The Independent: You ask the Questions

Check out this interview in The Independent on New Year’s Day. Great stuff.

Boris Johnson: You Ask The Questions
The shadow higher education minister answers questions such as ‘Why have you chosen to be a clown?’ and ‘do you ever regret being called Boris?’
Published: 01 January 2007
What are your new year resolutions? NERYS ST JOHN, London

Rise early. Work late. Eat less.

Your early columns were quite intelligent. Why have you chosen to be a clown? JAMES LINTON, Cambridge

My standard defence is that your first duty, as a journalist or a politician, is to be read or heard; and if there is something vaguely amusing about the way you say something, then people are more likely to listen to you or to read you to the end of the column. And it is then, in spite of themselves, they find that some point has sneakily slipped into their subconscious – and bang! You’ve done your job.

You went to Iraq after the invasion but you seem to have recanted. Do you think Iraqis would have been better off under Saddam? TIM IVORY, Manchester

Many Iraqis would be better off in the elementary sense that they would still be alive. It is the sheer number of casualties, the chaos, that persuades me that we did the wrong thing. I voted for this bloody disaster not because I believed Blair, but because I thought it would be a good thing to get rid of Saddam. And it was a good thing. It is just that the price has been way too high.

Are education standards slipping in Britain? RICHARD MORRIS, Luton

Slipping! How could you even suggest it? Every year, comrades, our children are getting better and better at passing exams! Every year we produce more A*-C grade tractors from the Red Star plant! This year an amazing 43.5 per cent of candidates got an A at maths A-level, and guess what the proportion was 40 years ago, when far fewer people took maths A-level? It was only 7 per cent! Now you do the maths. Oh, all right, I’ll do it for you. That is a staggering 620 per cent improvement by our young geniuses. Let me enter the usual political guff about how hard everyone has worked, and let me congratulate them on their grades. But if too many CVs read like a man falling off a building then the A is useless as a tool of differentiation, and that is why some universities are calling for a pre-U exam to replace A-levels, and that is why there is increasing interest in the IB. We have all connived in the fiction that our kids are getting brighter, because that conceals the growing gulf in attainment between much of the maintained sector and the grammar schools/ independent schools. The result is that the market has, inevitably, asserted itself, and in a way that is socially regressive. Which schools, after all, are going to have the resources to prepare their pupils for these new specialised university entrance exams?

The Tories have commendably promised a free vote with a view to reversing the hunting ban. Why not the smoking ban too? RUPERT FAST, Surrey

What’s the point of having all these local politicians if they can’t take that kind of decision for themselves?

Should Latin be compulsory in schools? LINDA THOMAS, Exeter

The Latin and Greek classics are infinitely rewarding. Their study holds the key to our language, our civilisation, and helps to explain many modern discontents. I couldn’t believe it when Charles Clarke – as Education Secretary, for heaven’s sake – made some kind of swipe at the classics and at medieval history. How can you hope to understand the roots of modern European Islamophobia if you don’t understand the impact of the 7th century Muslim invasions on what was still the Roman Empire?

If you could be serious for a second, what do you think is the single most important political issue facing Britain? And what is your solution? JUSTIN DOYLE, Islington

If there is one thing we can do to lift people out of poverty, cut crime, and create a society that is more just and more equal, it is to tackle the scandal of illiteracy and innumeracy. We have too many kids – especially males – who leave primary schools without the basic tools of reading, writing and maths, and no wonder they so easily become alienated and turn to crime. The answers include: (a) synthetic phonics; (b) a war on Playstations, now found in 89 per cent of UK households; (c) more male teachers to serve as intellectual role models for young males.

When your old chum and convicted fraudster Darius Guppy told you he was going to beat somebody up, why did you reply, ‘Yah, yah, I’ll help you”? GEORGE FERRIS, Co Cork

He said that some tabloid scuzzbags had reduced his family to tears.

I have founded the Pie Liberation Front. Our campaign to smuggle traditional British food to schoolchildren begins next week. Will you be our honorary patron? BEN MULLINS, by e-mail

Alas, no. I am an out-and-out paternalist on school meals. As a BBC survey showed, there has been a downturn in the new healthy Jamie-inspired school dinners, precisely because it is still possible to go for the packed lunch.

The people of Liverpool are a crowd of mawkish whingers. Why did you apologise? JIM BERNARD, Manchester

In the course of my inglorious pilgrimage of penitence I tried to distinguish between The Spectator’s attack on a general culture of sentimentality and grievance – which I stood by – and some offensive errors of fact about Hillsborough, for which I grovelled.

How can somebody as fat as you get so many good-looking women to find you attractive? ARDAL CONYNGHAM, Belfast

This strikes me as a trap question.

Have you ever taken illegal drugs? If not why not? LOIS BEENE, Cardiff

I have and I want you to know that I inhaled. Then I sneezed.

Where do you buy your bandannas? OLIVER GRAMM, London

Actually, it wasn’t a bandanna. It was a child’s ski hat.

Your father was a senior Eurocrat. Is your Euroscepticism a form of Oedipal rebellion? ROSS PREJEAN, by e-mail

Actually he’s become more Eurosceptic than me. What does Freud say about that, eh?

Why should Britain in the 21st century be governed by a bunch of old Etonians? PELIN MUSTAPHA, by e-mail

Because if this bunch of old Etonians can transform British education in such a way as to create thousands of schools as good as Eton, then they won’t have done a bad day’s work.

If the Tories win the next election, which cabinet post would you like? BARRY DAVISON, Glasgow

The longer I do the Higher Education job, the more obsessed I become with it, and the more convinced that it is the key to civilisation, the economy, everything.

Most people in Britain hold a very low opinion of both journalists and politicians. You are both – so please tell me which profession is the sleaziest. DAVE HUDSON, Carlisle

The republic will never be properly governed, my dear Glaucon, until the journalists are politicians and the politicians are journalists.

I want to be an MP. What advice would you give me? ANGELLA BRADY, 14, Bolton

Do it – and join the Tories.

Do you ever regret being called Boris? JANET ELVERY, London

Not at all. I find it an annual mystery that it does not figure in the list of the 10 most popular names.

What would you do if you were God for a day? CHRIS LANDONIS, Hackney

I think I would try a bit harder to prove My existence to Richard Dawkins.

Do you ever harbour lustful thoughts about the honourable women members sitting opposite you on the House of Commons benches? If yes, which ones? STEVE CANT, Hastings

They are all perfectly lovely in their own ways. I am rather shocked that you should ask.

You confessed to having had a crush on Polly Toynbee. What is it about Polly that seems to drive Tory boys wild? TOM SCARSDALE, by e-mail

Oh lord. It’s just she’s so bossy and posh. Is that the right answer?

Have the Ancient Romans anything to teach the Tories about power? GABRIELLA KRUSE, Bristol

Yeah – that it’s easily lost to the Vandals.

Who is your historical pin-up, and why? AMELIA LANCASTER, Derby

Pericles. Look at his Funeral Speech. Democracy. Freedom. Champion stuff.

No one, it seems, can escape Big Brother. Within 10 years, surveillance – in the form of CCTV, biometrics, databases tracking technologies, etc – will be all-pervasive. Is this a proportionate response to crime and terrorism? RHIANNON PARRY THOMPSON, Chichester

No: it’s thoroughly spooky and is starting to undermine this country’s international claim to be a land of liberty.

40 thoughts on “The Independent: You ask the Questions”

  1. I don’t understand Boris’ answer to the hunting an smoking ban question. He might instead have remarked of these bans: “It’s thoroughly spooky and is starting to undermine this country’s international claim to be a land of liberty.”

  2. I don’t understand why he didn’t answer a bit more clearly on the subject of Classics. I agree with what he did say, but I do hope the Tories actually do something to encourage more traditional education.

    As for a war on playstations, I don’t think that that will be either popular or succesful.

    And I too don’t understand the “local politicians” answer.

  3. This is not related to the article – There is intrusion in my computer, the configuration is changed from BBC oxford to London. Thsi done with no shame from their part.

  4. “I have and I want you to know that I inhaled. Then I sneezed.”

    Well that narrows it down.

  5. _”As for a war on playstations, I don’t think that that will be either popular or succesful.”_

    Certainly not succesful I agree, but it may well be popular among voters.

    Almost everyone who plays computer games is below about 30, and a very large number of them are below 18, so cannot vote. The rest of the group belong to the most generation with the lowest voter turnout there has been. Big companies have a say of course, but they didn’t prevent the government nearly completing it’s throttle of cigarettes.

    I would imagine that computer games are relatively unpopular among older voters, and also women who’re annoyed at watching their husbands sitting at a playstation a lot of the time. Both of those groups have good voter turnouts, and consequently need fewer in the population to outnumber us at the ballot box.

    I actually think that we will see a tyranny of the young by the old within the next decade or two. With the pension and retirement crisis approaching, and voter-turnouts increasing across the population with age, it is entirely possible that young people are not going to have a pleasant ride until most of the baby-boomers have died off.

    In the meantime though Boris, how can you be so un-libertarian? Haven’t the 100 or so posts on the other thread telling you this is a bad idea done anything to sway your opinion?

  6. A war on computer games is probably a very good thing. They are becoming increasingly addictive. The escapism is not worth it if education/career suffers.

  7. If the biggest enemy of education today is the Playstation, then tomorrow’s biggest enemy could be MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games). The best example is World of Warcraft. The addiction potential is greater because time invested in such games is ‘rewarded’. Also, you play with and against people, which adds to the addiction.

  8. Rule One, when you wish to demonise and outlaw some hitherto innocuous activity, is to first call it an addiction.

  9. As a keen advocate of computer games, I have to still concede they are very addictive… Anybody who has accidentally played Civilization III for 36 hours straight will agree I’m sure. It is the reason I don’t play computer games during term time! It’s also the reason I do no work during the holidays.

    And I fully agree about MMORPGs, they are extremely addictive, World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI being very good examples… A very good friend of mine started playing FFXI, and then became a social pariah. I haven’t heard from him in months, and as most of the people he knows now are online, he often refers to himself by his alias! This is admittedly partly the fault of his parents, but for certain people the games will be more addictive than to others, and in those cases the results can be quite extreme.

  10. Computer games shouldn’t be demonised or outlawed. Nor am I a great fan of taxation. Perhaps the Chinese are right: they limit the time one can play MMORGPs. Perhaps a cut-off of five hours a day?! Maybe something similar could be introduced for Playstations?

  11. Lol, it must be a sign of my own vulnerability that when reading that I thought:

    “5 hours a day!? that’s a bit severe isn’t it?”

  12. There is a very practical reason for a five hour limit every day. This is roughly how long it takes to do an instance (dungeon) in World of Warcraft. Perhaps the law should be extended to seven hours on the weekend for difficult raids?

  13. If we cant influence the production or the use of these addictive video games – why not put pressure on the themes which is mostly revolves around killing and glorifying brutality or control freak. Why don’t they make video games on adventurous trips like scuba diving, controlling an under the water sophisticated vessel or scoring mathematical puzzles – or other solution finding chaotic situations such as a simulation to respond to an earthquake or something – this making money from children in killing business has gone too far.

  14. I’m afraid nasrin that games like that are indeed produced on a fairly regular basis, and almost invariably flop in an extreme way.

    SimCity and The Sims are notable examples of about the only ones which haven’t flopped.
    Likewise if you count games like Myst or Civilization then those too. Star Trek had some moderately successful games, and the racing genre hasn’t done too badly, neither has football.

    These games are dramatically outnumbered by those that didn’t succeed, although in fact there are a lot of failures in the blood+guts genre too.

  15. I agree with you Nasrin.

    The natural disaster simulatior is an especially good idea. However, I think ‘physics engines’ are not quite good enough yet for simulating fire and flooding. Famine and disease would require artificial intelligence, I expect – very cutting edge.

  16. The engines are easily sophisticated enough. Graphics are up to spec, and the rest are just mathematical algorithms. Considering that fairly sophisticated weather simulations are used frequently to simulate small weather variations I’m sure they can handle something as large as a forest fire or flood. Don’t see why famine or disease would require artificial intelligence unless you believe in God…

    These phenomena aren’t hard to simulate at all, I’ve seen it done many times in physics labs around the country, in fact they model far more complex systems than these. AI is also easily up-to-spec for a virus or bacterium, which aren’t even ‘intelligent’.

  17. Natural Disaster Simulators? – Depends how real you want it. I would expect a high standard to better the adrenaline rush of combat games.

    If you create realistic behaviour for a ‘simple’ bacteria (like Dr Bray at Cambridge University) you’ll win scientific acheivement awards worth £170,000 – see BBC web page:

    Now factor in the AI of mobs as they panic, riot, loot, or decide to calmly evacuate (UNLESS you make it a HUGE MMORGP! – good idea?!)

    Then add to the mix physics for weather, fire, floods etc… Well, you should win a Nobel Prize for acheiving all that.

    Finally, it’s all got to come together on your humble PC!

    Possible? Yes! Practical? Not yet, in my opinion. If it was practical, surely someone would have done it?

  18. Why not try some association aversion therapy (prob. not actually the real name). Everytime your child plays on the playstation,play music they hate. Eventually it will put them off the playstation. This idea has been used in some countries to drive teenagers and other underirables away from hanging around outside shops and train stations.

  19. Craky: the idea is to motivate humanitarian perspective in the mind – aid works and saving lives to alter this constant craving for killing. Since we will see more of extreme natural events, therefore children can get excited by devising intervention schemes in an emergency situation.

    “Possible? Yes! Practical? Not yet, in my opinion. If it was practical, surely someone would have done it?”

    I dont think so because there are areas that are not thought of by video producers having different mind-set.

  20. How about doing one for Hurricane Katrina? The game could start say 5 years before, and people could see if they can do a better job at minimising the damage. There are a limitted number of variables to a lot of it, and certainly it couldn’t be any more complicated than a number of others. Plus it’s well-related to current affairs.

  21. I agree! To make a ‘Major Incident Management’ simulation would be supurb!

    The knowledge you would learn about triage of patients and infectious diseases would be fantastic.

    Also, you could learn how Cabinet Office Briefing Room A coordinate Silver Commands, and how they in turn, coordinate Bronze Commands at the scene.

    To make it authentic you’d need input from doctors, firemen, police, coastguard, and civil engineers.

    I wonder what Boris Johnson would think?!

  22. 1) How come the questions are almost as good as the answers?

    2) Would you like to run for the French presidential election? Please? After all, you have relinquished your American citizenship, which should certainly smooth the way when you apply for French nationality.

  23. I think Boris is overly concerned about this videogames issue. He seems to have whipped himself into a Calvanistic lather over it, in fact. There were similar worries over television but, while it is true that too much telly can rot the brain, in small doses it is harmless fun.

    Attempts to defend videogames on their educational potential are a bit disingenuous, I think. Their primary function is to entertain, just like films, television, comic books, boardgames and countless other childhood diversions. And there’s nothing wrong with this. I don’t imagine that Boris would call for a clampdown on the right of kids to be kids, and enjoy a break from the burden of education from time to time. Videogames are simply part of the same milieu.

    Demanding government action on videogaming is completely unnecessary and out of keeping with Boris’s normal aversion to paternalistic meddling by the state. Apart from whiffing of Ludditism, it lets parents off the hook. It is their responsiblity to ensure that their children enjoy the right balance of work, play and physical activity, not the state’s. I’m sure that Boris agrees with this principle on virtually other issue, so his stance on videogaming is damaging his reputation as a man who can combine traditional values with a hip and happening appreciation of the modern world.

  24. Tayles:”I don’t imagine that Boris would call for a clampdown on the right of kids to be kids, and enjoy a break from the burden of education from time to time.”

    Burden of Education?? so this is very telling of your perception.

  25. At least one of the great merits of computer games is that they are highly interactive, with beautiful colour 3D motion.

    But there is another kind of computer game which I personally regard as particularly insidious. These are almost invariably found on small laptop computers, with very poor graphics, generally black and white, and with almost no interactive controls whatsoever. Their players open these notebooks, and proceed to simply gaze for hours at their motionless, unbacklit screens, only occasionally operating them with a right-to-left hand motion. I have a young nephew who is utterly addicted to them, and who displays no interest whatsoever in other, far better computer games. I worry that he is damaging his eyesight, as he stares motionless at the nearly blank screen. I occasionally encourage hinm to do something useful – like build a 6-lane motorway, or invade Iraq. But he will generally entirely ignores me, and instead unhygienically dips a finger into his mouth, before operating the console in the same repetitive and tedious manner.

    There seem to be hundreds and hundreds of these games around. I hope they never catch on, since they are quite clearly not beneficial in any way whatsoever. Has anyone else encountered these wretched things? The current one he is playing is something called The Wind in the Willows.

  26. Idlex said:

    At least one of the great merits of computer games is that they are highly interactive, with beautiful colour 3D motion

    I’ve dated men with less merits – I can see the attraction.

  27. bombarded by fluctuating electricity waves….

    It’s called AC, or Alternating Current, nasrin. It’s what makes your computer work.

  28. This is to Boris: Michael Portilllo wonders in the Sunday Times whether David Cameron will embrace Scottish independence.

    (Tayles FYI)
    The world is running out of water and needs a radical plan to tackle shortages that threaten the ability of humanity to feed itself. The breadbaskets of India and China were facing severe water shortages and neither Asian giant could use the same strategies for increasing food production that has fed millions in the last few decades. Guardian 22 Jan

  29. Boris Declares War on Sony Playstation

    Boris, in an interview with the Independant, called for a war on playstations. We’re getting a bit carried away with the war metaphors here, don’t you think?…

  30. (Tayles FYI) The world is running out of water and needs a radical plan to tackle shortages that threaten the ability of humanity to feed itself – Nasrin

    Wasn’t aware that we were having a conversation about water shortages, but thanks anyway. Just in case you’re trying to drag me off on a tangent, my answer would probably had something to do with desalination plants.

  31. One of the effects of obsession to these games is kind of detachment from the environment and growing disinterest in other engagements such as social relations which is fundamental in the sense that they allow flow of life and existence to take place. Hence, the generation of Cools..

  32. Idlex: “It’s called AC, or Alternating Current, nasrin. It’s what makes your computer work”

    I am afraid it was what I thoought it was, bombardment by virus – my computer doesnt function properly (bbc and Oxforduniv and oxfam home page do not appear – it is fixed on 22 Jan). there was a small black square on my desk top the other day that wouldnt disappear and that fluctuating pressure of electricity (I had the experience 2 years ago, my computer and mobile collapsed). Thelast window of hope to be connected to oxford – there is not slightest respect for any private matter in this country – until they bore a hole in my head and replace my brain with one their own retarded, nulle IQ servants, I will not be left alone, even at reclusive of the prison in this room.

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