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  • Alan Martin

No, Boris Johnson’s IQ Gaffe Won’t Kill Off His Leadership Ambitions

Boris Johnson - a politician I have precisely no time for at all, but a lot of people seem to like because he was quite funny on that TV panel quiz show - is having a bit of a rare experience for him at the moment. He’s getting some bad press.

He made some comments associating success with IQ. This is pretty laughable, considering how dubious the IQ test is, let alone trying to tie it up with life chances. But it’s the kind of thing the Tory Right like with their philosophy: that hard work and industry can - to use Johnson’s ‘charming’ parlance - ensure the clever cornflakes rise to the top of the pack.

It’s far from the most offensive thing he’s ever said, and I won’t waste time by digging out his back catalogue of instances where the mask of bumbling charmer has slipped, because they’re easy enough to find. These instances are quite jarring with his main persona and the image the media has assisted in creating for him. I don’t even think this latest IQ snafu is that bad, considering his form, but I welcome the extra scrutiny he’s so rarely subjected to. But my problem is this: it won’t stick at all. Loads of media commenters are stating this is a PR disaster and the end of his leadership chances. I highly doubt it.

The reason why? Everyone - even card carrying pinko liberals like myself - has spent a good proportion of their life 'silently bemoaning half-wits in our heads’. And while I’d never be so crude as to take a guess at someone’s IQ, the truth is that people will hear this and think 'ah yes, those idiots’, even when they’re actually a little too dim to figure out that criticism was being leveled directly at them.

That’s the trouble with this kind of vague catch-all insult - its so directionless that anyone can nod and think the target is someone else. Everybody believes they’re above average, which is both mathematically and philosophically impossible. Everyone thinks they’re above average intelligence (yep), everyone thinks they’re an above average driver (I don’t, but then multiple failed tests are hard to argue with), and everyone thinks they’re above average in bed (I am an excellent sleeper). So nobody will think that Johnson is referring to them when they talk about the 16% of below average intelligence.

So in short, he’s not writing off 47% of the electorate like Romney did, nor is he insulting the voters he intends to woo. Even if he is, they don’t think he’s referring to them. He’s only offending the kind of liberals and lefties who have been infuriated by him for years. No change there. And in any case they’re offended on others’ behalf, because as humans they also believe they’re above average.

So in other words, despite everyone calling it a gaffe, it’s not at all. He’s ingratiating himself to the Tory right, not affecting floating voters at all and keeping the status quo with the minority of folks who dislike him intensely. Classic Boris.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, last time I took an IQ test about 8 years ago I scored 103. Not in the 2% Boris Johnson wants to celebrate the greed of then, which explains why I’m writing this from a bed with a cat walking across my face rather than a luxury yacht with an ocelot perched majestically next to me… I may have confused ideas about what being rich involves.

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Note: This post originally appeared on The Inquirer, which heartbreakingly closed in December 2019, losing a huge amount of my best work in the process. Given it's all been scrubbed from the internet