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« The canonisation of Clive Bates, part two | Main | Happiness and the nanny state »

I've got a little list

Journalists love lists, hence the interest in the IEA's Nanny State Index.

I have some experience of this because in 1998 I was editing the monthly Mensa magazine (I was a hired hand not a member) when I came up with the light-hearted idea of evaluating each member of the Labour Cabinet for their 'political quotient' (PQ).

The aim was to rank the 20 politicians by assessing their perceived intelligence and political acumen.

The theory was you could be intelligent but lack political ability, and vice versa. The politicians with the highest PQs would be those with the highest combined scores. We came up with a soundbite for each person and released our report, and accompanying league table, to the media.

Examples, in order, included:

Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
Political ability - 10
Intellectual ability - 8
Political Quotient - 90
"Brains behind New Labour but not universally liked."

Jack Straw, Home Secretary
Political ability - 8
Intellectual ability - 7
Political Quotient - 75
"Likeable man of genuine conviction and decency."

David Blunkett, Education Secretary
Political ability - 7
Intellectual ability - 7
Political Quotient - 70
"Good all-rounder, able to brief and be briefed by his officials."

Tony Blair, Prime Minister
Political ability - 8
Intellectual ability - 5
Political Quotient - 65
"Man of action rather than man of letters. Excellent communicator."

Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer
Political ability - 6
Intellectual ability - 6
Political Quotient - 60
"More comfortable with Old Labour agenda. Henchman Charlie Whelan has not been his greatest asset."

John Prescott, Secretary of State for Environment and Transport
Political ability - 6
Intellectual ability - 3
Political Quotient - 45
"Does what his officials say, no matter how ridiculous."

George Robertson, Defence Secretary
Political ability - 4
Intellectual ability - 4
Political Quotient - 40
"Team player who runs the most right-wing department in government."

Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary
Political ability - 1
Intellectual ability - 6
Political Quotient - 35
"Regarded as arrogant; considered to be a series of accidents waiting to happen."

Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development
Political ability - 2
Intellectual ability - 4
Political Quotient - 30
"Mouth is bigger than her brain; lacks political finesse."

It was complete bunkum of course but we had a lot of fun doing it.

The outcome was spectacular. Our league table, with Peter Mandelson at the top, was featured in numerous newspapers. One or two reports are still available online. The Independent, for example, wrote:

Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, is in a class of his own, according to a jury of 12 Mensa members who have created a new PQ rating - or Political Quotient, a cross between an IQ level and assessment of political acumen - to rank each member of the current Cabinet.

Billed as "the brains behind New Labour," it is Mr Mandelson who finishes well ahead of his parliamentary rivals. He scores an impressive 90 PQ points out of a possible 100.

The Trade Secretary may "not be universally liked" by his colleagues in the Labour Party, but he is considered an astute operator, without being seen as a "pointy head" (the term said to be used by Gordon Brown's spin doctor Charlie Whelan to disparage intellectuals).

Mr Mandelson is closely followed by Stephen Byers, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, on 85 points, and Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, on 75.

Others are not so highly valued. Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, was downgraded for having "a mouth that is bigger than her brain." She earned only 30 PQ points and came joint bottom with Nick Brown, the new Minister of Agriculture.

Jack Cunningham, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, only just managed to beat them with scores of 35.

See Mensa judges Labour's Political Quotient and Mandelson the 'brains' behind Labour (Independent).

The story was even mentioned by the Irish Times (Mandelson tops Mensa rating) but my favourite reports appeared in the Daily Record and Farmers Weekly.

According to the Record (Cheeky Mensa says Cabinet Scots are denser):

Britain's Cabinet heavyweights have been dismissed as political airheads by Mensa.

And Scots ministers come out worst of all.

A new study places Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, regarded by many as the Government's brightest thinker, bottom of the pile. Mensa chiefs gave each member of the Cabinet marks out of 10 for political and intellectual ability.

The totals were used to work out each minister's Political Quotient, effectively their political IQ.

Cook is given only one out of 10 for his political ability. His PQ is just 35 out of 100.

Scots Secretary Donald Dewar fares little better.

Editor Simon Clark explained why Dewar's PQ was only rated at 40 out of 100.

He said: "Blair has had to send Helen Liddell to Scotland to be his minder which doesn't look particularly good for Dewar.

"And the whole devolution thing has given the SNP and independence a foot in the door."

Farmers Weekly reported (Brainy Brown? Not really):

Farm minister Nick Brown is one of the least intellectual members of the Cabinet, claims a new report which lifts the lid on the brains behind the Labour government.

A panel of judges selected by Mensa Magazine gave Mr Brown just four out of a possible ten marks for intellectual ability. And they gave him just two out of ten for political ability.

"It might not go down well with the farming community but he's perceived to be a bit wet and quite frankly not known for his intellectual ideas," said Mensa Magazine editor, Simon Clark.

Many people in Westminster see Mr Browns promotion to MAFF as a sideways move aimed at distancing him from his friend and ally, Chancellor Gordon Brown.

"He's very much a Gordon Brown stooge," said Mr Clark. "Nick Brown himself doesn't really stand for anything – he just basically follows the Gordon Brown line. That's why he didn't get many marks for political ability."

Newspaper reports referred to an "anonymous jury" of 12 people being responsible for our PQ table.

By coincidence the Nanny State Index was also compiled by an unnamed panel of 'experts'.

The similarities end there, I'm sure.

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