The Conservatives Hold Their Annual Party Conference

Pride comes before a fall

Owen Paterson was already a well-known figure at the beginning of last year after he said badgers sentenced to death under the government’s trial cull had “moved the goalposts” by failing to die in sufficient numbers.

The environment secretary and climate change sceptic was at the helm as violent storms ushered in the new year, leaving thousands of households stranded in floodwater.

As ministers battled to retain credibility, Mr Paterson took great exception to claims that this government was spending less on flood defences than the last one, angrily denying it when questioned at public meetings and in parliament.

Unfortunately, it was true, as FactCheck pointed out. The UK Statistics Authority agreed with us. Mr Paterson left the front bench after a cabinet reshuffle in July.

Rude bad health

The health service has been used as a political football by politicians of all stripes throughout the year.

Not for the first time, Labour used dubious stats to try to sell a health scare story, this time about a “growing crisis in older people’s care”.

David Cameron continues to claim credit for increasing numbers of doctors on his watch, despite the fact that they must have begun their medical studies before he became prime minister.

And the SNP scored an own-goal in the final stages of the Scottish independence referendum when they tried to suggest that a yes vote was the only way to protect the NHS from meddling from Westminster.

The problem is that, despite the rhetoric from Holyrood, leading think-tanks said successive Scottish governments had failed to pass on the full amount of money allocated by Westminster to Scottish health services.

Don’t go to Syria…

..unless you want to fight to save the regime of Bashar al-Assad, that is.

Fighting FOR the Syrian government appears to be the only way you can pick up a Kalashnikov without fear of being prosecuted under anti-terror legislation.

We also found out that about 100 British Jews fought for Israel during the conflict in Gaza under a little-known scheme to recruit foreign volunteers.


Get a good degree

Is it still financially worth your while going to university? While students leave with terrifying amounts of debt, we concluded that is probably still worth getting a degree, on the balance of probabilities.

But only a good degree. So do some work. And be aware that you are taking “a gamble”, according to experts. An increasingly large number of graduates earn the same as people who only have A-levels.

Depressingly, we also found that among graduates with similar academic achievements, the privately educated tend to get paid more. No one knows why.

Don’t sleep with the Princess of Wales

Technically it is still treason to “violate the King’s Companion, or the King’s eldest Daughter unmarried, or the Wife of the King’s eldest Son and Heir”.

However, recent royal history suggests someone who has an affair with the wife of the heir to the throne is unlikely to actually be prosecuted.

And no, you can’t still be hanged for treason – or anything else.

Attend Pro Osama Bin Laden Demonstration Outside US Embassy

Britain is not turning into an Islamic country

When we read a viral article that claimed half the population of Britain would be Muslim by 2050, we raised a sceptical eyebrow.

Though the Muslim population is said to rise, it is unlikely to get much past 10 per cent, according to experts.

It’s true that Muhammad is one of the most popular boy’s names, but that tells us more about the lack of variation in Muslim names than birth rates.

British people like immigrants…

…when they get to know them.

The British Social Attitudes survey suggests that people who are most likely to be in regular contact with migrants have the most positive views about immigration.

This may explain why Ukip, the party that made immigration its rallying-call in 2014, is targeting seats where there are fewer migrants workers than average.

Almost everything else you may have heard about immigration is probably wrong, according to new research.

Immigrants are less of a drain on the state than native-born Britons, and recent immigrants from Eastern Europe are big net contributors to the economy.

Migration doesn’t appear to ramp up house prices, cause unemployment or depress wages for most workers.

And despite a few hotspots, we struggled to find five towns that have been “swamped” by EU migrants.

On the other hand, we found Ukip leader Nigel Farage was partly right when he claimed that Romanian immigrants were disproportionately likely to be involved in crime.


Our electoral system is bonkers

Despite success for Ukip on a number of fronts, we are sticking to our prediction that the party will fail to win more than a handful of seats at the next election.

Britain’s First Past the Post system means that even if there is a big surge in popular support for Ukip, the votes probably won’t translate into many MPs.

In fact, the system is so quirky that a party can bag the biggest share of the vote and still come second. In February 1974 Labour got slightly fewer votes than the Conservatives nationally but ended up with more seats.

But democracy is alive and well

At least, it is in Scotland. FactCheck had its hands full with the independence referendum for most of the year. We exposed half-truths, evasions and scare stories on both sides.

Ultimately, we were humbled by the size of the turnout and the largely good-natured passion of the debate. Democracy was the real winner.


It’s not all bad news

Antidepressant use is soaring, social mobility may be a mirage, and apparently getting through more than three pints of beer can define you as a binge drinker.

But some things in Britain are getting better.

Obesity rates have levelled off. We’re getting less violent. Crime in general probably really is falling, despite a lot of dodgy statistics.

And FactCheck, for one, is not an alcoholic. Enjoy the party season.