4 MUCKY KIDS
The phrase appears often on bad days, those times when fortune appears determined to pass by and land elsewhere. Muck goes to muck can mean that the people that are lucky in life are always those that already have money, the begrudged response one hears in the local pub to an already affluent raffle winner. Muck to muck also suggests a vague understanding of how modern economic systems disproportionately reward capital, in most instances very vague understandings. And just in case that is not sufficiently judgemental, muck to muck can be used to condemn the affluent and the methods they have used to acquire their riches.
Whilst the GDP growth rate fell during the Covid pandemic the wealth of the billionaires in the world increased to $5.5 trillion. The richest thousand people in the UK are now worth £771bn. In 2014 they were worth £519bn. This increase of almost a third occurred while the budgets of local authorities were being cut, wages of public sector workers were frozen and foodbanks became a permanent fixture. Muck goes to muck, and because Sunak has found £4bn worth of tax relief for bankers, the flow continues. All of which should make us wonder why the rich are so paranoid about taxes. Much has been written about how the Brexit referendum was nothing more than a response to the divisions within the Tory Party. The latest revelation is that David Cameron in 2013 pleaded for Angela Merkel to give a special dispensation to the UK trusts in offshore tax havens. Cameron wanted the trusts excluded from forthcoming EU plans to clamp down on tax avoidance. Merkel said no, and within 12 months donations from the British super-rich flooded into the UKIP party. EU leave campaign groups were launched around the same time. When thought about this way the outcome of the Brexit vote almost feels inevitable. Muck goes to the mucky.
This has been a quiet week for Pfeffel. Sitting on the front bench and behind his Covid mask, he looked like someone thinking about his next holiday. Or he did until he appeared in the self-congratulatory promotion video that followed the budget. The dialogue between the two men resembled the chat we used to get from cloying country and western singers. No doubt muck in various forms has over the years landed on his bulky frame but the high powered muck that is talked about in budgets is not the subject in which Pfeffel excels. The heroes of Pfeffel are old-fashioned conquerors and land grabbers rather than the whizz kids of high finance. Although he has never had to cope with the income levels of his working class supporters Pfeffel is better at spending money rather than making it grow.
Stanley Johnson, the man responsible for creating Pfeffel, is not rich compared to the friends that Pfeffel acquired at Eton and Oxford. The aristocratic connections of Pfeffel evaporated when his grandmother died and his father Stanley was shifted sideways to English step-parents. The domestic life of Pfeffel has been described as comfortable but mitigated by domestic sloppiness rather than extreme affluence. A country cottage and surrounding land on Exmoor is always welcome, and Stanley Johnson used his academic qualifications and training to acquire well-paid work as an analyst. He has worked for the World Bank and the European Commission. The photographs taken in the family home of Pfeffel when he was a child suggest rich Tories with bohemian aspirations tainted by a slight trace of hippie overspill. If privileged retreat was important to the Johnsons, the status symbols that dominate the living rooms and garages of the very rich were not a priority for the family. Even his friends think the roots of Pfeffel had slapdash elements. The fastidious might be tempted to use the words a little mucky. We all change but considering his childhood environment it is a surprise that Pfeffel felt compelled to use taxpayers money to fund the extravagant refurbishing of the flat at 10 Downing Street. No one that ever visited the Johnson farm in Exmoor came away muttering about expensive wallpaper in the living room.
Some of the careless instincts of Pfeffel might have influenced the recent budget of Rishi Sunak, the sometimes mate and sometimes enemy of PM Pfeffel. It is more than a quarter of a century since the Tories used budgets to reflate the economy. This time round Sunak has convinced himself that two economic estimates will allow him to spend some cash and get a well-done slap on the back from Pfeffel. The Treasury is an institution where accountants pretend to be economists. These accountants are claiming that inflation in the next year will reach 4.5% and the economy will grow by 6.5%. Inflation will happen because of supply shortages that will drive up prices. After the economic collapse caused by Covid it is no surprise that there has been record growth in GDP as business has returned to something like normal. No one, though, should assume that the predicted 6.5% growth rate is accurate. Treasury forecasters do not have an impressive record but they are obliged to estimate the impossible whilst having to deal with political pressure. High levels of growth are likely to continue because there is much to be recovered after Covid but unless someone is planning a secret Keynesian green deal type revolution the rate of economic growth will eventually slide back to the parsimonious levels of annual GDP increase created by Thatcherism. The question is when. Neither will the growth any time soon bring the economy and living standards up to the levels that existed before the financial crash of 2008 and the wilful austerity programmes implemented from 2010. This bizarre economic regime prevailed while billionaires were increasing their wealth by figures well over output and productivity gains. There is some sticking plaster in the 2021 budget from Rishi Sunak but the bruises, cuts and injuries will continue to remain. Willing to please bureaucrats might have been able to slip into economic plans a continuing high growth rate that is exceptional but even after that sleight of hand the future feels grim.
The predicted 4.4% inflation figure is not likely to be disputed. Empty supermarket shelves and horrific price increases from the utility companies should reassure any gloomy forecaster. 4.4% inflation may cause concern but it also helps maintain the spirits of the Treasury charmers. After 4.4% inflation arrives the extra money that Sunak has pledged to government departments will look far less impressive. Not that everyone thinks he has been generous. Rishi Sunak repeats the same absurdities about balancing the books and the cost of borrowing. Loans are expensive, says Sunak, but he ignores the alternative ways a government can find money.
Rather than face criticism the Chancellor has been overestimated. This has happened before. Muck, as in the famous phrase, has to go somewhere, and Tory ladies with authentic muck in their eyes have described him as Dishy Rishi. He does, of course, own at least twelve houses and that helps. The words ‘at least’ are important. Dishy Rishi is as careless about the number of houses he owns as Pfeffel is about the number of kids he has fathered. The £10 eat out subsidy devised by Sunak caused the Tory press to fill their front pages with colour photos of Sunak serving customers in a Nando restaurant. This premature and irresponsible action contributed to the high number of Covid deaths in the UK. Even the not so well-informed British public have realised that the stamp duty relief he introduced did nothing to help the young to buy houses and has raised prices for houses that are already over-priced.
For the Budget presentation Covid masks were worn on the faces of Tory MPs. Because Sunak was doing all the talking, he was excused. If Pfeffel looked restrained behind his Covid mask, he did permit himself the occasional scene stealing pout. A week earlier Rees Mogg had argued that MPs did not need to wear a mask because Tory MPs were with people they knew. Even for a man that lacks a reputation for convincing intellectual argument this remark was a surprise. Rees Mogg is a fine example of muck going to muck. His wealth is a well-kept secret but the estimate is at least £100m. Odd how the words ‘at least’ keep appearing when we discuss these folk.
Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator, and his peculiar Scottish accent alone makes him one of the better arguments against privilege and public schools. Despite advocating inequality throughout his adult life Nelson claimed with pride that the 2021 budget was for the working poor. Translated, this means a below inflation increase in an already low minimum wage and a modest reduction in marginal rates of deduction in Universal Credit that, when compared to the £20 weekly reduction, is inconsequential. Initial calculations from reviewers have indicated that three quarters of the British population will be worse off after the Budget is implemented. This is before the fine print has been examined. Much of the extra expenditure promised will either not occur or fail to be delivered or be offset by reductions in existing budgets. Just £1.7bn has been allocated to achieving the great general election promise of levelling up. That would help a tourist industry weakened by the impact of Brexit but no one should expect it to refashion an underperforming region.
It is not daredevil to predict that the budget will fail. It is the desperate response of neoliberals to a cost of living crisis. These are half-hearted measures designed to provide subsequent excuses rather than solutions. Those who want to understand the economic problems of the UK need to think about really dangerous muck, the stuff that is now being pumped out by water companies and is polluting rivers, lakes and the coast. The government has justified their cynical license by saying that disposing of the sewage in a way that does not cause harm would cost £660m. There has been no corroboration of this figure, and it is regarded by many as fictitious. These days in the UK muck just does not go to muck. It is everywhere.
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.