11 THE PANIC IS ON
Secure in the knowledge that no one would ever dismiss him as a milquetoast, strong man Pfeffel is reduced to now worrying about being toast of the wholemeal variety. The nibbles that have persisted throughout the reign of wannabee world king Pfeffel have become crunches. Timing might be the essence of genius but slick juggling becomes especially difficult around Christmas. Trees, grub, booze, presents, cards, visits to and by relatives and watching indoor and outdoor Christmas TV specials, all guarantee frenetic activity. The afternoons are dark, and the minutes on the clock rush into one another. Covid may have increased the torment last Christmas but it did provide some relief in the calendars of loyal British subjects. There was no rest, though, for our leaders in Downing Street and their acolytes at the headquarters of the Conservative Party. Masters of the Universe are not as acquainted with slumber as the rest of us. Nor do they like being denied. For them the parties continued. At least Tory campaigner Ben Mallet managed to get his feet up. We know this happened because there is a photograph of this sozzled stereotype lying on the floor.
And now we have the hangover. Pfeffel sometimes thinks it is amusing to use the word ‘crikey’. Right now, Pfeffel should be thinking about an alternative plural for the various calamities. A bad week of crikes ended with the Tories losing the parliamentary seat of North Shropshire. Like the public school chums that responded to the thefts and lies of Billy Bunter, the locals in Shropshire have reacted to the deceit of Pfeffel by hiding their rock cakes. Sacrificing more than just a few currants, the government managed to avoid a record swing to the opposing party. But a 34.2 % shift from the Tories to the Lib Dems is up there with the best. Once it became apparent that Tories were flocking to the Lib Dems in protest against, well, whatever you want to think of, Labour voters joined the fun and swelled the Lib Dem vote. An almost 23,000 Tory majority was transformed into a not quite 6,000 Lib Dem majority. Labour leader Keir Starmer had previously decided not to withdraw the Labour candidate. As on other issues, he was warned but Starmer reacted in his normal prissy way. More of this and the Labour Party will cease to be the recognised opposition to anything.
Rishi Sunak is the sociopath that warms Tory hearts. While all this was happening Sunak was enjoying the warmth of a Californian winter in one of his at least 12 houses and keeping his head below the white surf. He was also having talks with US health care companies. We all know them. These world leaders charge the most for health care and deliver the worst results. But then somebody noticed inflation had risen to 5.1% and that Pfeffel had announced Covid restrictions that would put a hole in the balance sheets of the hospitality industry. For now the surfboard is back in house whatever number. Sheepish Sunak was put on a plane back home. The sinister intentions, though, remain.
The same Covid restrictions announced by Pfeffel last Sunday included a mandate for office workers to work from home where possible. Tory MPs may have a neanderthal understanding of macro-economics but they can soon spot a threat to their income as landlords. 105 of them refused to vote for the government bill that proposed restrictions to mitigate the latest outbreak of Covid. These included showing vaccination certificates to gain entry to football matches, concerts, the cinema and so on. Nonsense was spoken by the Tory rebels about Britain not being the type of place where people have to show passes on request. But then someone noticed that all of the 105 Tory rebel MPs had voted for the imposition of identity cards at polling booths in future elections. With hypocrisy like that and swings of 34.2% in by-elections there are already people suggesting what the Tories can do with their electoral identity cards.
So far the support of the government by Brexiteers in working class areas has remained constant. Not unlike members of the Wagon Train TV series that never reached the promised destination of Sacramento, California but earned a lot of money for a Hollywood studio, these loyal dopes are still waiting for the six pledges of the Brexit campaign to be implemented by the flag waving British government. Two pledges included in the six were the scrapping of VAT on fuel bills and extra cash for the NHS. Fuel bills are rising in price, and the NHS is collapsing.
The country is in a bad situation, and Pfeffel and his cronies are great material for foreign cartoonists. Whatever Pfeffel says about the vaccination success the government management of Covid has been disastrous, and anyone that argues the opposite is not showing sufficient respect for the dead. Defenders of the present government are also remarkably relaxed about the £37bn wasted on the test and trace scheme. Britain remains a low wage and low skilled economy, and blood on his hands George Osborne has wrecked the infrastructure that not only kept people alive but provided a fit workforce. All that, though, has been ignored by the Tory voters that ignored disaster after disaster and until recently kept the Tory Party in the lead in opinion polls. For most of the last two years it has appeared that the future in the UK will be defined by an uninterrupted and never ending right wing government. The sudden loss in popularity of the Tories obliges us to conclude that either the British take Christmas very seriously or the capers at Number Ten and CCHQ were the events that tipped already tilted scales.
Pfeffel would, again like Billy Bunter, have saved himself an awful lot of trouble if he had not told lies. The fondness for untruths is how Pfeffel crosses the line between Falstaff and Billy Bunter. Not just Shakespeare but Tory chiefs understand the appeal of Falstaff. Defiant and self-regarding hedonism is a British trait and has been from well before British football fans wrecked continental bars and cafes. Shameless rogues are indulged because we can admire their audacity. Add gluttony and it is possible to imagine them as equals suffering the consequences of their appetites. Pfeffel has been tolerated so far because he shamelessly endorses human weakness. When his political ambition was not quite so focussed he even urged us to vote Tory so that stout British yeomen could all enjoy BMWs and women with big breasts. None of that nonsense harmed Pfeffel.
The lies, though, are different. The cliche that a cover up will always cause more trouble than the offence is now as old and almost as uninspired as the braces that bleary-eyed Ben Mallett wore when he was photographed lying on the floor. The initial response of Pfeffel to the party affair at Downing Street was to say there had been no parties. Later when evidence emerged of enthusiastic celebrations he claimed that he had not attended any of the parties. Of course, he was wrong on both counts. There are various theories why Pfeffel is a compulsive liar. Some have argued that he is a product of English public schools that stifle empathy and massage arrogance. The man has always been evasive. He became President of the Oxford Union by pretending to be both right and left wing. He repeated the same trick in the election campaigns to be Mayor of London. Something, though, has happened that has transformed insouciant evasion into compulsive deceit.
Tales about Stanley Johnson, the father of Pfeffel, suggest a more intellectual version of the restless conman that Le Carre created in his novel A Perfect Spy. Such people have the ability to have the last word whatever the circumstances. If we like them taking the risks that the rest of us prefer to avoid, at some point the cumulative betrayals leave their scars. Pfeffel, again like his father, has been an industrious philanderer. No one generates lies so much as someone maintaining clandestine sexual affairs. Often the lies of philanderers are so outlandish they create astonishment. While the other partner is catching his or her breath the philanderer has changed the subject. Brinkmanship also plays a part. Refuting the lie has consequences best avoided. No doubt there are events and relationships in the childhood of Pfeffel that have shaped his character but the man lies because he always has and because he has probably escaped retribution in ridiculous circumstances. Lying for Pfeffel has become a habit.
This chaos, though, is bigger than the weaknesses of Pfeffel. At this point columnist Nic Cohen deserves a mention. There are unsavoury rumours about Nic Cohen. How true they are we will have to wonder. What is clear is that Cohen last weekend was groping for an idea when he wrote his Observer column. Cohen polished the old chestnut that the term neoliberal was meaningless. He used the absurd and tired notion that the economics of Milton Friedman were never implemented by Thatcher and her successors, that those governments responded to events and challenges rather than ideology. Cohen has to believe this second-hand bilge because it helps him justify the actions of the Tony Blair governments. Well, there is such a thing as neoliberalism and it consists of ever increasing privatisation of government departments and the utility industries, low taxation for the rich, regressive indirect taxation for the general public, a reduced welfare state, and a rejection of Keynesian economics and its ambition to maintain full employment. Underpinning these core policies, which in themselves do not resolve particular issues, is a dream of a promised land where unrestricted and amply rewarded private enterprise will unleash innovation, a high growth in output and productivity. The wagon train continues to roll towards the promised land. The wheels are fixed from time to time but, unlike the economics of Keynes, there are no mechanisms to solve problems. These dreams are self-serving articles of faith and they have created in Britain a dysfunctional economy, state and society. And this reliance on faith rather than applied practicality is why the chaos and scandals will continue. Pfeffel exists as an amusing distraction, someone to occupy our attention while the plunder continues. His father should be proud of him.
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.