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?'


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.

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