The great thing about statistics is that they consist of numbers, and most people think numbers are hard (in both senses: numbers are difficult to work with; and numbers are factual and not open to interpretation). So when most people hear statistics from a politician, they assume that what they are hearing is, at least factually, correct - after all, if the politician is giving them numbers, and numbers are factual and easily checked, then the politician is unlikely to be lying, right? If a politician says that X has risen, and provides numbers to support that, then most people will assume that he or she is stating a fact. Of course, most people don't have the skill, time or inclination to check the numbers for themselves, but they assume that someone else will. Well, now someone has.
Gordon Brown played a blinder in PMQs the other day, asserting that defence spending had gone up every year under Labour. He even had the audacity to add that spending had gone down under the Tories (of course it would - we didn't have Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq and Afghanistan to worry about then; thanks, Labour). Although I was surprised to hear that, I assumed that - in strictly literal terms - it would be true, as it could so easily be proved false.
Wrong, as Channel 4 have found out:
The man is an inveterate liar. He bludgeons us with statistics, assuming we won't, or can't, check how true they are. Thank you, C4.