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Factual errors in a speech by Jeremy Corbyn (14/09/15)


Newspapers here have recently been talking about a past speech by newly elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn where he says, to paraphrase, that it would be "wonderful if every politician around the world...did what Costa Rica have done and abolished their Army...and took pride in the fact that their country is near the top of the global peace index". The figures mentioned in his speech struck me as worthy of a bit of investigation, and after a bit of poking around, it appears that there is no source for them, and their truthfulness is highly questionable.

Speech source and transcript

The speech was given on 6th August 2012 at a commemoration held in London's Tavistock Square to remember the Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombings. There is a full video of the speech available on YouTube here (speech starts at around 0:25) and a transcript is available on the Mirror's website. I have reproduced the transcript below, with relevant parts highlighted in bold - I will confine my discussion to these.

On October 20, hopefully hundreds of thousands of people will be marching through the streets of London, protesting against libraries being closed, hospitals being cut back, schools being cut back. Young people being denied opportunities. High levels of unemployment. Cuts in social services. Increased charges for everything. Higher taxation in order to pay off a debt. Is it really conscionable or sensible or possible that in three years time in 2016 Parliament will compound the problem of already spending £3bn on preparation for the replacement of the submarines and Trident nuclear weapons system by replacement of the whole system which will cost this country £100bn. Is it really sensible to spend £100bn of money we can't afford and haven't got while there are homeless people, while there are hungry children around the world, while there's a sanitation crisis, while there's a crisis of people fleeing from absolute poverty to try and gain a place of safety in some of the slightly richer countries in the world? I had the pleasure of reading last week the World Peace Index book that was sent to me and I wrote about it in my weekly column in the Morning Star. This country comes 89th. Eighty-ninth on the World Peace Index. Why? Because we've got nuclear weapons. Why? Because we're in Iraq. Why? Because we're in Afghanistan. Why? Because we bombed Libya. Why? Because we've got anti-terror legislation that allows executive detention. Why? Because we've got 80,000 people in prison. A measurement of a society's happiness and prosperity and success is not war, not weapons, not prison, not unemployment. The measurement is education, health, inspiration, high levels of employment and not going to war around the world to steal the natural resources of others to enrich the already wealthy western society. Our message today is in memory of those that were so tragically and brutally and horribly killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki - and all those that suffered the health defects and disfigurement of nuclear testing over the past 60 years. No more nuclear weapons. No more nuclear wars. No more wars. A world of peace. Wouldn't it be wonderful if every politician around the world instead of taking pride in the size of their Armed Forces did what Costa Rica have done and abolished their Army, and took pride in the fact they don't have an Army. And that their country is near the top of the global peace index. Surely that is the way we should be going forward.

Inferences derived from the speech

An observer could conclude the following three points from Mr. Corbyn's speech:

  1. There is a publication called either the "World Peace Index" or the "Global Peace Index" and, at the time of the speech (2012), the United Kingdom was ranked 89th and Costa Rica was ranked "near the top".
  2. Mr. Corbyn wrote about this publication in his weekly Morning Star column in the week immediately before the speech was given.
  3. Costa Rica's higher ranking is due to its lack of an army and this is something that all countries, including the United Kingdom, should aspire to.

Let us take a look at each of these in turn.

1: The World/Global Peace Index

Rather confusingly, there are two different global indices published - the Global Peace Index and the World Peace Index. These are published by completely separate organisations, but Mr. Corbyn confuses the two names. In addition, these are hardly "books", but online reports.

The Global Peace Index is published by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) and appears to be the far more widely used of the two indices.

The World Peace Index is published by the World Peace Forum, based in South Korea. Judging by the number of search results, it seems to be far less well known than the IEP report.

According to the 2012 Global Peace Index, the UK was ranked 44th and Costa Rica 37th. Rankings are roughly similar for all the years which the Global Peace Index is published for (2008-2015 inclusive). The 2012 World Peace Index gives rankings of 40th for the UK and 29th for Costa Rica. Again, ratings are similar for all published years (2001-2015 inclusive).

There is no single example of the UK ever being ranked 89th in either peace indices, nor has Costa Rica ever been "near the top". (In my reckoning, being 30th from the top on a list of only 150 or so countries is hardly near the top...)

This leaves one wondering where Mr. Corbyn obtained his figures.

2: Morning Star Weekly Column

The speech was given on the 6th August, and Mr. Corbyn describes reading the World Peace Index book "last week" and subsequently writing about it in his Morning Star column. That would put the date of the article some time in late July/early August. The Morning Star newspaper has all of Mr. Corbyn's articles available online - search for his name, then proceed through the results pages. I read every article going back from the 8th August to the beginning of June and I did not see a single mention of the World Peace Index or even any related discussion. A site-specific search on Google also revealed nothing. So if Mr. Corbyn did write about it, where is it?

It may be that the print edition of the Morning Star carries additional stories which are not available on their website, but given the volume of articles by Mr. Corbyn which are available online, this is highly unlikely.

3: Higher ranking because lack of an army

As a final thought, consider this: if Costa Rica is supposedly so much more peacable than the UK because of their lack of an army, then why is their homicide rate nearly 9 times higher than ours? (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) data 2012)