I warned about the spreading influence of eugenics – yet an advocate was able to work at Downing Street

Louise Raw

There was more chance of the preserved corpse of philosopher Jeremy Bentham leaving its cupboard of its own volition than the dean of UCL coming out of his nearby office.

It was January 2018 and I’d joined protesters from the university’s BME Students’ Network. Their issue was neatly summarised on placards proclaiming “F*** Eugenics”. It had just been revealed that UCL had hosted, inadvertently, four “Conferences on Intelligence”.

Speakers had included blogger Emil Kirkegaard, who has advocated the rape of sleeping children by paedophiles as a way to relieve “urges” (he later said he did not support the legalisation of paedophilia but advocated “frank discussion of paedophilia-related issues”), and Richard Lynn, who has a long-term association with Mankind Quarterly, a journal that has been criticised for support eugenics .

The conferences had been booked, as external events, by UCL lecturer Dr James Thompson, and held in secret, until Toby Young – who has previously written about “progressive eugenics” – attended one and been told not to write about it, wrote about it.

UCL is home to the archive of the man who coined the term “Eugenics”, Frances Galton. Galton believed Black people were “naturally” lazy and “savage”, and hoped that “inferior” white people would die of poverty before reproducing, also suggesting “good” specimens be compelled to marry one another.

The latest outcry is about Andrew Sabisky, who was thought to have been contracted by Downing Street under Boris Johnson’s aide Dominic Cummings, apparently to work on special projects.

He announced he was quitting his role on Monday following a major backlash over his past comments.

In 2014, Sabisky, suggested on Cummings’s blog that the law could be used to mandate contraception to prevent “unplanned pregnancies creating a permanent underclass”.

On the same site Sabisky argued it was unclear if FGM was really “a serious risk to young girls...of certain minority group origins”. He has suggested African-Americans are “less intelligent” than white people, and compared women’s sports to the Paralympics (meaning this as an insult to both).

Sabisky is also listed as a speaker at the second Conference on Intelligence in 2015, on ‘The efficacy of early childhood interventions in improving cognitive outcomes’.

What sort of “childhood interventions” he might approve became clear the next year, when he was interviewed by Schools Week on the benefits of the drug modafinil being given to schoolchildren. Modafinil decreases the need for sleep and seems to improve brain function – although there is a risk of getting Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a life-threatening skin condition. “The benefits of giving everyone modafinil once a week are probably worth a dead kid once a year” Sabisky said.

Schools’ Week described Sabisky as a “polymath’, describing him as a ‘livewire on the education conference scene’, and let him expound his views at length: “Eugenics are about selecting ‘for’ good things...Intelligence is largely inherited and it correlates with better outcomes: physical health, income, lower mental illness. There is no downside to having IQ except short-sightedness.”

Sabisky asked the female interviewer whether she wouldn’t chose to become pregnant with an embryo selected to be the “smartest”, with “less propensity towards schizophrenia or depression”. School Week suggested he was “needling long-held ideas in education that many are too squeamish to address”.

You think all this might be enough for the government to issue a strong response, along the lines of Unite Against Fascism’s Weyman Bennett who told the Morning Star that the language of eugenics “has no place in government.”

“These people give a nod and a wink to the politics and ideology that led to the Holocaust,” he added, with 75 years between the enforced end of the genocidal eugenics programme of the Nazis seemingly not enough to end the conversation for good. Geneticist Adam Rutherfood tweeted that “Sabisky and indeed Cummings look bewitched by science without doing the legwork”. It is hard to argue.

However, Downing Street appeared happy to say little. Johnson’s official spokesman refused to comment on Sabisky (and whether he held an official role), his controversial views, or whether the prime minister agreed with them. Others have not been so staid. Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett and Labour MP David Lammy were among those calling for Sabisky to be sacked.

The spokesman said the “prime minister’s views are well publicised and well documented” but could not point to a single example. The spokesman is also said to have declined whether Johnson’s views on the issue were reflected in a magazine article in which the prime minister referred to black people as “picaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. That article had resurfaced during last year’s general election campaign.

That silence over those questions before he quit should tell us all we need to know.

Dr Louise Raw is a historian, broadcaster, author of ‘Striking a Light’ (Bloomsbury) on the 1888 Matchwomen’s Strike, and organiser of the annual London Matchwomen’s Festival

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