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

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