February 19, 2020 - 7:00am

On Monday, Jessica Simor QC posed the following question:

“Are all members of Cabinet willing to submit to IQ tests and have the results made public?”

I’m pretty sure this was a reference to the Andrew Sabisky controversy and not a serious proposal, but why not IQ test the Cabinet?

Why shouldn’t we have an objective measure of their ability to do their jobs?

The main reason is that no such measure exists, at least none in a simple numerical format like an IQ score. If ability could be scored like a credit rating, then employers would use it to make recruitment and promotion decisions instead of the costly fuss and bother they currently go to.

Senior managers (e.g. ministers) have to deal with a world of complexity, so it’s not surprising that a single score along a single dimension is all but useless. The only reliable evidence is that which comes from a qualitative assessment of the candidate’s experience, and performance, in relevant jobs.

Of course, that requires a substantial track record to base a judgement upon, and in politics that’s often missing. Rishi Sunak, for instance, has just become Chancellor of the Exchequer at the age of 39, after just five years as an MP and two years as a minister. He may be ideally suited to the second most powerful job in government, but how would we know?

He can certainly think on his feet, stay on message and retain his composure under fire — that’s why he relayed a prominent role in the Conservative election campaign. But is he more than a competent regurgitator?

Ministers ought to be capable of creative, original thought. But that’s rarely tested in public — certainly not in Parliament and not in the TV studio, where it’s all about defending the party line.

Therefore, I’d like to propose a simple exam. From time to time, every MP would provide a written response to a carefully chosen question. It wouldn’t require specialist knowledge — just a general interest in things that matter. There’s to be no advanced notice so it couldn’t be revised for, there’d be no civil briefings on the topic, no speechwriter to supply a page of sweet nothings. There’d be no one to interrupt either.

There’d just be the question, writing materials and enough time to supply an answer.

The papers wouldn’t be marked, just published — leaving us to search for evidence of intelligent life.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.