The Written Answer is a noble parliamentary tradition, dating back almost 300 years. MPs and peers use them to hold the government to account, getting facts and figures on the record.
But wriggling out of answering them is also a recognised Parliamentary skill – and one that, while often applied with dexterity, can impede the process of democracy.
That’s the primary reason that, beside each Written Answer on TheyWorkForYou, we poll our users on a single point:
“Does this answer the above question?”
Last month marked the tenth birthday of TheyWorkForYou, and over that time, this unassuming poll has amassed more than 275,000 of these yes or no responses on a total of around 130,000 written answers.
That’s a substantial sample for us to analyse. Running that data through a few tickertape machines and putting the results in order means that we can now see just how many written answers actually address the question in hand – and which government departments are the best and worst at giving a straight answer.
Is the current administration more slippery?
It seems that ministers are getting worse at returning a straightforward answer.
In the previous government: 47% of written answers that were voted on got more ‘yes’ answers than ‘no’s from our users.
In the current administration: That figure has dropped to 45%. Even within the current term, the figure has been falling year on year, with a 49% ‘yes’ rate in 2010 comparing to a 42% rate in 2013.
Best and worst departments for a straight answer
Breaking down the data by department is also eye-opening – some departments are decidedly more likely to be judged as prevaricators by TheyWorkForYou’s users.
Accolade for ‘most improved’ goes to the Wales office, who managed an 86% ‘yes’ rate in the current government, against 48% in the last. Worst of the bunch – as perceived by TheyWorkForYou’s users – is the Department of Work and Pensions, with just 31% in this administration.
We’ve put the full rankings below, for those of you who would like to delve deeper into these figures.
Facts and figures
The data runs from 5/1/2004 to 9/12/2013.
Total number of Written Answers published on TheyWorkForYou during this time: 551,286
Total number of survey responses by TheyWorkForYou users: 275,681
Number of Written Answers with at least one user assessment: 128,234
|Department||Yes, it answered the question||No, it did not answer the question||Total||Straight Talking percentage||Gov 2005-10||Gov 2010-2013|
|Deputy Prime Minister||809||1124||1933||42||40||53|
|Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs||2456||2484||4940||50||48||53|
|Women and Equalities||237||232||469||51||51||51|
|Energy and Climate Change||907||1030||1937||47||43||49|
|Business, Innovation and Skills||3079||3207||6286||49||50||48|
|Environment Food and Rural Affairs||3074||2842||5916||52||54||48|
|Culture Media and Sport||1894||1678||3572||53||56||47|
|Communities and Local Government||2785||2849||5634||49||51||46|
|Work and Pensions||2620||4133||6753||39||44||31|
Averages for each year, all departments
Percentage of ‘yes’ responses to the TheyWorkForYou user survey
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I’m intrigued as to how consistent the poll results are, as that might reveal how clear cut the judgement about whether the answer answers the question is (I imagine there’s a lot of sort-of answers).
Would you be able to run the stats and tell us:
* the percentage of answers where all the poll results concur (where there’s at least 2 answers). Also perhaps whether this has changed over time.
* the average percentage of poll results which differ from the majority answer (eg if 2 people answer yes and 8 answer no the percentage would be 20%).