3 December 2013
Last updated at 12:09 ET
Boris Johnson has suggested his recent remarks on IQ were “misinterpreted” by a string of senior politicians.
In a speech last week, the London Mayor said any discussion about equality had to take account of the fact that people had different IQ levels.
Deputy PM Nick Clegg said this revealed his “careless elitism”, while Chancellor George Osborne said he would not “put it like that”.
But Mr Johnson said his aim had been to warn about “too much inequality”.
In his monthly phone-in radio show on LBC, host Nick Ferrari said he had some questions for the mayor from “an official IQ test”.
- Question: “A man builds a house with four sides… each side having a southern exposure. A big bear comes along. What colour is the bear?”
- Mr Johnson: “The bear is probably brown, I haven’t got a clue what the colour of the bear is, nor is it relevant to this discussion.”
- Question: “Take two apples from three apples. What do you have?”
- Mr Johnson: “You have… you’ve got loads of apples, mate. You’ve got one apple left.”
- Question: “I went to bed at 8 o’clock last night, and I wound up my clock to set the alarm to sound at 9 o’clock in the morning. How many hours sleep would I get before being woken by the alarm?”
- Mr Johnson: “I don’t care… I slept like a log… We’re waiting for some more sensible questions.”
“This is not about me,” Mr Johnson protested.
His comments on IQ had featured as he delivered the Centre for Policy Studies’ annual Margaret Thatcher lecture.
‘Wilfully to misconstrue’
He said that 16% of “our species” had an IQ of less than 85 and 2% had more than 130.
“The harder you shake the pack, the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top,” he added.
On LBC, Mr Johnson explained: “What I was saying, actually, is that there is too much inequality, and my speech was actually a warning, as correctly reported by many newspapers, against letting this thing go unchecked.
“If you look at what has happened over the last 20-30 years, there has been a widening in income between the rich and the poor – there’s no question about that.
“What hacks me off is… that people of ability have found it very difficult to progress in the last 20 years, and we’ve got to do something about that.”
He said his main point in the speech had been to argue that “inequality was only tolerable in our society” if “those who are finding it tough to compete” were looked after and “people who do happen to have ability” were allowed to succeed.
“Too many schools have not really been helping kids to achieve their potential,” Mr Johnson added.
He was reminded that a string of politicians – including PM David Cameron, who said: “I let Boris speak for himself” – had either distanced themselves from his analysis or directly criticised it.
Labour frontbencher Tristram Hunt said the remarks had given off an “unpleasant whiff of eugenics”.
But Mr Johnson responded: “People are entitled to misinterpret, wilfully to misconstrue what I said if they so choose.
“I notice that many newspapers, many commentators did not. I think the real issue is that we need to do more to help people… who are finding it tough.”