And another thing...

When is a cricketing spin doctor useless?
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The Independent Culture
"Useless," says the writer Daniel Pedersen in this week's Newsweek magazine. "If you reduce British conventional wisdom about John Major to a single word, 'useless' has been the handsdown winner for years." A plausible claim, but is it true?

We have been checking the facts on our database of British newspapers, which covers a cross-section of the national press - daily and Sunday, tabloid and broadsheet - over the past three years. Our first finding appeared to lend support to Pedersen: the word "useless" occurred 29 times in the same sentence as the name "John Major", compared with only five uselesses for Tony Blair and three for Paddy Ashdown.

There have, however, been considerably more references to John Major, and thus more chances for him to occur in close proximity to the word "useless", but even taking this into account, he holds a strong lead in uselessness over his rivals.

But is "useless" a "hands-down winner" as claimed? We selected nine other words for comparison. The table below lists the results. The figures are the number of times you would expect to find each word in 1,000 sentences containing the names of each party leader. So, for example, in every 1,000 sentences containing the name "John Major", you would expect to find 14.2 references to "education".

Major Blair Ashdown

education 14.2 34.8 18.2

crime 7.3 18.0 3.8

hospitals 4.6 4.8 3.5

taxation 2.6 6.6 5.1

sleaze 5.9 3.5 1.3

spin doctor 0.9 8.5 1.1

integrity 1.3 1.8 2.4

Single Euro. Curr. 2.4 1.2 0.9

cricket 7.2 0.6 0.2

useless 0.5 0.2 0.7

Education tops all three lists, with crime a poor second - except for Paddy Ashdown, whose concern for taxation pushes crime into third place. Tony Blair has "spin doctor" above taxation, while John Major has "cricket" in third, followed by sleaze. "Integrity" is the only word on which Paddy Ashdown leads his rivals. And "useless"? It's the handsdown loser on all lists. Quite useless.