16 PINK CHAMPAGNE
In the BBC TV series The Responder, actor Martin Freeman forgets his sedate Hampshire roots and creates, to the surprise of everyone and possibly his own sinuses, an authentic Scouser. The TV show is packed with modern, and some anachronistic, Scouse slang. In Liverpool, someone that does not like a party or to party is referred to as a ‘misery’ or at least they are by those that do. Right now and thanks to the revelations about what has happened in Number Ten the ‘miseries’ in the UK appear to be winning. Last weekend the Guardian listed twenty parties or events that are suspected of not conforming to the rules that the government imposed during Covid lockdown. Twelve are being investigated by the police. At one Tory Party Conference held while Theresa May was prime minister an overeager and possibly inebriated couple had sex in a toilet. Sniffing cocaine is also frequent when the Tories meet and greet and has been since Thatcher. No one knows if that kind of behaviour occurred in Downing Street but only a fool would insist it could not have happened. The Met has said it will only be investigating the offences against Covid regulations that occurred in Number Ten. We can believe this because for so long the Met was reluctant to investigate anything that happened in the building. Not everyone is as pragmatic as Cressida Dick. One opinion poll quoted 63% of the British public as thinking that Pfeffel has told lies and should resign. That is one big bundle of miseries.
Tolstoy said that genius consisted of simplicity, goodness and truth. Three out of three is way beyond me but simple I might manage. Think of the numerous managers in charge of job centres, social security offices, hospitals, tax offices and all the other organisations that perform the routine tasks that actually make a difference to the lives of the British public. If any of those managers had permitted a party during Covid restrictions they would have been dismissed. That would have happened whether the responsible manager had attended the party or not. The dismissal would have been a consequence of the manager allowing the party to happen.
Pfeffel is still in his job and blustering and bluffing for one reason alone. He is the prime minister. No one should rush to their laptop to bet with Paddy Power that Pfeffel will be fined for breaking Covid restrictions but whatever happens he has transgressed disciplinary codes within the civil service. These are codes that are created by the executive which he has been elected to lead. Back on the front line where civil servants are obliged to make sense of legislation that is too often designed to bolster the reputation of ministers, the manager indulging the Covid celebrations would have been disciplined by his own manager, let us call this person the bigger boss. Depending on the bigger boss of the errant manager, this would have happened for one of two reasons. One, the bigger boss would have disapproved of the decision-making of the person that allowed the party to take place. This would have compelled the bigger boss to take action. Two, if the bigger boss was the indulgent type and thought people will always let off steam and human weakness is understandable, the bigger boss would still have had to cover his or her own back. If this generous spirit had not taken disciplinary action, he or she would have been in trouble. That’s right, managers have a responsibility to ensure disciplinary issues are dealt with at the appropriate level. Assuming that the partygoers were a unit that could not be easily replaced, imagine closing down a tax office, the partygoers would have been disciplined with serious warnings, perhaps a bar on future promotion, but also referred to the police for prosecution. The manager or little boss that had allowed the event, though, would have had to go. This is so simple, what is there to understand? Pfeffel should no longer be prime minister. Of course, he should never have ever been appointed but Jennifer Acurri, who has more than one lookalike in The Responder, is another story.
Not having a boss is a lucky break for Pfeffel. He is accountable to the Queen but her role is limited to ceremony and she has no executive powers other than feeding the Corgis. The woman will not be best pleased but what the hell, Pfeffel rarely worries about troubled females. One person that did have a good relationship with the anything but equal opportunities monarch was Jeremy Corbyn. On his visits to the Palace he gave the Queen a couple of jars of his home made jam and they swapped a few jokes. Corbyn likes people and is personable and found the Queen good company. She probably responded to his human warmth, a quality Corbyn demonstrated during the Grenfell aftermath.
Pfeffel might be bossless but there are checks and balances against possible and unpopular dictators. Not a lot but some, well, three actually. Tory MPs can vote no confidence in his leadership, and the House of Commons can pass a motion of censure although knowing Pfeffel and his record and nature he would probably ignore the latter. There is also something called a General Election but the periods between elections can be stretched out to five years. Right now, Pfeffel is refusing to move. Because he managed to get in a quick visit to Ukraine, he is claiming that his government is leading the resistance to Putin and defending democracy. Apart from diversionary publicity the only purpose of the visit to Ukraine appears to have been to decide just where the token 2500 British troops will be parked while everyone waits to see what Joe Biden says happens next. What is certain is that whatever money is spent in Ukraine it will come from existing resources. If shots are fired and personnel lost, most commentators think this unlikely, then the armed forces will return home to operating with reduced numbers. Pfeffel and his government have made so many commitments and gaffes they are running out of money. We only have to look at the underwhelming and just published ‘Levelling Up’ report from Michael Gove which has identified twelve missions, seven of which were first proposed while Theresa May was in power.
And before we forget, just what were the folks at Number Ten supposed to be celebrating back in 2020? These parties happened while Pfeffel and his cronies were wasting billions on PPE, furlough fraud and a test and trace scheme that was so expensive it could have put a spaceship crew on the moon as a bonus. None of it produced adequate outcomes. NHS staff died because their uniforms were either unavailable or not fit for purpose. At one stage Covid 19 was degraded by the government so that it was not classified as a High Consequence Infectious Disease. The BBC programme Panorama identified that this was done to justify supplying inadequate protective equipment to hospital staff. Hospitals were overrun with Covid sufferers, and the old that were infected were soon prioritised as not being worthy of treatment. Intensive care and ventilators were restricted to the young and previously healthy. Pfeffel was unusual in that he spent three days in intensive care but without ever needing a ventilator. What a man, eh?
Old Covid sufferers and not so old Covid sufferers with health problems were left to die at home, pushed out to care homes where they infected others or, if they did make it to hospital, were left on beds in sealed wards where they could die and be ignored. This is not an exaggeration. This and much more is all documented in the book Failures of State by award winning Sunday Times investigative journalists Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott. When care homes refused to take in Covid sufferers some of the managers would relent after being offered inducement payments by the government. Dividends have to be maintained somehow. Sympathetic utilitarians will argue that in a difficult situation priorities have to be decided. The unsympathetic, easily found amongst the relatives of the ignored and deceased Covid victims, feel that Number Ten signed off a triage policy that was no better than systematic murder. All of which leads us back to a question that needs to be asked. Just how the hell was Pfeffel and his cronies able to maintain the party spirit at Number Ten? Miseries, these people are not.
The ‘Levelling Up’ report makes a good partner for the report by Sue Gray. Both are written by well-qualified public sector employees that are adept at ticking boxes whilst having to ride two horses at the same time. In her report, Sue Gray identified what was going wrong at Number Ten but did not refer to individuals. The ex-country and western performer substituted muffled wailing for singing, think Emmylou Hariis on a bad dreamy day. Gray has a kind of excuse. The police will be disciplining individuals. So far, though, there is no recommendation from ‘Blowing Smoke’ Gray that the police investigation should be made public although she does talk about a more meaningful report being available in the future. Although it was not in her terms of reference Gray recommended that all government departments look critically at their operations to make sure that drinking cultures had not taken root. This recommendation made the spotlight on Number Ten less bright. These remarks were calculated and not politics free. The DWP employs over 80,000 staff and in terms of personnel is the largest government department. It has forbidden alcohol being used on its premises since the 1990s. Leaving celebrations and Christmas parties for staff take place in local pubs, restaurants and so on. But the failure of the report into Number Ten boozing to remove Pfeffel is not because of Sue ‘upstairs for thinking downstairs for dancing’ Gray but the Tory Party. Despite several members of the Number Ten admin team resigning and manoeuvring alternative careers not one cabinet minister has so far resigned since the Gray report was published. That is despite the pointed reference in the report to a failure of leadership. Pfeffel has responded in the way he was taught by David Cameron. ‘I get it and I’ll fix it,’ said Pfeffel. Like Al Capone or even just Robert De Niro in The Untouchables, these people are shameless.
Howard Jackson has had thirteen 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.