Sunday, March 25, 2012

31 January 2011 – Follow-up to ‘Political Science’


A quick follow-up to my post of a few weeks back.  I’d left dangling a question, as you may recall, about who was lying - the UK Meteorological Office, which claimed that it had “privately warned the Government” that Britain was likely to face “an extremely cold winter”; or the Cameron government, which claimed to have no record of the Met Office telling it any such thing.

Well, time has afforded us some clarity.  First, it seems that some emails between the UK Cabinet Office and the Met Office have now hit the intertubes.  A British blogger, who calls himself “Katabasis”, received a response to an FOI request.  According to the emails, “someone at the Cabinet Office wrote to the Met Office to tell them what the official position would be: “The Met Office seasonal outlook for the period November to January is showing no clear signals for the winter”. The Met Office writes back - “That is fine.”

‘That is fine’.  Not a correction - for example, ‘Sorry, you got it wrong, we told you it was probably going to be bloody cold, fix it please.’

The lack of any specific warning to government of a cold winter by the Met Office is confirmed by an exchange in the House of Lords on 27 January 2011.  From Hansard:

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, can my noble friend inform the House of the statistical and scientific evidence for the Met Office’s estimate that there was only a one in 20 chance of a severe winter in 2010-11, an estimate on which the airports relied?

Earl Attlee: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has asked Sir John Beddington to give him scientific advice on the likelihood of future severe winters. On 25 October 2010, the Met Office provided the Cabinet Office with an updated three-monthly forecast, which suggested a 40 per cent chance of cold conditions, a 30 per cent chance of near average conditions and a 30 per cent chance of mild conditions over northern Europe.

(For those who, like me, don’t follow Brit politics, John Lord Attlee is the Cameron Government’s spokesman for, amongst other things, transport; while Nigel Lord Lawson of Blaby, a conservative currently outside of government, is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Global Warming Policy Foundation [] - so the question was an obvious plant designed to put evidence of the Met Office’s error and subsequent perfidy on the record.)

In other words, what the Met office actually told Parliament was that there was a 40% chance of a cold winter, and a 60% chance of an average or mild winter.  This is the opposite of what BBC’s Roger Harrabin claimed, which was that the Met Office had told Cabinet that “Britain was likely to face an extremely cold winter”.

Looks like it’s the Met Office’s pants that are, once again, on fire.  Double-oopsie.