Simon Carr: Nothing is as it seems in the elliptical world of immigration

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Home Office questions. It must be said that Alan Johnson doesn't look as hopeless as he keeps saying he is. "Vote for me! I haven't got the desire, the talent, the confidence for the job!" Maybe it's a more cunning plan than we think.

The Office for National Statistics released a report suggesting that the population of Britain would go up to 70 million in the next few years. Was that a good thing? Or was it a bad thing? Was it to be "celebrated"? Or did it imply "tough decisions"?

The minister might have said: "I haven't seen the report in question." They said that a bit yesterday. Or he might have blamed the Tories for abolishing border controls nearly 20 years ago. That was an option also taken up yesterday. Or they might even have cited the 1961 Act when Harold Macmillan was prime minister and his health minister, Enoch Powell, needed a massive influx of workers from the Caribbean to keep his hospitals going – yes, that was glanced at as well. It set a new record in blaming the previous administrations – it was very nearly 50 years ago. Not that any of this was much explored on the floor of the House. Immigration has to be dealt with in the most subtle, the most elliptical, the most sophisticated way or ... there's no room to finish that sentence.

So the minister responded reprovingly: "The ONS did not say Britain's population would be 70 million. The 70 million was a projection based on recent experience, not a forecast."

It's a world-class reply. Britain really does have beacon status when it comes to ministerial twistiness. It was as good as Des Browne saying people wouldn't have to repay tax credits that had been handed out owing to "official error". It transpired later that he was demanding every single penny back – and he explained that "error by officials" was a very different matter.

Chris Grayling had tried to accuse the previous PM of colluding with Jack Straw to get mass immigration going in order to get the Tories "on the wrong side of the argument". They wanted "to rub the noses of the right in diversity".

How cynical do you have to be to think it may have been discussed in those terms? It's a crime against history to be anything else.

Speaking of which: "Crime has fallen by 36 per cent." That's one of the mysterious things these people say. Everyone knows it isn't true. The figures may be absolutely, comprehensively, unequivocally correct but we know that beacon-status masseurs have been working on the statistics far into the night to enable ministers to say it. I'm pretty sure we now know that a third of violent crimes don't find their way into the statistics at all. Criminal!

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