The Guardian view on Boris Johnson’s government: eugenicists not wanted | Editorial | Opinion

Dominic Cummings, the chief special adviser to the prime minister, thinks the answer to Britain’s problems is hiring brilliant people to work outside of bureaucratic constraints. He may be right, but not if one of his first hires as a “weirdo and misfit” to join him in No 10 is anything to go by. Andrew Sabisky quit after it emerged he was not a wunderkind but a rightwing provocateur who promoted ideas about eugenics cloaked in the sham argument that this is hard science. Mr Sabisky, 27, had no academic research of note to his name. From a well-off family, he hardly fit Mr Cummings’ call for “true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole”.

It speaks volumes about the arrogance of Downing Street that Boris Johnson did not immediately dump Mr Sabisky – or even disassociate himself from his views which are routinely found in the darker, damper recesses of the internet. You cannot have such people in government unless you mean to give the impression that you agree with them. But someone in No 10 thought better. Mr Johnson’s team had gone out of its way to back Mr Sabisky. When the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said Mr Sabisky’s comments were “not my views and those are not the views of the government” he was slapped down by Downing Street’s press operation.

Mr Sabisky, like Mr Cummings, has no formal training in the fields that they both claim to understand. Earlier this month Mr Johnson claimed that his government “will be governed by science and not by mumbo-jumbo”. Hiring this individual was evidence that this is not true. If Mr Johnson or Mr Cummings wanted expertise in genetics then why not ask a scientist to advise them? The reason is the prime minister’s adviser is not interested in exploring the dilemmas presented by diverging fundamental beliefs or those informed by scientific facts. He is interested in weaponising such debates for political gain.

Mr Cummings made his name by leading the team that won the 2016 Brexit referendum, writing that his opponents were “grotesque incompetents” who lost despite commanding the machinery of the state. He claims that Whitehall displays a groupthink so strong that officials strive for unanimity rather than realistically appraise alternative courses of action. He is looking therefore for “true cognitive diversity”. But if this were the case why did Mr Cummings hire someone in his own image – a privately educated rightwinger with no track record outside of politics who is dazzled by science but has a background in the humanities? Again, the reason is that this is all about pursuing a strategy of purposeful polarisation.

Mr Cummings seems intent on building a press operation in Downing Street that can dismiss criticism of controversial political actions as partisan dissent. The press helped bring Mr Cummings to heel. It is also important that Conservative MPs, such as former minister Caroline Nokes spoke out. Without such voices, Mr Cummings will be able to break traditional ethical boundaries. We are already seeing this with the “delay-and-deflect” tactics to questions about who paid for the prime minister’s £15,000 Caribbean holiday. Mr Cummings is no uniter. He is a divider. He wants to build a political stronghold with aggressive polarising strategies – on cultural, scientific and economic grounds – to strengthen allies and weaken opponents. The growing evidence is that Mr Johnson keeps Mr Cummings close because, while he wants to maintain the rhetorical pretence of “bringing the country together”, he in fact intends to pursue a cynical politics of provocation and division.

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