By Guy Faulconbridge and Kylie MacLellan
LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior adviser on Tuesday hit back at “political pundits” who had questioned the appointment of an aide forced to resign over racist remarks.
When asked whether he regretted the hiring of a self-styled “superforecaster” Andrew Sabisky, Dominic Cummings told reporters: “Read Philip Tetlock’s “Superforecasting” instead of political pundits who don’t know what they are talking about.”
Cummings faced criticism over the appointment after he had advertised for “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to help bring new ideas to Britain’s government.
Sabisky had suggested that black people were less intelligent than whites and discussed the benefits of forced contraception in online posts. He quit on Monday, saying the “media hysteria” about his posts meant he had become a distraction for the government.
Sabisky’s comments and the way he was appointed have caused upset both outside and within Johnson’s ruling Conservative Party, with junior business minister Kwasi Kwarteng saying they were “offensive and racist”.
Cummings, the former campaign director of the successful “Vote Leave” Brexit campaign in the 2016 referendum, is Johnson’s most powerful adviser. He helped prompt the resignation of Sajid Javid as finance minister last week.
He says many British institutions – including the state – need reform and are too often governed by lazy thinkers who lack prescience.
“OFFENSIVE AND RACIST”
Sabisky’s case led to calls for better vetting of Downing Street appointees.
He had posted comments on social media saying that data showed the U.S. black population had lower IQ than white people, and, in a 2016 interview with digital publication Schools Week, discussed the benefits of genetic selection.
Following his resignation, he claimed he was the victim of character assassination. He said he hoped Johnson’s office hired more people with “good geopolitical forecasting track records” and that the “media learn to stop selective quoting”.
Kwarteng told Sky News that Sabisky’s comments were “offensive and racist”.
“He was someone who had reprehensible views,” Kwarteng said. “Obviously we can’t have people with those kind of views operating at the heart of government.”
The government would be looking at vetting process more closely, he said.
On Monday, the prime minister’s spokesman repeatedly refused to comment when asked about Sabisky and whether Johnson shared his views.
Johnson has himself faced criticism in the past for referring to African people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.
(This story fixes typographical error in the headline)
(Editing by Sarah Young and Angus MacSwan)