1 A HARD DAY’S YEAR
The lies have been around awhile. They were even present when optimistic and eager Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was on standby in the womb of his mother. Pfeffel was born in Manhattan in 1964, the year that The Beatles made the movie A Hard Day’s Night. Stanley the father in the Johnson family was a Tory that believed in people standing on their own two feet and entitlement to anything and everything being determined by what was in the bank account. None of this high minded utilitarianism, though, prevented cute Stanley selecting the maternity unit of a socialist hospital in New York, one that charged patients on their ability to pay. Later, when he remembered the birth of Pfeffel, and over chuckles and perhaps truffles, what a wheeze Stanley confessed that having his wife admitted to the hospital meant telling lies and having no principles. But he was fine with that. And it helped that Charlotte Fawcett, the mother of Boris, was comfortable with meeting folks with a social conscience and not quite so sharp utilitarian convictions as her husband. The parents of Charlotte were left wing. Charlotte has been described by her daughter Rachel as the only Red in Exmoor. There are those on the left that struggle to understand how upper middle class Tories and socialists can fall in love with each other and maintain relationships. In bubbles of comfort and smart chatter anything is possible.
Right now at the petrol stations and the supermarkets life is anything but comfortable and the chatter is more violent than smart. Petrol is being rationed, and fading vegetables and fruit are demanding therapy so that they can cope with loneliness. The good news is that wages are rising for some. The bad news is that many, including NHS workers, are tied to public sector limits and others have their earnings restricted by zero hour contracts or, like delivery men and women, rely on not so remunerative self-employed tariffs. Pfeffel prefers not to share details about the pending increases in food, gas and electric prices but he is rather proud of the spasmodic wage growth. He claims it is more important than increased deaths from cancer and the fall in life expectancy, UK trends that have been condemned by Philip Alston the UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. In his speech at the Conservative Party Conference this week Pfeffel identified the existing problems as the first step before the arrival of a high wage economy.
After the horrors of the last century everyone should know the cliché you don’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. But finding eggs these days is not so easy. At least there is no planned cull of chickens. Because of the shortage of workers in the slaughterhouses, the chain between the farmers, slaughterhouses and butchers has broken down. The farmers have nowhere to keep unwanted pigs. The farmers also claim they have insufficient funds to feed the pigs. The animals will be slaughtered. Most politicians would have been embarrassed about admitting that 120,000 plump pigs had to be killed without one slice of bacon reaching a British breakfast. Pfeffel was as intellectually agile as ever. They would have died anyway, he said. And he has a point. We all die but what Pfeffel has not realised is that when, how and why are also important. He may not think so right now but give him time and a few grey hairs.
Ultimate death is no consolation to those folk dependent on the inadequate and always impossible to administer Universal Credit. A £20 increase in Universal Credit was awarded in April 2020 and during Covid lockdown. The intention was to prop up capitalist faith, alleviate the suffering of Tory voters suffering unanticipated unemployment, and avoid the odd marginal cull of humans. The £20 increase has been removed this week. Without the £20 add-on Universal Credit will go back to doing what it does best, providing inadequate incomes for the unemployed and sick. At least the £20 reduction did not result in Britain having the meanest welfare scheme in Western Europe. It already was the meanest. After the £20 reduction child poverty will increase further and foodbanks will either multiply or endure increased pressure. Britain has the biggest food insecurity problem in Europe. 19% of children live with a parent that struggles to put food on the table.
But we need to calm down. Brexit is now, or will soon be, unleashing the unique gifts of the British people. Pfeffel says so. Forget that fruit picking and reversing a truck appear to be beyond the average Briton. That is mere stress in a rather confusing interval. It is the really skilled jobs that talented and superior Brits will soon conquer. Odd how the same people that can argue human complexity and inadequacy requires hierarchy, inequality and authority then continue without pausing to become romantic about the potential of flawed human beings. Yet few Tory supporters are interested in the practised intellectual arguments of the self-serving powerful or the ideological contradictions of Freidrich Hayek and Edmund Burke. The more humble loyalists that walk the streets have convinced themselves, with the help of three card tricks from the BBC and the British Press, that the daily privations are happening worldwide. No matter that social media is full of British expats revealing that the UK nightmare has not occurred abroad. Similar nonsense occurred over the initial failure to manage Covid. Nearly 8m Britons or 12% of the population have been infected with Covid. This is despite the initial success of the rollout of the Covid vaccination. To be fair the situation with Covid is fluid. No statistician is yet willing to make conclusions about the success of individual governments in mitigating the impact of Covid. What we do know is that Britain has suffered a disproportionately high number of Covid fatalities and in the last two weeks the number of Covid deaths in Britain has been twice as high as in any other country in Europe and Scandinavia. Serco, a private company on good terms with Tory ministers, was handed the responsibility of implementing a Covid test and trace scheme. Without ever managing to deliver Covid test and trace to the majority of British people our private sector providers managed to swallow without gulping £37bn of taxpayers money. The NHS might be on the verge of collapse and too many British obese and disease ridden but the dividends for Serco shareholders are healthy. This is the way it has been since a certain shrill lady shook her handbag and wrecked British industry. One moment of exquisite hypocrisy in the Conservative Party Conference was delegates clapping NHS workers that this government has left clapped out.
Talking of the NHS and its struggles takes us back to the births of Pfeffel and his relatives. And the lies, of course. Right now the Home Secretary Priti Patel is polishing the barrels on the gunboats that will deter immigrants. There are people that think Ms Patel is not the kind of woman from whom you would want to buy a moral compass. Pfeffel must be concerned about the manic glint in the eye of Home Secretary because he has reminded us all, more than once actually, that he is the grandson of two Turkish immigrants. Such a man is not likely to be inhumane to refugees. It makes sense except that Pfeffel is neither humane nor the son of two Turkish immigrants.
This is what happened. Grandma popped over from Turkey to use a British hospital for the birth of her child. Grandpa meanwhile stayed in Turkey. The plan was that grandma would return to grandpa and in their homeland husband and wife would stay out of hospitals and breed descendants. I know, no one can be blamed for thinking if only. But grandma died and the child left in England was moved sideways to an Englishman called Wilf Johnson. Grandpa stayed in Turkey. The grandparents of Pfeffel are indeed Turkish. The blonde hair was inherited from the Goth descendants that settled around the Baltic. The grandparents of Pfeffel were not, though, immigrants. But at the time people were talking about immigration, and, to be fair to Pfeffel, his Turkish grandmother did come over to stay in a hospital and give birth. There are worse lies on his CV.
If TV screens have been filled with images from the 2021 Tory Party Conference, there have also been reminders of past Labour conferences. BBC TV launched a documentary about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The series benefits from Blair and Brown being more candid than normal but it suffers because all the talking heads are Blairites. Real criticism of Blairism and its consequences, intended and unintended, is absent. Matthew Taylor is the current CEO of the NHS Confederation. Prior to that he was employed as a political strategist by the Labour Party. His father is Laurie Taylor, the chap that hosts a good Radio 4 show called Thinking Aloud. In the Blair and Brown documentary the astute Matthew Taylor observed that the speeches of the two former Labour leaders reflected their backgrounds. Blair is an ex-lawyer, and Brown is the son of a minister of the Church of Scotland. The speeches of Blair adopted the style of a courtroom lawyer and were combative. Brown reminded his audience of their moral duty and preached with the intention of collecting converts. Pfeffel has acquired a reputation as a philanderer and seducer. Fame and wealth can take a man a long way with the ladies but lies, flattery and vague promises remain essential armoury. In his conference speech Johnson lied about the achievements of his government, flattered the voters with nonsense about British exceptionalism and made vague promises about an off the cuff future economy that will have high wages and all the rest. Pfeffel has, of course, been peddling lies, flattery and vague promises for some time. Like a girl that has doubts since discovering the same spiel was given to another girl, his supporters should be concerned about the promiscuity of these familiar messages.
Howard Jackson has had eleven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest book Offended Shadows is now available here.