6 BEER FOR MY HORSES
The writers Kipling, Chesterton and Burke preached patrician entitlement and ordinary folk knowing their place. In the world of these writers good people wear smart clothes and make witty conversation and the bad are scruffy and grunt. It has been a phew kind of a week for Pfeffel. The jokes have been sparse, and he is not the best at wearing clothes. But Pfeffel must have been thinking of Chesterton when he appeared in a hospital without his mask to pose for pictures. Under pressure Pfeffel hides, make that runs away, sometimes to a plane, sometimes to another country and once, when countries and planes were not to hand, even to a fridge. This time, though, a little like the ubiquitous postman in the famous Father Brown story by Chesterton, Pfeffel was hiding in plain sight.
Pfeffel did not wear a mask for his trip to Hexham Hospital. Those columnists that accuse Pfeffel of having arrogance and contempt for mask laden NHS workers are right but the newspaper men and women have, like the witnesses in the Chesterton story, failed to see what was right in front of their eyes. Even without devious Dom in the building the clever advisors in Number Ten knew that Pfeffel needed to be not just seen but appear innocent. The mask and suit jacket were abandoned. Pfeffel rolled up his shirt sleeves and looked like an ineffectual clown. He did this because Tory buffoons are supposed to appeal to the scruffy folk that grunt. In the stories by Frank Richards we were expected to forgive Billy Bunter for stealing what his schoolmates had bought from the tuck shop. The gluttony of Bunter may have been relentless but he was overweight, hopeless at sports and always hungry. Poor tubby Bunter.
Not just Billy Bunter likes to feed. If the British press know on which side their bread is buttered, they still have appetites. Left wing idealists and foreigners are what really suit their taste buds but in extreme circumstances they can swallow right wing stodge which right now is what they are doing. The frenzy began with Owen Paterson but he soon became toast, especially when all the way from the Caribbean came an exotic dish called Geoffrey Cox. The British Press has reported that this man has earned £6m on the side since he was an MP. The annual salary of a British MP is not quite £82,000 which puts them in the top 5% of wage earners. What could be worse? Well, a lot actually.
Attorney General Cox is employed to give legal advice and ensure that the government never forgets the Burkean ideals of patrician integrity. This superior Brit is supposed to qualify because he has impartial judgement and is incorruptible. For those skills the Attorney General is paid a salary of around £99,000 to supplement his earnings as an MP. The expenses claims of MPs average around £100,000 a year. Between them our well-dressed Tory MPs are claiming £3m a year in extra household expenses. Why MPs need second homes subsidised by the taxpayer while civil servants are obliged to stay in hotels when they work away from home is a mystery or it would be if we did not have Burke to remind us of patrician entitlement. Geoffrey Cox rents out his Battersea flat while claiming expenses for what is supposed to be an essential second home. 137 MPs rent out their ‘essential’ subsidised second homes. Pause to think or relish the absurdity. The figures quoted for MPs and their second jobs and expenses are also fine tuned by accountants. No one should assume accuracy and probity. In the same year that Geoffrey Cox forgot to declare £320,000 of the money that he had earned he claimed 49p for a carton of milk. Only a fool would trust such people. Ernest Hemingway once said to Scott Fitzgerald, ‘The only difference between the rich and the other people is that the rich have more money.’ Hemingway was insisting that the rich were not superior. Papa, that was only the half of it.
But we still have the £6m that was earned on the side by Geoffrey Cox. We remember him because he is the well-heeled Attorney General that looked the other way when Pfeffel had the idea that it would be a great wheeze to prorogue parliament and abandon the rule of law. Cox has earned his six million quid by working for law firms based in the Cayman Islands. Another pause for thought or another breath to relish even more absurdities. Geoffrey Cox picked up his parliamentary salaries while spending several months in the Cayman Islands talking to law firms determined to minimise the money collected by the Exchequer. It would take a hell of a lot of Zoom meetings and a very reliable laptop to ensure that his tasks for money seeking law firms did not take away hours from his working week as an MP.
The Cayman Islands is a tax haven. It is where the rich and crooked dump money to avoid paying tax. The law firms earn their money by looking for loopholes in the tax legislation of various governments including the one in Whitehall, the government to which the Attorney General swears loyalty. Sunshine and cash exist in abundance in the Cayman Islands. The law firms can employ the best. Of course, no law firm that would employ the British Attorney General as a consultant would be involved with people that laundered money. Pause for breath again and perhaps a wry smile. Pfeffel has told us that Britain is not a corrupt country. Nevertheless, Pfeffel, we do worry. The jokes are not quite so funny anymore.
And the old jokes are rumoured to be the best. No doubt tricky lawyers and accountants have clever and modern schemes to help the rich become richer but the old chestnuts are still around. While Pfeffel and Carrie have been staring at £850 rolls of wallpaper and holding hands there have been during this government a record number of nominees for the House of Lords. Britain is the only country where the second chamber in parliaments or assemblies is larger than the legislature. We have 800 members in the House of Lords. The only country that has a bigger second chamber than the UK is China. The totalitarian Chinese alternative, though, is elected and also has many fewer members per head of population.
15 of the last 16 Tory Treasurers that were nominated for the second chamber each donated £3m to the Tory Party. The Independent newspaper has reported that £3m is widely accepted amongst MPs as a going rate for a peerage. If this were a movie, Cressida Dick would be the fearless Commissioner of Police of Metropolis inspiring a police force to seek out corruption. But no danger of life imitating art at the Met. The obvious conclusion is that the Met should have already put a stop to this nonsense
Neither should we forget Owen Paterson and the decision of Pfeffel to defend him. Paterson has been mistaken by some for being small time but no need for brown envelopes with these lads and lassies. Nadine Dorries earns an income as a writer of fiction. She is an exception. Most MPs with second jobs are employed as part time consultants or company board members. Tory MPs last year alone earned £5m in this way. The tabs and hourly rates for these jobs are not small and at the risk of being unkind they do not equate to the skill set of an average MP. Most MPs earn their second income lobbying on behalf of vested interests. That in itself is a dubious practice but Paterson, and a few others no doubt, crossed the line. There was enough murk in there for him to be investigated since 2019. The impulse of Pfeffel to save old mate Paterson coincided with a need for the PM to undermine the scrutiny of Kathryn Stone, the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Stone is curious about who paid for the refurbishment of Number Ten and the holiday in Marbella. Andrea Leadsom and Jacob Rees Mogg were soon on hand to help Pfeffel remove Stone from her job and redefine the Commission. Mogg and the rest failed, and Stone is still there.
How it is all connected we will no doubt dsicover, perhaps in time for Christmas. Meanwhile we can think about the curious connections that exist between British horse racing and the always waiting in the stalls private health industry. Apart from having a keen interest in horse racing Owen Paterson was employed on a part time basis by two firms. These were Randox and Lynn’s County Foods. Randox has sponsored the Aintree Grand National from 2017. In March 2020, Randox was awarded without competition a government Covid testing contract worth £133m. In November 2020 another contract worth £346.5m was awarded. The government said that Randox won the contracts on merit. Little evidence has been provided to support that claim. The first six months of Covid testing was disastrous but it did not prevent a second contract being awarded, so much for rewarding performance. The wife of Owen Paterson committed suicide on the birthday of her husband. Rose Paterson was the chair of Aintree Racecourse and a member of the Jockey Board at the same time as Dido Harding, the lady that in 2020 agreed to the Cheltenham Festival going ahead and as a result created a Covid spike in Cheltenham.
Dido Harding can be described as careless. She was chair of the TalkTalkGroup when two teenage boys hacked the company and stole the personal details of at least 157,000 customers. Despite her appalling track record Health Secretary Matt Hancock put Harding in charge of Covid test and trace. Harding authorised contracts worth £37bn. The test and trace scheme has not been a success. Matt Hancock has strong connections with Newmarket racecourse and the horseracing industry. Apart from approving the appointment of Harding and being disturbingly relaxed about £37bn going down the drain Hancock also approved the two contracts with horseracing supporters Randox. The cynics will say so what, these people get things done. Not quite. The Times reported that between last December and June there were 7,000 companies registered to only five addresses in London that claimed furlough payments worth £473m. In the last 30 years the number of hospital beds has halved. The money has to come from somewhere, I suppose.
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.