19 BRAIN CLOUDY BLUES
Within days British politics has stopped being a spectacle and has become an extravaganza. There is another war, this time it is in Ukraine. The unpleasant are calculating what casualties and fatalities they can inflict. Meanwhile there are innocent men and women waving flags and jumping up and down. We will soon have the hale and hearty singing folk songs about the land they love. For many ordinary and less ideologically inclined Ukrainians it will either mean premature deaths, long lasting physical injury or the loss of homes and livelihoods. British newspapers will in the next days and months acquire added bulk and feast on not entirely impartial military and geopolitical analysis.
For the less informed amongst us, or perhaps just me, it does no harm to benchmark pending geo-political military conflict against Saturday night battles in British pubs where men with their egos inflated by alcohol knock lumps out of one another. In the immediate bloody aftermaths of pub battles the protagonists always insist that the violence was the fault of their opponents. The wounded spit out a few teeth, and the really unlucky ones clog up the waiting rooms in the Accident and Emergency Units of the local hospitals. Later, and after the bruises have faded, the injured on both sides struggle to remember who threw the first punch and begin to wonder whether a few different words and less poking of fingers into chests might have averted the damage. Either that or the combatants and their supporters use the said pub battle to construct an everlasting enmity that will justify return bouts. I know, this is not cheery stuff. But this is the species that has every generation created a genocide somewhere on the planet.
Less than a fortnight ago President Macron was offering to buy the next round of drinks and reassuring the rest of the world with the claim that Russian president Putin was willing to agree to a summit between the leaders of the West and the East to discuss the future of Ukraine. Well, that came and went, and here we are, and the refugees are heading for alternative homelands. In Prisoners Of Geography which was first published in 2015 the author and Sunday Times journalist Tim Marshall described why Ukraine is what the author called a ‘red line’ for Putin. Marshall wrote about the Russian need for access to warm water ports and a buffer state against Europe and the West. The actions taken by Putin could be a rational response from a too typical imperialist fermented in Russian insecurity or the behaviour of a callous madman or both. If the pro-West Ukrainians are assuming Western military support will deliver enlightened independence then they are not empiricists. The track record of Nato is not good, and the situation in Ukraine has the potential to become factional. It appears we have the pro-Westerners, the pro-Russians, right and left wing utilitarians, and those that want to keep their heads down and settle for neutrality. Because of my timid nature, I would, if living out my days in Ukraine, have argued for neutrality.
That option, though, like the proposed Macron summit, has been waved away this week by the gun barrels on Russian tanks. Ford Madox Ford wrote Parade’s End in the 1920s. Parade’s End is a tetralogy, a collection of four novels that takes the reader from before the first world war until after the war is finished and when there is subsequent regret and loss amongst the survivors. Rather than simply protest about the injuries and death that war creates, Madox Ford explained how modern mechanised warfare provided an opportunity for the worst of men and women to not just profit but feel contempt for the best, which in the case of Parade’s End is the hero and ‘last Tory’ Christopher Tietjens. Not everyone agrees about the merit of The Last Post, the final book in the quartet of novels. Graham Greene, who was never one for taking prisoners, described The Last Post as an afterthought and a mistake. War must be more corrosive than we think because even a book about casualties was a casualty in the argument about literary merit that followed. In Parade’s End the scoundrels and the irresponsible prosper during the war and the decent folk are left as empty shells pondering whatever happened to the promises of Edmund Burke. It all makes sense. War and carnage both demand and promise too much of and for flawed human beings. Protests are soon silenced, and modern weaponry insists upon indiscriminate violence rather than face to face heroism.
Few in the British media will be scanning copies of Parade’s End this weekend. These are the people that told us, against all logic and experience, that Sue Gray was an independent and strong minded civil servant that would hold power to account. Instead, the ex-country singer did a John ‘grin for everyone’ Denver impression. The result was a muted investigation into the breaking of Covid regulations at Number Ten and a supine accommodation with prime minister Pfeffel. Sections of the Gray report are withheld from the public or Parliament. Now the Number Ten lawbreakers have been issued with a questionnaire in which they are invited to explain why they thought they were not breaking the law. Help us to help you, says the Met. One question from the cops is ‘What is the purpose of your participation?’ The Met questionnaire also contains a caution, the usual stuff about what you say may be held against you and so on. In this and only instance the caution is written because, of course, you cannot say that kind of thing to a prime minister. Former Met Chief Superintendent Del Babu has described the questions in the written interview under caution as ‘bland and designed to give lawyers get out of jail cards’. Hard to believe that the rule of law is a good old-fashioned British invention and we are all supposed to be equal under the law and accountable for our actions. Tony Blair was interviewed by the police when he was prime minister. The police investigation of Blair did not go as far as an interview under caution, pause for a lot of Iraqis to be rueful. Blair accepted that if he had been cautioned by the cops he would have had to resign. So much for the importance of precedent in the British constitution.
Apart from the nonsense of user friendly questionnaires, the Number Ten lawbreakers have seen the Gray report that could not be released in full. We were told it would prejudice the police investigation. It appears that the easiest way to read the unexpurgated report by Sue Gray is to prove that you were a lawbreaker at Number Ten, kind of and unwittingly of course. If anyone does get prosecuted for the law breaking at Number Ten and have damaged careers, it will not be the worst of them. It will be the best or the least culpable, and anyone that doubts this should read Parade’s End or if not that get out more. It felt like it might be a bad week when the Guardian published a leak from Credit Suisse. The worst of us that upset Madox Ford prevail and continue to prosper. These days they have Swiss bank accounts packed with billions of dirty money. What should shock and chill us are not even revelations.
Providing, though, that you can dodge the bullets and bombs and keep limbs intact and continue breathing, war does add that extra dimension to the political spectacle. Pfeffel has been standing in between Union Jacks and waffling about his Covid chaos for as long as most of us can remember. And that was without this war in which, according to him, Pfeffel the self-sacrificing resistance fighter is leading a united response. Bets are on as to what will happen next in the presentation of the speeches of our two fisted leader. There are three alternatives, bigger flags, Pfeffel waving the flag as he talks or perhaps a Union Jack waistcoat. I think we can rule out military uniform and a beret but that image does nag unpleasantly. The arrival of military conflict, even one in which the British will not be involved, has taken the pressure off Pfeffel. Churchillian triumph beckons or at least it would if the Tory Party did not have such close links with Russian money.
Only Russians with dual nationality can donate to the Tory Party. This is a technicality that Pfeffel will lean on in months to come. Of course, it is their abundant wealth and close links to the government that got them the dual nationality in the first place. The Labour Party has calculated that these dual nationality Russians have donated £1.93m to the Tory Party since Pfeffel became Prime Minister. Ian Blackford, the SNP leader in the House of Commons, believes the figure to be higher and has quoted £2.3m. This is only the money that can be identified from the accounts of what are slippery characters. The dual nationality Russians are not just donors, they are important donors. Pfeffel may be carrying extra weight but he will need to be light on his feet in the next weeks when he responds with economic sanctions to whatever Putin does next. Not only will Pfeffel have to sidestep the donors to the Tory Party and keep this cash flowing into Tory pockets, there is the bigger problem of Russian money laundering in the City of London. This is so entrenched that reforms to stop Russians washing dirty money would puncture the finance sector in London. The Germans have a gas pipe to worry about, and the British have a fragile economy to protect. Never short of audacity, Pfeffel has promised to stop Russian hi tech exports. The Russians do manufacture mobile phones but no one buys them, so no sweat there for Pfeffel. In the past the British government has used the defence of drug dealers to justify their inaction against money launderers. Or as Dr John said in his one hit song Such A Night, ‘If I don’t do it, somebody else will.’ Christopher Tietjens it is not but the Tietjens of this world disappeared from Conservative governments a long time ago.
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.