ANDREW SABISKEY’S brief rise and fall has once again brought the false science of eugenics into the spotlight in the UK. Our national media greeted the news with mixed initial responses until extra scrutiny on his history led to his resignation.

Sabisky had claimed that “black people are less intelligent than whites” and argued “Intelligence is largely inherited and it correlates with better outcomes: physical health, income, lower mental illness”. It has since come to light that his former boss, the Prime Minister’s senior aide Dominic Cummings, had also expressed support for eugenics. In a 2014 blog post he proposed that the NHS screen for embryos with “the highest prediction for IQ”.

Eugenics

Eugenics has a long history in the UK, having been founded as an area of study in this country by Francis Galton, based on Darwin’s ideas of hereditary and selection. This immediately led to it being used as cover for racism and justification for inequality.

Smothering the liberal rallying cry of equality, the early capitalists funnelled their children to positions of power and wealth. Eugenics was used to explain the success of wealthy children over those from deprived backgrounds. More fundamentally, eugenics provided an ideological justification for foreign conquests, racism and slavery.

This use of racist pseudo-science to allow the abuse and exploitation of so-called genetic inferiors was mainstream and widely respected until the atrocities of the Nazi regime came to light. However, as Angela Saini lays out in her book Superior, the people leading these studies outside of Germany were not thrown from the public sphere for their racist views, but were allowed to gracefully move into related fields and continue their studies and discussions under a cloak of legitimacy until they could feel safe to move openly again.

The past few years have seen “scientific” racism re-appear. The failure of the global system to recover from 2008 has polarised politics, spawning radical and sometimes revolutionary movements, on the one hand, and authoritarian, right wing, populist and sometimes fascist movements, on the other.

The increasing popularity of eugenicist ideas has been reflected in the increase in racist measuring systems such as IQ, which primarily measures your ability to be culturally White American, within workplace hiring systems and automated responses based on a century of racist history and judgements. This further enables mediocrities to rise based on the wealth and contacts of their parents, masked by talk of fairness and the legal end of racism and sexism.

Tory populism

The failure of the centre of government to comment on this – or Sabisky’s other outrageous comments about women and religion – demonstrates that these reactionary positions are held within the halls of power even after his resignation. His beliefs were not concealed, and would have been found by any basic screening, which anyone not catapulted into the halls of power should have faced. But the fact is his ideas were not shocking or outrageous to this government.

If the Johnson leadership had wished to distance themselves from them then they would have removed him, rather than making non-statements about Johnson’s positions on race and gender and allowing him to quit. In fact Johnson shares Sabisky’s views on race. He has referred to African children as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” and to women wearing the hijab or niqab as resembling “bank robbers” and “letterboxes”. After the 2005 London Bombings he declared that “Islam is the problem”.

This episode, taken with the resumption of Windrush deportations and the announcement of the points-based immigration system, suggests that this government intends to distract from the next few years of economic strife by whipping up racism and nationalism.

The Labour and trade union movement must go further than just protesting the worst excesses of racism and nationalism, such as eugenics or a particularly outrageous deportation. We must do away with illusions in “progressive patriotism” and “legitimate concerns about immigration” and the potential for those ideas to win back lost support.

Instead we must challenge all forms of xenophobia and racism, both to defend the immediate victims of Johnson’s policies and to create a movement that can bring his government down.