Assessing the Johnson Government’s new reform narrative

Over the last week the Johnson government’s narrative approach to reforms in the UK  has become more clear.

Johnson’s personal views on eugenics and poverty are a matter of record. ‘The poor being poor due to low IQ’ brings psychological comfort to those born into the luxuries of inherited wealth and private education. So blaming everything on Cummings might be unwise.

Policy more than personal views are however, our subject of concern. At last, the government’s underlying propositions can be clearly stated, as follows:

1. The UK’s low productivity problem is caused by a surfeit of unskilled migrant workers from Eastern Europe, enabling firms to avoid investment in new technology and avoid employee training.

2. UK poverty is the result of low IQ among sections of the population and of a self-perpetuating underclass, aided by single mums and teenage pregnancies.

3. Whilst UK unemployment is low, there are 8million ‘economically inactive’ citizens who, via further welfare reforms and eugenics, can be reduced in number and induced to take up the low paid jobs formerly taken by EU migrants, receiving training by employers who can no longer access low-skilled EU labour.

4. The core aim of a new immigration points system is thus to raise productivity and raise wage levels, and in the process reduce the cost of in-work benefits.

5. Increased national capital spending by the state will stimulate growth from construction contracts and compensate for the negative effects of EU tariffs and other barriers, creating demand for indigenous low skilled labour, (at least until such time as new global trade deals are in place)

For many, this sounds like a coherent narrative. Easily understood rival narratives can indeed be hard to find.

But there’s a problem (apart from the obvious ‘mis-sequencing’).

All the anti-EU rhetoric and forecasts of EU collapse, have concealed the fact that in Germany, for example, average living standards are 24% higher than in the UK and more than a third higher for the lowest paid quartile.

But in Germany there are even more Eastern European migrants, and unlike the UK you can get from Eastern Europe to your higher paid job, via a cheap bus ride.

According to the new immigration policy, all these reforms and vast bureaucracy are required in order to target on average 175 ‘low skilled’, low demand, EU workers from coming to the UK to work, each week.

One can see why the Pro-Johnson media wish to gloss over such basic, relevant facts.

The answer to the UK productivity and ‘low-wage-high-costs’ problem lies elsewhere;  for example an incoherent and patchy education & training sector, a sclerotic, over-centralised and wildly inefficient state, poor quality regulation, monopolistic key sectors, and predatory banking & finance rooted in social inequalities, plus many other complex factors where ‘blame others’  narratives don’t cut it.

As to the question of low IQ…  Measuring innate intelligence relative to education, is fraught with difficulties, if not impossible. To eliminate environmental and educational factors, (which you have to do if you wish to make race-based conclusions about intelligence) how do you test the IQ of a one month old baby ? In fact an erudite former boss of Cummings admirably makes a lot of money selling books on how to do IQ tests; suggesting anyone can be classified as a genius if they practice doing the tests long enough.

You don’t need a high IQ to conclude that this negates the whole concept of ‘IQ’ in the first place.


Ed: Please note that all comments on this post, like the previous one, will be moderated. This is because articles on eugenics do attract some fairly unpleasant people and we don’t want them on Lib Dem Voice.

* Paul Reynolds works with multilateral organisations as an independent adviser on international relations, economics, and senior governance.

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  • Sounds common sense to me

    Malc poll

  • Number 2 I would debate…

    Situation and circumstances

    Malc poll

  • Malcolm Todd 20th Feb '20 - 8:39pm

    Malc Poll 20th Feb ’20 – 6:21pm
    “Sounds common sense to me”

    I guess you didn’t bother to read the article then.

    I think it was Robert Heinlein who observed (perhaps not entirely originally) that there are two problems with common sense: it is not common and is rarely sense. This article is quite a good explanation of the point, if you can be bothered to read it.

  • nigel hunter 20th Feb '20 - 9:19pm

    No 2. Vince Cables education thru life could help. As a person grows up life experiences take over . An uneducated person at, say, 16 when leaving school could invest the money in extra qualifications as and when needed. His/her IQ therefore increases over his age.Education and training DOES need to improve.The ideology of those in power wish to ‘keep people down’ cos it suits their purpose and can therefore justify their position in life. Perpetuates the system.

  • If you want to measure something then you need to define it in terms which can be measured. This apples to IQ as well as anything else. You then need to address the question of how accurately you can measure it. The reality is that there is no definition of IQ which is robust enough to allow for measurement.
    We can of course define any ability by how well people perform on a test. We have to use this all the time, but it is all too easy to forget the flimsy basis that our measurements are based on.

  • Peter Martin 21st Feb '20 - 6:20am

    @ Paul Reynolds

    Do you have a reference for your claim that living standards are 25% higher in Germany, or or 33% for some lower social classes?

  • It’s actually irrelevant whether or not mass immigration is an economic drain or benefit. The point is that arguing for it is the electoral equivalent dragging a dead horse. It doesn’t matter how much you flog it. It’s not going to spring to its feet and captivate a delighted audience.
    Ultimately, you have to have policies that suite the people who have the vote. Elections are national affairs. They are not international ones. I’m not a conservative voter and I dislike Johnson. This doesn’t alter the reality that they are likely to be in power for a long time and are reshaping the country in ways that mean going back to the pre-Brexit centrist political consensus is not going to happen. The thing that the opposition in Britain have got to learn is to get past is an over-reliance on demonising opponents because it does not work. It didn’t work in the Thatcher years, it didn’t work in 2016 or in 2019. Constantly saying the Tories are beastly and Johnson is a bad egg is not a substitute for having policies attractive enough for the British electorate we are stuck with to vote for. That is the bottom line. The voters we have are not German or international or a new idealised paradigm . They’re the same awkward people they’ve always been.

  • John Marriott 21st Feb '20 - 10:14am

    “In Germany, for example, living standards are 24% higher than in the UK”. Really? Higher, yes,: but that much higher, surely not? Talking of Germany, that decision Merkel took a couple of years ago to admit all those ‘asylum seekers’ appears to be backfiring. Ironically, it appears to be the Turkish community, who did more to support the ‘Wirtschaftswunder’ of the 1950s and 60s than most other countries – and have produced some pretty good soccer players for the ‘Nationalmannschaft’ as well, who have copped it at present. Judging by comments from some of my german friends, there could be more trouble on the way.

    The use of ‘guest workers’ as they were delightfully called back then, plus the influx of highly qualified workers from the former East Germany, which the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 largely stopped, meant that a newly equipped West Germany, fuelled by US dollars via the Marshall Aid programme, plus the Teutonic desire to rebuild an economy far more shattered even than our own, was able to overtake the U.K. by 1951. When it gained full sovereignty in 1955 it was able to build on the early success of the EEC to tide it over when recession and the oil crisis came along in the mid 1960s and early 1970s respectively, as well as the massive cost of reunification in the 1990s. It has often been said that, had the UK joined the ‘Common Market’ when first invited to do so, we may have been in a far stronger position to benefit from what was largely, despite what the founding fathers claimed, a trading bloc. By the time we joined, in many ways the ‘golden years’ were already largely in the past.

    If the taps of cheap labour are to be turned off, and that applies to those with professional qualifications as well, are we, as a nation, willing to provide the Human Resources to fill the gap? If so, employers will have to make that work financially worthwhile, which could mean that we, the customers, will have to pay more for our food, to give one labour intensive example, and vocational training and qualification will need to be rebooted as well. Whatever we do, it’s roll-up-your-sleeves time for the great british worker and open-your-wallet time for the great British taxpayer!

  • The response from the LibDems should be not to fight the reforms, that are warmly welcomed by the general populace, but to use the reforms on barring access to welfare unless being here for five years to suggest that a modified form of FOM with Europe would then be possible as low skilled workers would no longer get their tax credits, child benefit etc. They could further suggest that they should not get the personal tax allowance for the first five years which would then more or less end low skilled immigration as they would not make a profit out of it given the high cost of rentals… yes, a terrible way to treat our friends in Europe but think about the positive electoral response if in accepting such measures then Brits could still travel freely in EU!

  • I did the 11 plus in Northern Ireland in 1976 – actually I did it twice because (as I pointed out in my answers to the first exam) one of the questions did not have sufficient information to give the required answers. My final year of primary school was basically taken up with doing mock 11 plus papers. As a consequence I now routinely ace IQ tests and score ridiculously high marks. Unfortunately that proves nothing about my intelligence – it simply proves that I’ve been thoroughly drilled in doing IQ tests.

  • Given the complexities of getting the better of the welfare system and the way it is often gamed then I don’t think there is a lack of intelligence in the bottom end of the job(less) market, more likely little incentive to get out it. It needs proper training with fast-track to earning a decent wage that actually needs to be a lot higher than the average for people from a poor background, but no idea how you would square that circle… other than having a 50k tax-free allowance that would be reduced by benefits, inheritance, money gifts, etc so that the poor who start with nothing would have the chance to earn their money free of tax for the first few years but would lose that if they stayed on benefits which would eat into the allowance. Once skilled-up and used to earning their own money most would not want to go back to welfare, I’d guess.

  • Christopher Curtis 21st Feb '20 - 12:14pm

    I think you are being too generous to the Johnson regime. Your summary is much more coherent than the government.

    There is no master plan, or master ideology. The government flings out soundbites which are mostly meaningless and which were never intended to “work” except in so far as they will make “the base” cheer and decide to vote for them. The best example is the sustained attack on the BBC. It was not even mentioned in the manifesto, does not have any aim or purpose (there is no sign that anyone in government can even identify what is wrong with the BBC, let alone have any idea how to fix the problems and make it better), but a certain kind of kippery Tory (and they are all kippers now) likes the sound of making BBC luvvies suffer.

    It’s populism. That’s how it works. Just don’t expect our country to improve while it’s in charge.

  • I agree on the sound-bites, Blair did very well out of them and Boris is something of a master of making the right noises.

  • Toby Keynes 21st Feb '20 - 1:49pm

    “As to the question of low IQ… To eliminate environmental and educational factors, (which you have to do if you wish to make race-based conclusions about intelligence) how do you test the IQ of a one month old baby ? In fact an erudite former boss of Cummings admirably makes a lot of money selling books on how to do IQ tests; suggesting anyone can be classified as a genius if they practice doing the tests long enough.”
    Yep, I managed to raise my measurable IQ significantly by plenty of practice before taking the actual test. Brilliant – but perhaps not an ideal test of my innate genetically-determined intelligence.
    And I’m afraid neither would be testing the IQ of one-month-old babies (even if it could be done). That’s far too late; environmental impacts start in the womb.
    Now, if you could could find a way of testing the IQ of embryos…

  • Jane Ann Liston 21st Feb '20 - 3:00pm

    The small matter that employers can choose whether or not they employ anybody seems to be being ignored. Or are they to be compelled to take on any applicant, no matter how unsuitable?

  • “All the anti-EU rhetoric and forecasts of EU collapse, have concealed the fact that in Germany, for example, average living standards are 24% higher than in the UK and more than a third higher for the lowest paid quartile”

    I’m sure Germany do have a higher average living standard than the UK, but France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and many other EU countries have a lower standard than the UK. What it will be like in the future nobody knows for sure, but at the moment we are not doing to bad.

  • My local Poundland employed lots of EU youngsters at one point whilst our own youth were doing drugs and cider yards away outside, post Brexit they brought in a load of auto-tellers rather than new British youth… and the cider mob are still there outside. The only time I have been annoyed with EU workers is when I got on a bus and his English was so bad that he did not understand which ticket I wanted (probably because I was one of the few who actually pay). Terrible loss for young people, no longer being able to easily go to EU for education and work, and hopefully the swarms of French and Belgium youths who come here for the language schools will not disappear next year.

  • Paul Reynolds 21st Feb '20 - 4:56pm

    Some questions have been asked about the UK vs Germany data. Some more info.

    Salaries in Germany are about 10% higher than the UK on average after tax, but importantly the cost of living in Germany is 12% lower, and welfare payments are much higher, with income inequality less marked. Inevitably the data is from more than a year ago, so a projection from the original data is used, mostly relating to relative costs of living (further increases in the UK). Separate data is used to arrive at a fair figure for wider differences on the lower quartile.

    All this comes with the usual health warning on data. There can be significant variances depending on how ‘average’ cost of living or salaries are calculated. (see data charts). How the data is weighted for age, region, median vs agg average, taxation, cost-of-living basket and so on. In addition, recent falls in the average calculated cost of living in Germany and recent increases in the UK suggest the difference has widened in the latter part of 2019. In the end a fair judgement has to be made, and for this I take advice from colleagues in the OECD and IBRD.

    Yes it is a surprise to most folk in the UK that the difference in UK vs Germany living standards is so significant, but that is the result of media received wisdom over many, many years that the economy of Continental Europe is somehow on the slopes whilst the UK sits on the summit. Selective marginal vs absolute data is the technical culprit. But data is not all. Widespread anecdotal evidence from ex-pat clubs and the like support the UK-Germany difference in living standards data here, even more so with ‘disposable income’ differences.

  • Paul Reynolds 21st Feb '20 - 5:00pm

    BTW it is not true that France and Belgium have a lower standard of living than the UK. A case can be made for this, given complexity of the data set, but a fair conclusion is that standards of living (average salaries + cost of living + taxation + benefits) are significantly higher in France and Belgium than the UK.

  • Paul Reynolds 21st Feb '20 - 5:27pm

    There are also lots of data sets on UK employment useful to policymakers, about the issue of low wages in the UK and high living costs, twin problems which have precipitated the vast UK system of in-work benefits over the last 20 years or so. Researching this when a PPC over the last decade, the one thing which stuck in my mind is the fact that, on average, more than a fifth of UK low wage earners have degree-level qualifications. The other thing I was amazed by was the sheer quantity of skill shortages in the UK; much greater than the statistics suggest, since many employers don’t want to waste money by advertising for skills they know they cannot get (remembering that the majority of non-state employment in the UK is not in moneyed corporations with global reach … it is in companies with 5 or less employees). Shockingly, in most parts of the UK the access to quality local (-ish) training and education to advance, upgrade or remediate skills is zero. Relative to other OECD countries the quality and relevance of training and education for the broader society is utterly lamentable.

  • Paul Murray – to be fair, though, from what I know of you from happy Islington days, you *are* exceptionally bright, so that might also be the reason why you ace every IQ test!

    (Not that I have any time from the Johnson/Cummings views)

  • Paul Reynolds

    “BTW it is not true that France and Belgium have a lower standard of living than the UK”

    I’ve tried researching this a little and I can’t find anywhere that says France or Belgium have a standard of living or quality of life as high as the UK. Be happy to be proved wrong if you could provide a link.

  • Peter Martin 22nd Feb '20 - 11:26am

    @ Paul (@malc)

    Probably GDP per capita in terms of purchasing power parity is the best measure of relative living standards. Not a perfect measure! I’m always slightly puzzled why Ireland comes out as well as it does. There’s something odd going on there.

    Nevertheless, we can see that the UK and France come out about the same. Slightly more or less on whether you choose IMF, World Bank or IMF data. Belgium is indeed slightly higher than the UK. Germany is between 14% and 15% higher depending on whose data we choose. The figure in the OP of 25% looks to be an exaggeration.

    The EU has so far worked reasonably well for the big net exporters. We and the French aren’t quite so good at that as the Germans, so that’s probably why we aren’t doing quite so well. In any case Germany can only net export if other countries are allowed to net import. If the rules of the eurozone are anything to go by, the Germans don’t seem to have grasped the arithmetic. This is now catching up with them as their economy stalls and they run out of paying customers.

  • 2019 dollar per person
    Belgium 46,696
    France 42,953
    UK 42,385
    Sweden 54,3568
    Spain 29,690


  • Peter Martin 22nd Feb '20 - 11:39am

    “This is because articles on eugenics do attract some fairly unpleasant people…..”

    OK but this isn’t really an article on eugenics. It would have been more realistic if Paul just removed all references to it in the article.

    Clause 1 does make prefect sense. Imagine, for example, you’re an apple grower. You’ll have a choice between investing in this type of robotic picker (no doubt not cheap) and human labour. Which are you likely to choose and why?

  • Paul Reynolds, Frankie, Paul Fisher

    As you can see the UK comes in ahead of France and Belgium

  • John Littler 29th Feb '20 - 3:37pm

    Johnson’s belief in the low IQ of many poorer British people may be based on a flawed test, mostly closely related to education, culture and class, but in a deeper sense, he may better know a large proportion of the voters who keep giving Tories majorities.

  • John Littler 29th Feb '20 - 3:52pm

    It is clear that Germany has had higher living standards than the UK going back to the 1970’s, when I recall a relative returning from there to have been astonished at the quantities of meat ordinary people there were consuming.

    Germany has many more doctors and hospital beds than the UK, way better trains and benefits include earnings related unemployment benefit, on which a few years ago, many thousands of UK citizens were living. We had that until Thatcher.

    Germany’s government has long carried out an active industrial policy, to advantage it’s companies. For instance, energy costs and rates to industry are kept low, Trade Fair participation is subsidised, training is paid for by the State so gets done, unlike in the UK, so their productivity is much higher and rising faster.

    When there is a recession, theirs is kept shallower and shorter by the state paying firms to keep on workers and have them trained to be ready to go when the economy expands again. Their Postal Service is efficiently run by DHL and they have the lowest International shipping rates in Europe.

    Germany ought to be an example to Britain to improve how it organises and expands it’s remaining industry before it is allowed by the Tories and Prof. Minford for a second time to be destroyed and scattered overseas.

  • John Littler 29th Feb '20 - 3:56pm

    In addition, Germany better uses the people, buildings and other resources in it’s regions than in England (outside London) by a Federal Structure with democratic federal bodies with elections, tax raising and borrowing powers plus better transfer payments, with the ability to promote themselves and target sectors

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