PM’s passion re ‘talent, skill & genius’ dented by his views on ‘raw ability’

Janet Downs's picture


‘I believe passionately that talent, skill & genius is distributed uniformly across the UK, but opportunity is not,’ tweeted Prime Minister Boris Johnson on 11 October.

This is not what he said in the 2013 Margaret Thatcher lecture at the Centre for Policy Studies.  Johnson made it quite clear that society was not equal.  The human race, Johnson said, ‘are already very far from equal in raw ability.

Society was like a cereal box, he argued.  The ‘harder you shake the pack, the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top.’    And that was a good thing because envy would act as a spur and, in any case, the rich paid more money to the Treasury than lesser-paid people.  This largesse should be rewarded by ‘automatic knighthoods’.

Johnson appeared not to know the biblical story of the widow’s mite. 

Johnson’s lecture inspired my Parable of the Cornflake Box which I recently updated.  It contained this passage:

 ‘And they [the less intelligent] lack real talent.   They are as crushed as the cornflakes that fall to the bottom of the packet.  For, verily I say unto you, the box will be truly shaken so the toughest will rise to the top and settle upon the rest.  And when thou givest, make sure you make a great noise so that you will benefit thereof.  For those who give so publicly will be rewarded with a gong.’

It's six years since Johnson made that speech.  Perhaps he’s had a change of heart?  But given his reputation for off-the-cuff remarks, blagging and being economical with the truth, it’s unlikely.  And he has as his chief advisor a man who believes most people are mediocre.   In his rambling essay on education, Dominic Cummings implied that the plight of those in poverty was caused by their nferior genes.

In the light of Johnson’s cornflake analogy, perhaps his promise to ‘level up around the country, give everybody access to the superb education they deserve’ actually means separating children into different schools depending on whether they’re identified as having ‘talent, skill and genius’ or lacking these qualities.  He is, after all, a fan of ‘a ruthlessly selective approach to education’.

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