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Analysis

An inflation of irritation

by Sam Ashworth-Hayes | 19.07.2017

The only thing rising faster than UK prices is the ire of Brexiters at the BBC’s coverage of the current Brexit-induced spell of inflation. Yesterday’s figures from the Office for National Statistics showed the rate of inflation dropping from 2.9% to 2.6%. Instead of welcoming the lessened squeeze on family incomes, the Brexiters at the Mail chose to attack the BBC.

The main target was Today programme presenter John Humphrys, who told listeners “inflation is rising again. It is still way short of what it was in the 90s, but [the latest figures] will show it has reached three per cent”. In the event, they didn’t. And while everyone else put this down to a forecasting error and got on with their day, the Mail smelled something more sinister: BBC bias.

The paper opened its attack with the tautologically accurate observation that the broadcaster was facing “fresh accusations of anti-Brexit bias”, as John Redwood, Tory MP and veteran Eurosceptic, made a “furious” call for the BBC to ‘correct’ its coverage.

The problem is that there isn’t really anything to correct. The BBC reported the predictions, then reported the precise figures. Two unexpected movements threw off predictions: a fall in the price of motor fuels and of “recreational goods”. While the former is driven by the continuing drop in the oil price, the FT’s Chris Giles points out that the latter “merely reverses an upward movement in May”.

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Beneath this, the weak pound has ensured inflation remains high. And despite Redwood’s claim that the decline in the pound “started in the summer of 2015”, what we’re feeling now is the result of the nose-dive it took after the Brexit vote, from which it has never entirely recovered.

While the Mail was busy demanding that our national broadcaster correct something that doesn’t really count as an error, two embarrassing slips made it past its own editors.

The first of these was quoting a tweet supposedly from Brexiter MP Jacob Rees-Mogg: “The BBC and Remoaners are devastated as [low inflation] defies Brexit doom and gloom prediction”. Rees-Mogg tweeted no such thing. An account called “Moggmentum”, however, did. Rees-Mogg’s office have confirmed that this was a “mistake on the Mail’s part”.

The second was displaying a remarkably poor grasp of basic economics. The Daily Mail claimed that the lower inflation rate meant that the cost of living had dropped. Of course it hasn’t. Inflation is at 2.6%, so prices are still rising and are doing so faster than wages. In other words, the cost of living is still increasing as the effect of the slump in sterling works through the economic system.

Perhaps it is too much to expect for the high priests of Brexit to admit their own mistakes.

Edited by Quentin Peel