Saturday, 30 November 2013

Tsar Boris of London and his cereal boxes

‘The harder you shake the pack the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top.’

These were the words of the Mayor of London and wannabe leader of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson, man of charisma, but above all of charm, since he devotes all his political effort to charming his supporters with a bumbling, buffoonish persona. Charmingly, he used this phrase at a time when rather a lot of people are having to choose between buying a packet of cornflakes, or heating their homes his party colleagues in national government have created a situation in which that is the stark choice facing a great many families.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and would-be Conservative leader
Man of destiny. Many of charm. Man of charisma.
And top cornflake
What he was talking about, however, was the need to allow the ‘best’ people to rise to the top. 

‘Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16% of our species have an IQ below 85.’

Only 2%, he went on to claim, had an IQ over 130. For him, the question is whether there’s much point doing anything about the 16% who are simply condemned to stay at the bottom; should we not be doing more for the 2%? The kind of thinking that lies behind all this became particularly clear when he pointed out:

‘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.’

Greed and envy, these are the qualities that make a society truly great, in the Gospel of Boris. Equality? It’s for the fairies. I know the US has fallen short in many ways to live up to Jefferson’s stirring words, but for Johnson, it isn’t even a self-evident truth that all men are created equal, and derive unalienable rights from that equality.

On the contrary, people are created unequal, and a measure of that inequality is their IQ. The best people, with the highest IQ, will rise to the top if only we can give the cereal box a good shake from time to time. We can see how well this system works by the quality of the people we have at the top right now.

Take David Cameron, who’s been shaken right up to the top of the British cereal box, into the post of Prime Minister. Terribly upset about the damaging effects of smoking, he was initially in favour of forcing plain packaging on the tobacco industry. Then he took on a new adviser, Lynton Crosby, who also works as a lobbyist for that industry, and the idea was, coincidentally, shelved. But there’s a pretty powerful tide running in favour of plain packaging, and only last week the government announced that the idea was back on the table and its decision on whether to proceed with it would be based on the evidence.

Perhaps Boris would argue that it shows how intellectually superior Cameron is that he’s now prepared to give evidence a whirl, having previous exhausted all other bases for reaching decisions.

Similarly, increasing poverty has driven a great many people into dependence on pay-day loan companies. Given that they charge interest at several thousand percent a year, there have been calls for the amounts lent to be capped. Cameron was opposed. Last week he decided it was a good idea.

That’s what you get with a really talented individual: an ability to recognise an idea as good, if enough people shout it at you loud enough and for long enough.

What about Boris himself? When he was first elected Mayor of London, he picked a fight with the Home Secretary, then a Labourite, to determine which of them would have most control over the Metropolitan Police. He came out on top. Over the next eighteen months, Johnson held nearly twice as many meetings with bankers as with the police. Despite having gone to such trouble to get the police firmly under his wing.

It takes a superior mind to recognise a superior mind, and Johnson clearly feels more at home with the top-rank cornflakes who run our banks. The incisive intellect they bring to the job has been repeatedly revealed by the quality of the decisions they took in the run up to the great crash of 2008. And they’ve certainly shown no shortage of greed or envy, happily raking in huge amounts of taxpayer money to dig themselves out of the hole they dug, and then using a portion of it to keep paying themselves eye-watering bonuses.

However, when it comes to truly outstanding minds, there can be little doubt who Boris feels is at the very top of the packet. He is, after all, manoeuvring constantly and effectively to replace Cameron as leader of the Conservatives. Just how qualified he is for that role is revealed by the stance he took in the speech itself. After all, he based himself on the notion of IQ as a valid measure of ‘intelligence.’

No one really knows what intelligence is, but one thing that’s absolutely certain is that IQ doesn’t measure it. IQ tests reveal one thing and one thing alone: the ability to take IQ tests, and that’s an ability that can be trained and which reflects cultural concerns – the very kind that Boris picked up during his education at Eton.

So his belief in the validity of IQ as a measure of talent is, well, touching. Like a child’s belief in Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy. It has charm, which as we saw is a central preoccupation of Boris’s.

Trouble is I’m not sure I’d want a charming child running London. As for the whole British government – well, the present lot’s quite bad enough.

Seems to me that the rest of us, the ones with all those fine cornflakes weighing down on our heads, might do well to use our votes to ensure Boris goes and cultivates his charm elsewhere. He seems to like rattling cereal boxes. Perhaps we can persuade him to go off somewhere nice and quiet to enjoy that pleasure all on his own.


Anonymous said...

So Boris has charm?


David Beeson said...

Boris likes to try to present himself as charming, though that's not quite the same thing.