The chancellor, George Osborne, has distanced himself from Boris Johnson‘s suggestion that some people cannot do well in life because of their low IQ, but agreed with the idea that economic equality is impossible.
Osborne is the first senior Conservative to reject the controversial remarks made last week by the London mayor, who said it was futile to try to end inequality when “16% of our species have an IQ below 85 while about 2% have an IQ above 130”.
The chancellor dismissed the language of Johnson, a fellow rival to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader, but suggested there was an element of truth to what he was saying about inequality.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said: “I wouldn’t have put it like that and I don’t agree with everything he said. Where I think there is increasingly common agreement about across the political spectrum is that you can’t achieve equality of outcome but you should be able to achieve equality of opportunity. You should give everyone wherever they come from the best chance and actually education is the absolute key to this.”
Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, told the same programme that Johnson’s remarks were not uncommon in Westminster.
“That idea that greed is good and the poor are poor because they are stupid is pretty outdated set of views and there’s rather too much of those attitudes around in politics,” he said.
Johnson’s highly provocative comments were made during a speech in memory of Margaret Thatcher last week, in which he appeared to mock the 16% “of our species” with an IQ below 85 as he called for more to be done to help the 2% of the population who have an IQ above 130.
“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 while about 2% …” he said as he departed from the text of his speech to ask whether anyone in his City audience had a low IQ. To muted laughter he asked: “Over 16% anyone? Put up your hands.” He then resumed his speech to talk about the 2% who have an IQ above 130.
Johnson then told the Centre for Policy Studies thinktank, which helped lay the basis for Thatcherism in the 1970s: “The harder you shake the pack the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top.”
Johnson moved to associate himself with what were seen as the excesses of 1980s Thatcherism as he said: “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.”
The deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that Johnson’s comment revealed an “unpleasant, careless elitism”.