Boris Johnson has just done his first two sensible, recognisably conservative things as prime minister – but I don’t think that either will be enough to save his skin.
The first sensible thing was to scrap the government’s most pointless, wasteful, politically correct department: the Department of International Development (Dfid).
This department — a hangover from the Labour era, though David ‘Heir to Blair’ Cameron loved it too because he got to play at being Mrs Jellyby — cost the UK taxpayer £15.2 billion a year to no useful purpose whatsoever, splurging money at random foreigners.
Among its most shameful wastes of money: £300 million to build an airport on the Atlantic island of St Helena (which can’t be used commercially because it’s too windy, and somehow the government failed to notice this before building it); £5 million on a Bangladeshi version of the rubbish BBC politics show Question Time; £9.2 million supporting Ethiopia’s answer to the Spice Girls; many millions more on things like wind farms for Africa, funding for India despite it being wealthy enough to have its own space programme, a Ferris wheel and amusement park in Afghanistan, and so forth.
Boris Johnson Scraps Foreign Aid Office, But Won’t Reduce Number of Civil Servants, and No Cut in Aid https://t.co/rUMuMjcUnb
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) June 16, 2020
Cameron so enjoyed pretending to save the world that he actually made it a legal obligation for Dfid to spend its budget on something, anything, regardless of whether it was needed.
As Con Coughlin explains in the Telegraph:
This is so ministers can boast they have met the United Nations target of spending 0.7 per cent of Gross Domestic Product on aid. This led, in one memorable year, to officials scrambling to spend £3.7 billion in just eight weeks so that the Government could claim it had reached this arbitrary requirement.
Now, in a long-overdue correction, Dfid is going to be merged with the Foreign Office. (The FO is similarly useless and PC — but at least there’ll only be one useless PC department making a pig’s ear of Britain’s foreign affairs, rather than two of them).
The second sensible thing Boris has done is to appoint Munira Mirza to head his new government commission on racial inequalities.
Mirza, a working class woman of Pakistani Muslim heritage, is bright, dynamic, articulate — and has absolutely zero tolerance for the race-baiting grievance narrative.
Here, for example, is what she wrote last year in article about Cambridge University attempting to make reparations for any role it may have had in the slave trade.
Moreover, we can never truly atone for historic crimes, because we are not the ones who committed them.
Mirza, it is safe to predict, will not be delivering the damning report on ‘systemic racism’ that Black Lives Matter would like her to deliver.
Already the wailing and gnashing of teeth has begun among the usual suspects:
Munira Mirza is a dreadful appointment to lead a commission into racial inequality – but a smart pick for Johnson.
Why? Because she’s a racial gatekeeper. A person of colour who gives political cover to ongoing injustice, and delegitimises years of study and community struggle.
— Ash Sarkar (@AyoCaesar) June 16, 2020
This is all to the good, of course. As I remarked to Toby Young on the most recent London Calling podcast, Mirza’s appointment is the closest Boris Johnson has ever come to emulating the masterly trolling skills of Donald Trump.
Even so, I fear it’s all too little, too late to save Boris Johnson — who must surely be considered a dead prime minister walking, even at this early stage in his premiership.
Sure, it doesn’t help that so much of his verve has been dissipated by the triple whammy of Covid-19, an uber-woke girlfriend, and a new baby.
But the bigger problem is the looming economic crisis which is largely the result of the Boris administration’s massive overreaction to Chinese coronavirus.
Ten weeks ago, at the height of the scare, shutting down the UK economy and putting most of the nation under house arrest might have seemed a sensible precaution.
Now it’s looking more and more like the biggest error of judgement in political history. There is little if any plausible evidence that the lockdown saved lives (whatever the discredited and increasingly ridiculous modeller Neil Ferguson may have told parliament); there is lots of evidence, however, of the economic and social damage that the lockdown has caused: children denied their education; thousands of businesses that may never recover; looming mass unemployment.
Of course, many other countries – including the U.S. — have adopted anti-coronavirus policies similar to Britain’s. But the key difference is that Britain seems to be finding it more difficult to return to normality than almost anywhere.
The majority of its populace have been so terrified by government and MSM propaganda that they want the lockdown to continue almost indefinitely and are afraid even to go shopping, or send their children to school, let alone to go back to work.
Britain — the country that once proudly defied Hitler’s bombers during the Blitz — has become a nation of scaredy cats.
As pollster Peter Kellner reports:
This week a six-country study by Kekst CNC found that Britons divide three-to-one in saying the government’s priority should be to limit the spread of the disease rather than avoid a recession. That margin is greater than in any of the other countries surveyed by Kekst: Germany, France, Sweden, the United States and Japan.
The message seems to be clear: voters want economic recovery to take a back seat, at least for the time being. Relaxing the two-metre rule, getting pupils back to schools and workers back to offices and factories: Britain’s voters seem to be saying, “hold off; don’t take any risks.”
So far Boris’s policy – probably on the advice of his public-mood-obsessed advisor Dom Cummings – has been not to rush anything lest the horses be frightened.
The problem here is that, as Kellner goes on to explain, the British public are in an incredibly fickle mood right now. Yes they are terrified of Covid-19 (nice work, British government propaganda department!; well done, bought and paid for UK media); but they’re increasingly mistrustful of the government and have started looking enviously overseas at those other countries (Germany, South Korea and Denmark are their current favourites) which appear to be handling the coronavirus crisis better.
Since March, the government’s net approval rating has gone from plus 42 to minus 18 – a 60 point shift unprecedented since at least the 2003 Iraq war.
In other words, the great British public is very, very ready for any excuse to turn viciously against the Boris Johnson administration.
When the people begin to realise that the jobs they thought had merely been suspended on ‘furlough’ no longer exist, when young people cannot get casual work because the hospitality industry has been wiped out by measures like the government’s arbitrary two-metre distancing rule, they are going to start casting round and looking for someone to blame.
They won’t blame themselves (though they should: for being such a bunch of Covid bedwetters who bought in too readily to the government’s scaremongering propaganda).
They will blame Boris Johnson and his useless administration.
And frankly, I don’t blame them.