Smart, likable Jo Johnson may well be the best man for the job. That's exactly the problem

Boris Johnson's younger brother has been appointed head of the PM's policy unit, but those carping on about nepotism are entirely missing the point


The night England beat Germany 5-1 in Munich, 13 years ago, stayed in my memory for two reasons.

First, England beat Germany 5-1. Second, I watched the game in the clubhouse of my old cricket club, Sinjuns in Wandsworth, in the company of a posh, laconic bloke who had turned out for us and looked for all the world like Boris Johnson – but who couldn’t be a relation, I figured, on account of his total lack of bluster.

It was only later that my captain, Matt Drury, a rambunctious Etonian, told me that this chap called Jo, a school friend, was indeed part of the most ubiquitous crew of yellow-tops since Abba. He was a terrific bowler: fast, consistent, and clever in his use of the conditions – qualities which he’ll need now that he’s head of policy in No 10.

Jo Johnson’s appointment gave rise to the assertion that British politics hasn’t been such a family affair since the 18th century. It’s true that with the brothers Miliband and married couple Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper to the fore, they are suddenly prevalent; but then many families have cast a long shadow over Westminster, as names such as Benn, Toynbee, and Hurd show. Similarly, though dynasties tend to be more common in Asia – think of the Nehru-Gandhi clan, or generations of Korean Kims – the likes of George and Mitt Romney show there’s no monopoly.

Another common response has it that, because we’re run by a cabal of public school boys, they only ever appoint their own kind. On this reasoning, Johnson is beneficiary of a kind of snobbish favouritism. This reasoning is wrong. The problem isn’t that Johnson isn’t there on merit; the problem is that he is: when David Cameron scours his backbenchers for talent, he sees fellow Etonians everywhere.

David Miliband once told me that the biggest problem facing Labour was a sociological one: the party was run by an officer class – et tu, David? – and teachers, doctors and nurses were disappearing from it. As the Etonisation of the Tories’ shows, this problem has in fact infected our whole democracy.

In his wonderful book, Tides of Consent, James Stimson identifies three types of voters: “the Passionate” (who commit to one side), “the Uninvolved” (who don’t vote), and “the Scorekeepers” (swing voters). The biggest move in politics today is not from right to left or even right to wrong. It’s from Passionate or Scorekeeping to Uninvolved.

The reason people feel uninvolved is that they do not feel represented. The pool of human experiences that make our country what it is finds less and less expression in Westminster. More and more MPs come from fewer and fewer backgrounds. The point about Jo Johnson, then, is not merely that he strengthens the grip of one family on power; it’s that the rise of this smart and likeable fellow shows our remaining pretensions to democracy are shrinking fast.

Twitter: @amolrajan

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas