12 WHAT LIES AHEAD
I remember this from my mother. ‘A liar is worse than a thief,’ she used to say. ‘A thief steals because he wants something. A liar just wants to stop you from knowing the truth.’ I doubt that Immanuel Kant was as fierce as my mother but he had similar reservations about lies. Kant said that lying corrupts our basic humanity because it deprives us of our ability to make rational choices. Rational choices were required in 2016 when the British people voted on Brexit and in 2019 when they chose between Pfeffel and Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister. We all know what happened, and if Kant had been around he would have said either there you go or I told you so. The British are now relishing economic masochism. And a man that likes to use the word cripes is the prime mInister of the United Kingdom.
The lies of Pfeffel can be trivial or serious. He is a man that tells lies in those hesitant moments when the rest of us fret and pause for breath. This happened on a visit to a hospital when Pfeffel, despite the presence of TV cameras in the corridor, denied that the media were present. Some time after the London Olympics had ended, presumably at least nine months, Johnson claimed that there had been a boom in British births. Despite the best efforts of Pfeffel to make a positive individual contribution and a charmless boast that he was ‘bursting with spunk’ the birth rate in the UK fell.
If lies are a form of aggression then Pfeffell hits harder when he has mates. Conspiracies require a collection of people to bend the rules in their favour and deny others their rights. This always involves the shameless telling of lies. When Pfeffel and his mates gang together they create a strategy for repetition that will drown the truth. Whatever the intentions, this constitutes a conspiracy. Not all is fair in love and war as the conspiracists claim. This is why there are parliamentary codes. The Nolan Principles appeared in 1995 and in response to the Tory sleaze scandals that precipitated the arrival of the Blair government. There are seven principles and they apply to those that hold public office. The seven are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. Lord Nolan was the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. He died in 2007 a mere 12 years after the principles were introduced. If Lord Nolan had been younger and lived longer and seen what we have now, he might have been tempted by an alternative career in stand up comedy. If the name Committee on Standards in Public Life has a familiar ring, it is because Pfeffel recently tried to abolish it.
The truth is that we have had organised conspiracies for some time. Peter Oborne in his essential book The Assault On Truth believes the rot began with Tony Blair. Oborne is a right wing and principled journalist. There are people that think of him as a romantic. His critics call themselves realists but what the detractors of Oborne fail to realise is how pragmatism too often accommodates creeping conspiracies that, to quote Kant, ‘undermine our basic humanity’. Oborne is right to identify Blair and his henchman Alistair Campbell as villains but he gives too much credit to Thatcher. She may have observed parliamentary codes but her governments were always underhand and deceitful. Thatcher and her acolytes reclassified those out of work as sick in order to massage politically unpalatable unemployment figures. Working with amoral advertising companies and propagandist press, Thatcher did everything she could to prevent the rational choices that are essential for basic humanity.
But although the Thatcherites made an exception for their hate figure Tony Benn they did attempt to avoid outright lies. And impartial civil servants were listened to by Thatcher cabinets but only to a point. Government statistics became increasingly unreliable. Lies have now become so acceptable, the enemies of Kantian basic humanity thought it would be a jolly wheeze to paint a dirty big one on the side of a bus. The extra £350m a week for the NHS promised in the Brexit campaign has not materialised because it was always pure fiction. Pfeffel, though, continues to be offended when this lie is challenged. In 2021 he brazenly asserted to the Liaison Committee in Westminster that the £350m per week for the NHS was an underestimation. The truth is that the debate about whether Britain is a net contributor or gainer to the EU has nothing to do with the funding for the NHS. Neither has EU membership prevented other European governments spending a higher percentage of their GDP on healthcare than the United Kingdom. This obvious point was not made in the Brexit debate.
But by then we were beyond rational choices. Pfeffel said there would be no customs checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and, dismissing critics as nit pickers creating piffle, he uttered nonsense about the boundaries between London boroughs. We now have a border in the Irish Sea and time delaying customs checks as goods are transported between citizens of the same country. In the 2019 election campaign Pfeffel claimed there would be 40 new hospitals and record spending on the NHS. There may not be a lot of muscle there but Pfeffel loves to beat his chest. The intention is to build two new hospitals. Estimates are always subject to rounding but even the failed agricultural plan of Stalin had a lower error rate than 1900%. The Covid pandemic has necessitated an increase in NHS spending but an awful lot of that expenditure has benefited friends of the Conservative Party. This explains why current post-Covid NHS spending in the UK is comparable to Europe but we have half as many beds per head of population. The superior test and trace scheme in Germany has been quoted as costing between £600m and £700m. The inadequate British private sector test and trace organisation has incurred costs of £37bn. This model of private sector efficiency has overspent its original budget of £22bn by 40%. And as we are talking money, before the Labour Party had actually issued a manifesto in the 2019 election the people around Pfeffel claimed that non-existent proposals of Labour would somehow necessitate an extra £1.2trn in government spending. The lies of Pfeffel about Labour spending are like football transfers. Once you put the number 350m on the side of a bus the only way is up.
No one suffered from the lies and conspiracies as much as Jeremy Corbyn. Political commentator and media personality from the 1960s Malcolm Muggeridge argued that politicians could be divided into two camps, vicars and bookmakers. Five minutes in the company of Jeremy Corbyn and it is obvious that modest habits and self-effacement define his character. He belongs with the Muggeridge vicars. It did not help. The opponents of Corbyn justified their vitriolic campaign against him by saying that Corbyn intended to dismantle capitalism. The election soon became a defence against revolution. Corbyn and his policies, though, had received a positive reception at the CBI conference before the 2019 election. Revolution had never been proposed by Corbyn and his policymakers. Corbyn merely made the tautological observation that capitalism, like everything, would benefit from modest reform.
Peter Oborne recognises that each untruth becomes a step towards the line where deceits become world changing outrages. When that happens the outrageous come forward and the pragmatists hold their breath. Welcome Donald Trump and, in case we forget their disappointment when he lost his second Presidential election, his British superfans and lookalikes Farage and Pfeffel. Amongst the pragmatists, BBC man Andrew Marr was as unaware as any of the pending outrages. The overambitious toadie left unchallenged the Pfeffel lies that a future Labour Government would dismantle MI5 and permit unregulated immigration.
And now we have Lord Geidt wriggling over his previous judgement that Pfeffel did not break the ministerial code when he used money from donor Lord Brownlow to refurbish the flat at Number 10. We are talking about an accommodation that Pfeffel described ‘as a bit of a tip’. So much for the housekeeping standards of Theresa May and David Cameron. Well, it would be a tip if you are wondering why there are no £850 rolls of wallpaper above the fireplace. If only before making his judgement he had read the What’s App exchanges that occurred between Pfeffel and Brownlow, now sighs Lord Geidt. These are the conversations that Pfeffel said did not exist, an act that compounded his crime. Yet the original judgement by Geidt that there has been no transgression of the ministerial code in the refurbishment of the flat in Number Ten has not been revised. Lord Geidt has instead described in sensitive terms how he is a disappointed man. Because Pfeffel likes people to be happy, he has lowered his head, revealed he feels humbled and said something about sincere apologies. Geidt may be nursing a wounded heart but he should think himself lucky. Imagine being a woman willing to accommodate a bursting Peffel and then, after being abandoned, having to hear all this nonsense.
Pfeffel, of course, would be a fool to change an ingrained habit. At the age of 23 he was dismissed from The Times for inventing a quote. It did him no harm because he was subsequently employed as the Brussels correspondent by the Daily Telegraph. Dry analytical reports were replaced with Pfeffelian confections about the supposed excesses of the European Union. The japes of Pfeffel may not have merited serious thought but they did ensure that the divisions over Europe within the Conservative Party became entrenched. Without that entrenchment the Brexit referendum would never have happened, and without the vote for Brexit humble but bursting Pfeffel would be now editor of the Daily Telegraph and not be prime minister of the United Kingdom and responsible for an increasingly disenchanted and impoverished people. Thanks to lies our Pfeffel got what he wanted but lost what he had. All of which would not have surprised Kant and my mother.
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.