Sketch: Downing Street's search for weirdos brings predicable results
It’s always embarrassing when you find out the new employee in your office is really into eugenics.
A new starter comes in, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Full of enthusiasm. Of course, it’s inevitable they’ll make a few mistakes. They don’t understand the phone system. They break the printer. They broadcast their support for a pseudoscientific form of fascist population control.
It’s a shame, but that’s essentially what’s happened at the heart of the UK Government, with the news that Number 10 hired an adviser, Andrew Sabisky, who argued that there “are excellent reasons to think the very real racial differences in intelligence are significantly – even mostly – genetic in origin”. Beyond that, he also promoted enforced birth control for the poor – an idea that has largely fallen out of fashion in politics, most likely because of its close association with the Nazis.
Who could have seen this coming? Well, you’d have hoped that as a self-described ‘political superforecaster’, Sabisky himself might have been able to. You can only assume something went wrong with his forecasting system.
And it’s hard to escape the feeling that the fault here lies with the interview process. Did no one ask if he was into eugenics? It’s standard HR practice, really. Even Kwasi Kwarteng seemed to agree something had gone wrong, with the business minister describing Sabisky’s comments as “racist, offensive and objectionable” and conceding that the process for hiring advisers needs to be “looked at”. Though you can only really make sense of that sentence if you interpret the words ‘looked at’ to mean ‘bundled into a spaceship and fired into the sun’.
But, regardless of what went wrong, clearly the only thing for Boris Johnson to do was to apologise, sack Sabisky, promise to review what happened and try to move on.
Or so you’d think. Instead, the government’s initial response appeared to be grounded in suggesting they weren’t totally sure that Sabisky existed, with Transport Minister Grant Shapps sent onto Sophy Ridge on Sunday to claim: “Not only have I not seen the story but I don’t actually know the individual you’re referring to at all, so I’m afraid I’ll need to disappoint you by not providing a commentary on that.”
It seemed unlikely, given the amount of media coverage the story had received, but still, Shapps persisted, claiming, “I haven’t seen or heard about that at all”.
Reading the transcript back, it looked closer to an argument with a talking wind-up toy than a conversation
Head in the sand. It was an approach seemingly borrowed from ostriches, though in fairness to ostriches, no one has accused them of repeatedly normalising racism. Number 10 couldn’t give a verdict on the decision to hire Sabisky because they didn’t know who he was. He might not even exist. And he was a contractor, anyway, meaning they certainly weren’t employing him in any conventional sense. Instead, they were just giving him money.
It was a real shame for Shapps, given a minister would normally expect a briefing from an adviser on a subject before they went on national TV to answer questions on it. Sabisky would have been ideal for that job, you’d have thought.
But it seemed the ‘deny he exists’ strategy was being undermined by Sabisky’s obvious existence, and so it was that the Prime Minister’s deputy spokesperson was forced to take a bolder strategy, using a press briefing to repeatedly refuse to say whether Boris Johnson shared Sabisky’s views. In fact, he didn’t just refuse to answer. He refused to answer 32 separate times.
So did the PM agree with the man he hired, that dealing with a “permanent underclass” meant legally enforcing the “universal uptake of long-term contraception at the onset of puberty”?
Responding, the spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister’s views are well publicised and documented.”
So does the PM think black people have a lower IQ than white people?
“The Prime Minister’s views are well publicised and well documented.”
So what are they?
“They’re well publicised and well documented.”
It was interesting, at least in the sense that it was striking how closely the answers resemble the format of a police suspect refusing to divulge potentially incriminating information.
But still, the huddle persisted. “I’ve answered the question,” the spokesperson said, somewhat unconvincingly. Someone pointed out that had actually been a different question, on whether the PM supported eugenics. This one was on whether he supported racism. Though, incredibly, both were relevant, and, maybe even more incredibly, no one could be sure of the answer to either.
“I’ve been clear, I’m not commenting on individual appointments, and as I say, the PM’s views on a range of subjects are well publicised and well documented.”
What about when Sabisky suggested that “women’s sport is more comparable to the Paralympics than it is to men’s”? Does Boris Johnson agree?
“As I say, the PM’s views are well publicised and well documented.”
Reading the transcript back, it looked closer to an argument with a talking wind-up toy than a conversation. But at least Cummings’ plan to recruit weirdos appears to be bearing fruit, given the spokesperson apparently felt unable to speak on the PM’s behalf.
And why wouldn’t Number 10 clearly condemn such abhorrent views? Sadly, the answer to that question is neither well publicised nor well documented.