Boris Johnson knows no shame. His chequered personal life apart, his career is littered with a litany of lies. He was sacked from his first job on The Times for making up a quote, from of all people, his godfather.
During the Brexit campaign, he cheerfully promoted the infamous lie that the UK sent the EU £350 million a week, money that would be spent on the NHS if people voted to leave.
There is even a website dedicated to the “lies, falsehoods and misrepresentations of Boris Johnson and his government”.
He may have a long way to go to beat his role model’s mendacity. At the start of June, the Washington Post recorded that President Trump had made 19,127 false or misleading claims since being elected – but our Prime Minister seems hell bent on catching up with him.
Johnson is also incompetent. His handling of the coronavirus pandemic left Britain with the highest excess death rate of any country at the end of May (64,000 deaths, or 955 deaths per million people).
He struggled to cope with the breakdown of the PPE supply chain, which saw health and care staff left without vital protection in the early, virus-laden days of the pandemic.
And our economy is teetering on a cliff edge. The OECD forecasts that we will suffer the worst recession of any developed country, with a projected fall in GDP of 11.5 per cent this year.
An incompetent liar as Prime Minister during the most testing times our country has faced since the Battle of Britain would be bad enough, but Johnson is also a right-wing ideologue.
Despite his protestations that much of what he wrote as a newspaper columnist was satire, his back catalogue is littered with racist, sexist and anti-gay comments. He describes black people as “piccannies”, Muslim women as “letterboxes” and gay men as “bum boys”.
His world view is stuck in the 1930s, when Britain was still clinging on to its empire, much of mainland Europe was our mortal enemy, and the working class knew their place.
Johnson’s narrow nationalist mindset was to the fore on Wednesday when he announced that the Department of International Development (DfID) was to be scrapped and its function – tackling extreme poverty across the globe – was to be subsumed into the Foreign Office.
To most people, facing economic hardship while living in fear of a deadly virus, the news of DfID’s demise will hardly register.
Indeed there are many folk – not all right-wing – who think Britain invests far too much in poor countries, and that DfID’s £14.5 billion budget would be better spent at home. Nigel Farage is particularly fond of promoting this policy.
But until now, Conservative Prime Ministers have resisted calls from their more extreme colleagues to abandon the international development programme established by Tony Blair in 1997.
Millions of people across the world have benefitted from Britain’s support over the last two decades. As Clare Short, DfID’s first cabinet secretary, wrote earlier this week, the department’s aims were ambitious.
“The aim was to halve the proportion of people living in poverty; get all children into primary education; make measurable progress on gender equality and access to reproductive health care; and reduce infant, child, and maternal mortality.”
Ambitious, but achievable. I know personally many people who have benefitted from DfID’s work, and I don’t mean well-paid civil servants or development consultants.
Clara, 66, who is alive because of the HIV/AIDS programme supported by DfID. Young women like 17-year-old Lindy and 16-year-old Clever who are planning a bright future as professional women, in part because of DfID’s focus on gender equality.
Vitu, who grows beans, and Gifted, a maize farmer, whose crop yields have increased with support from DfID’s agriculture programme.
Working with other global organisations, such as Unicef, USAid and the World Bank, Britain’s Department for International Development has helped make the world a safer, healthier, more prosperous place.
That progress is now at risk because of Johnson. Not surprisingly, global charities have condemned the move, describing it variously as “political vandalism”, and a “loss for global Britain and the world’s poorest people”.
Smaller organisations, such as the Scotland Malawi Partnership, are equally opposed to the merger. In an open letter to the Prime Minister, its chief executive, David Hope-Jones writes, “There are a great many complex, technical and practical arguments to be made both in favour and against the merger.
“However, at its core, this is an inherently simple decision, and it is a moral or ideological decision. Either one understands, accepts and believes that we undertake international development for reasons other than our own self-interest, or one does not.”
Tony Blair is “utterly dismayed” by the decision to abolish DfID, describing the department as “a leader in both programmes and thought in development, helping millions of the world’s most vulnerable to be relieved of poverty and killer diseases”.
Even former Tory PM, David Cameron, emerged from lockdown to tweet that Johnson had made a mistake. “The end of DfID will mean less expertise, less voice for development at the top table, and ultimately less respect for the UK overseas.”
Will this avalanche of criticism, from left and right, change Boris Johnson’s mind? Of course not.
Throughout his colourful career he has given no indication that he cares a jot about how poor people live, whether in Malawi or Scotland, Pakistan or England.
He had to be shamed into funding free school meals during the summer holidays by a 22-year-old Manchester United footballer, Marcus Rashford.
And during his parliamentary speech to announce the end of DfID, he described British overseas aid as “some giant cashpoint in the sky”.
Twenty-four hours later, the Prime Minister raided that giant cashpoint to take out nearly one million pounds to paint a Union Jack on the side of his official plane.
The British flag is also emblazoned across hundreds of ‘pharmacies in a box’ which DfID, with the US government, has installed in community health clinics across Malawi.
These air-conditioned pre-fabs are powered by solar energy and protect the drugs that millions depend on daily.
There is nothing glamorous about them. They are not designed to promote Britain’s interest abroad, or assuage the ego of a buffoon, but for a higher, moral purpose. To save lives.
It is that higher, moral purpose that Boris Johnson lacks. And our country will be that much poorer because of the poverty of our Prime Minister’s soul.
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