness to statisticians however, numbers alone will never communicate what really matters: their context.

The unreliability of the numbers in the great Brexit data bingo game becomes more apparent with each day that passes. Remainers countered the £350 million a week claim with one of their own: £156 million a week to Brussels. So, by implication, the ‘damage’ (if you see it in that way) is less than half of the original number.

Now we hit the heart of the problem. The claim and the counter-claim are both wrong. Factor in the complexities of rebates on original contributions and you actually arrive at a figure of £252 million a week, in 2016. If not a strict numerical median, the actual number is very close to the mid-point between both claims. So what is actually left to the two sides?

The answer is the need for a real argument, powerfully presented. When the true numbers ‘prove’ neither one case nor another, it’s time for real communication.

 

Sources

Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses 2017

The photo is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cwpbh.04761

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