There are not many British skies that are free of clouds but on the 20th of May 2020 there was only blue in the skies when Pfeffel and his cronies had a party in the garden of Number Ten.  The skies were also cloud free this week when Pfeffel was obliged to apologise for the high jinks.  Despite the surprising January sunshine it has not been a fun time for the British establishment.   And this is without the weekend revelations about the Number Ten partying the night before the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh.  That mayhem will be considered here at a later date.  Before all that the English cricket team failed to win a single match in the Ashes test series in Australia.  The four defeats were heavy, and repetitive batting collapses suggest that British fibre these days has become ruffage free and something like rice pudding without the lumps.  

A uniform can help a man to raise his chest and stiffen his backbone which is one of the reasons they are popular with the Royal Family.  In the future Prince Andrew will not be seen in military uniform.  He has been stripped of his Royal status by the Queen.  No one should be surprised.   In the past Royal families have been world beaters in matricide, fratricide, infanticide and the rest.  Without the medals and brass buttons the Prince appears to be as fibre free as the rest.   Manhattan federal court judge Lewis Kaplan has insisted that the Prince is obliged to attend an American court to answer allegations that he had sex with a seventeen year old girl procured by Jeffrey Epstein.   Majority opinion is against the Prince appearing in court to answer the accusations of Virginia Guiffre.   Those with the calculators reckon a $5m settlement will make the case go away.   So far the Prince has been using his own funds but if an extra five million is needed, a deal-dealing mother and British taxpayers are on standby.

Like the Irish comedian used to say, there is more.   A British court ruled that the Government broke the law when it awarded PPE contracts worth £1000m to companies without inviting competitive tenders.  What the Government refers to as the VIP lane and the rest of us think as mates rates between Tories has been decreed unlawful.  The bad news for the Government is that the Good Law Project, a team of slick and determined lawyers led by Jolyon Maugham, is pursuing more actions against the Government including, and this one is a cracker, suing the Met for failing to investigate law breaking in Number Ten at the party that happened on 18th December 2020.  The newspapers have reported 100 people attended that yuletide gathering.   And what goes around comes around because 100 invitations were issued for the party that occurred on 20.5.20.   Where is Claude Rains to round up the usual suspects when you need him? Only 30 to 40 attended the May party which must say something about how seriously the Brits take Christmas.

There are enough multi-page spreads in the newspapers for everyone to know the details but so far we have not had people wondering over the numerological significance of the date 20.5.20.  At the time of the apology to Parliament five parties had been identified which is interesting because Pfeffel, in what now seems like more innocent times, alleged that there had been none.   The latest number is seventeen.  All those events have generated criticism or, in view of the people involved, opprobrium.  The May party had significance because it not only added to the numbers but exposed the previous deceits.   The skies may be clear but down below amongst supposedly responsible humans there is much murk.  Pfeffel and the crowd around him have the obnoxious taints that the powerful attract.  The callous contempt of self-satisfied scoundrels is tarnished further by hypocrisy which, of course, is the charge that is used mindlessly against the left.   Ordinary people that broke lockdown restrictions were subjected to punishment.  100,000 lawbreakers received fines ranging from £200 to £12,000.  Even five parties at Number Ten is five too many.  But as crimes the parties do not compare to the Tory sins of Grenfell, Windrush, increasing food insecurity and homelessness, money being directed from the poor to the rich, defence of tax havens and the rest. 

This is not the only irony.  Pfeffel is what the British describe as a bon viveur.  He is witty, extrovert, sociable and has a very caring attitude towards his penis but he is not despite all appearances a party animal.  His serious drinking occurs amongst close friends and confidants, either at dinner parties or restaurants.  When obliged he will make a brief appearance at a party, say hello to the crowd and drink a solitary glass of wine before leaving.  Not that this is an excuse for what happened.   Only fools believe Pfeffel when he says he thought he was attending a work event.  Seeing your wife on the lawn knocking back the gin and forty other  people chatting and quaffing wine would have alerted even the dumbest.   Pfeffel, though, and again this is no defence, is more than likely to have regarded his attendance as work. It is this tangential connection with a kind of truth that has contributed to the design of the apology by Pfeffel in Parliament.  The accused went further and argued that he thought the event was technically within the guidelines and he added that might yet prove to be the case.  These are the claims that are supposedly being investigated by senior civil servant Sue Gray.  Now, no one should make allegations without evidence but we live in a world where the crime of a prime minister is being investigated by one of his Whitehall lackeys.  Apologies for having dark suspicions but anyone that does not employ independent investigators deserves what they get and that includes senior civil servants accepting tasks they are not qualified to undertake.  The British media has so far described Gray as a woman of great integrity but only the naive and innocent will be prepared to believe that the apology of Pfeffel was not tested with Sue Gray before he appeared in Parliament.  

The guidelines that applied in 2020 include this direction for workplace events, ‘only absolutely necessary participants should attend meetings and they should maintain a two metre separation throughout’.  Most writers would hesitate before including the word ‘absolutely’ but in this instance it warms the heart.  It nails Pfeffel and his wriggling nonsense to the cross.   We should also remember a particular poster that urged restraint during lockdown.  It consisted of three photographs of Covid victims breathing through inhalers.  Each of the photographs were under a headline that told us to look into the eyes of the victim.  Above the female casualty the headline said, ‘Look into her eyes and tell her you never bend the rules.’

There has been plenty of looking into eyes at Number Ten, alcohol has that effect on egotistical people supercharged on work driven adrenalin.  The only people that remembered something about never bending the rules were those that replied to the email invitation by pointing out that the party was a bad idea, not because it broke lockdown rules but because it exposed the Government and Whitehall to criticism and, while we are still here amongst our masters, opprobrium.  When Christmas arrived even the common sense of the May resisters disappeared.

None of this is mysterious.  People with power behave badly.   More puzzling is the defence of Pfeffel, an explanation that collapsed under scrutiny within seconds and offered a sacrifice to the court of public opinion.  The subtle power players reckon that in a speech that would have had plenty of pre-prepared attention the priority of Pfeffel was to avoid a criminal charge and record.  Ignorance of the law is no excuse is the cliché but proving intent is often a legal requirement.    Pfeffel will continue to insist that he thought a party of 40 people drinking alcohol and attended by his wife was a work event even if it does make him look like a clown unfit for a role in government.  

It appears that there has been an instruction to civil servants to wipe their phones.   Email accounts will also be hammered by the delete button.  Why this is necessary when Pfeffel has reassured his colleagues that no one had done anything wrong is a mystery.  Even on a day when it was imperative that the performance of Pfeffel stayed at least close to the truth, familiar lies appeared.   Pfeffel in Parliament claimed that the UK was leading the world in the rollout of Covid vaccinations.  Fifteen European countries have a higher percentage of the population vaccinated.   Portugal has 90% vaccinated.   The UK has reached 70%.  The nonsense continued.   Pfeffel was delighted to report that the UK had a higher economic growth rate than any other country in the G7.  This was based on an anything but enthusiastic report in Bloomberg.  The problem with growth rates is that they are moveable feasts.  The figures depend on the periods examined and the countries selected for comparison.  The same report warned of an inflation crisis in the UK.  Not in Bloomberg but elsewhere there are figures to show how badly the UK compares with individual countries in the EU.   Last year no European economy came close to the Irish growth rate of 15%.  There were similar boasts about job creation.  Pfeffel said without qualification that unemployment in the UK had fallen.   This is not true.   There are more people on payrolls but fewer people are employed.   Labour shortages caused by the exit of migrants has enabled some of the self-employed to find more secure work with employers.  This might be good news for those individuals, somebody had to benefit from Brexit, but this is happening in a job market that is reducing.  But why nitpick when we have a supposed independent investigation into Whitehall misbehaviour and a compromised media and a wounded monarchy feeling obliged to take defensive action.  Watch out for the straight bats and do not expect any cricket shots to hit the boundary.

Howard Jackson has had twelve books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism.  His latest book Long After This is now available here.