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Boris Johnson falls foul of the ‘you can’t say that’ rule

28 November 2013

11:06 AM

28 November 2013

11:06 AM

Last night, Sebastian Payne described Boris Johnson as being a politician who ‘prides himself on being one of the few politicians who gets away with saying the unsayable’. He was covering the Mayor of London’s lecture to the Centre for Policy Studies, where Boris said the following:

‘Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests, it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16 per cent of our species have an IQ below 85, while about 2 per cent have an IQ above 130. The harder you shake the pack, the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top.

‘And for one reason or another – boardroom greed or, as I am assured, the natural and god-given talent of boardroom inhabitants – the income gap between the top cornflakes and the bottom cornflakes is getting wider than ever. I stress: I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed, some measure of inequality is essential for the spirit of envy and keeping up with the Joneses that is, like greed, a valuable spur to economic activity.’

This has annoyed a lot of people this morning. It has given anyone who fancies a shot at running for Mayor in 2016 a nice opportunity to describe Boris as ‘out of touch’. Nick Clegg has dismissed the comments as ‘unpleasant’ and ‘careless’, telling ‘Call Clegg’ on LBC:

‘I don’t agree with Boris Johnson on this and I have to say to you much as he is a funny and engaging guy, I have to say these comments reveal a fairly unpleasant, careless elitism that somehow suggests that we should give up on a whole swath of our fellow citizens.

‘I think the danger is if you start taking such a deterministic view of people and start saying they’ve got a number attached to them, in this case an IQ number, somehow they’re not really going to rise to the top of the cornflake packet, that is complete anathema to everything I’ve always stood for in politics, which is, yes of course, you shouldn’t aspire – and as an old-fashioned Liberal I don’t aspire to a perfectly homogenous society where everyone has the same kind of outcomes but you’ve got to try and do more to instil greater opportunity in society.’

So should Boris have included these comments about IQ in his speech? Well, the reaction certainly proves the theory that Rod Liddle sets out in his cover piece for this week’s Spectator. Rod argues that ‘there are truths that you can say in British society and then there are truths that you can’t say’. The reaction to Boris’ speech suggests that his argument is one that you’re not allowed to make in today’s society. Rod adds:

‘I am very glad that Britain’s community of people of Pakistani descent have ‘enriched’ the life of our Dominic Grieve; I’m sure they wouldn’t sleep easy were this not the case. But when even the Attorney General cannot state a simple truth, in the hope that we might tackle a problem which needs tackling, are we not in a bizarre and dangerous place? Our politicians are collectively terrified of these issues; and so the issues are never properly addressed. They are skirted around, or ignored. And when they are mentioned at all, the grovelling apology is already being formed on the lips.’

Perhaps Boris’ comments are wrong, or perhaps they are right. But perhaps they should also be added to the list of things you must skirt around. Read Rod’s full cover feature here.

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