23 THE DENIAL TWIST
The warnings have been around for some time. Samuel Beckett provided the metaphors, and Harold Pinter the characters. Beckettian gloom proclaimed that human beings lived their lives waiting for someone or something that was never going to appear. Since before Christmas last year Pfeffel has reassured us that there would be full explanations about just what happened in the twelve parties held in Number Ten during the Covid restrictions. The police have now begun issuing fixed penalties, an action that has confirmed what we knew all along. Pfeffel works with Covid lawbreakers. Although he is also one the Met are unlikely to confirm that Pfeffel is as guilty as the rest. But just like Godot and the lack of answers from Beckett the full explanation has still failed to appear. We are being told that, as the waiting is over, the curtain has to come down on the play. We do not even get a cast of characters. No names, no pack drill. Cabinet ministers, like alternative versions of Pozzo reminding Vladimir and Estragon of their limitations, are telling us we have to move on and worry instead about the war in Ukraine. The British are not fighting in the war and are even resisting taking in refugees. But what the hell if none of it makes sense. Neither did Pozzo in Waiting For Godot.
Well before Beckett and Pinter the plays of Chekov argued that what we witnessed in other human beings was anything but their true selves. Chekov, or Anton to his mates, said that our true feelings were hidden behind false appearances and often from our own selves. Pinter also acknowledged these falsehoods but he also revealed the brutality in the places that the culture and civilisation of Chekov could not reach. Right now, who needs any of the big three, Beckett, Pinter and Chekov. We have Pfeffel and his gang. The failure of the House of Commons to hold irresponsible liars to account gives us scenes that make the destructive friction in The Birthday Party look restrained.
Years ago in The Spectator the columnist Auberon Waugh argued that Britain had become a nation that could be divided into whiners and jeerers. What Waugh missed but Pinter recognised was that there are plenty of us that can be both and it has nothing to do with success or fortune. Britain may have a cost of living crisis and a prime minister that is everyday accused of being deceitful but backbench Tory MPs continue to roar approval of their government and then whine when faced by their critics. If that sounds harsh, think Michael Gove. And while we are talking about a cost of living crisis, can someone explain to a certain shrill American neoliberal lady that appears on Question Time the difference between a cost of living crisis and inflation? Wage increases and subsidies to households may boost inflation but they do not create a cost of living crisis. Increases in prices when people have the money to pay them is called inflation. A cost of living crisis, which is what we have now, exists when ordinary people cannot pay the higher prices. Inflation is not an indicator of a strong economy but it is a hell of a lot better than a cost of living crisis. Just wait and see. We will not only be as confused as Vladimir and Estragon, we will soon be wearing similar rags.
Modern British political analysis is not blessed with numeracy but someone has had the wit to compare the number of denials with the fixed penalties being issued to the workers at Number Ten. There have been twenty fines for transgressors and 39 denials of wrongdoing by the government. The Met has described the twenty fixed penalties as an initial response to the questionnaires they issued to the folks in Number Ten. You do not need to have a symmetrical fetish or be a subversive malcontent to hope that the Met finds another nineteen lawbreakers. During the initial phases of Covid it was assumed that Matt Hancock was a shameless liar because, stuck in a calamitous mess, he had no alternative. It now appears that it is just his nature. When the news of the fixed penalties appeared the creepy Hancock spouted how the government had been successful and even brave in handling Covid. Matt somehow missed the disproportionate high number of Covid deaths. The overall UK excess death rate during Covid is a figure that is difficult for government shysters to manipulate, existential consequence and all that. During 2020 and 2021 the UK had an excess death rate that was 20% higher than Belgium and the Netherlands, neither of which had a Covid performance that could be described as exemplary. In the same two years this UK excess death rate was 90% above that of France and Germany and 120% higher than in Sweden.
It has taken two months for the Met to analyse the 100 questionnaires it forwarded to Number Ten. Allowing for a short month in February this amounts to 44 working days per person of analysis or just under half a day for each questionnaire. Even for a hierarchical bureaucracy this does not sound like a rush job, especially if we assume there was more than one person working on partygate. One question that both Pfeffel and the Met need to answer is why the delay. Pfeffel appeared in parliament to confirm there had been twenty fines for lawbreaking. He also insisted that there had been no wrongdoing. The next morning Pfeffel was described by John Crace in The Guardian as looking ‘worse for wear’. The night before the parliamentary confrontation, and while the Met was handing out fines for excess celebrations, Pfeffel and everyone of his Tory MPs responded by having a team building dinner at the Park Plaza luxury hotel near Westminster Bridge. An event that consisted of alcohol, luxurious surroundings and expensive food does not suggest critical introspection which is, of course, why most people have called the dinner and the booze that followed a celebration.
The defenders of capitalism have always relished the existence of debt, which might be why the government was having such fun in the Park Plaza this week. Some capitalist devotees have used debt and nothing else to buy Premiership football clubs, hence the reason so many Chelsea fans are nervous at the moment. In Britain credit card debt increased last month by £15bn and has now reached £59.5bn, the highest figure in the UK since 1993 and the glory days of negative equity. In January 2022 the total debt in UK households reached £1.767bn. All this accrues interest but it is not the only reason why the rich get richer and the poor poorer. Without the inflationary wage increases and household subsidies deplored by that certain shrill American neoliberal the situation will for many become desperate.
According to Thatcher and her followers there is and never was an alternative to unregulated greed and letting an invisible hand steer us towards utopia and give us all the best of possible worlds. Well, here we are, and after four decades of greed is good we have more than a thousand billion pound gap between what UK families think they need to spend and the cash that they have. It is a fitting economic context for the corruption that plagues British politics. Pfeffel is, though, some steps behind Putin when replacing a constitution with a gangster state. The Russian President spent $750,000 on his toilet. In this instance the American term restroom sounds more appropriate. $750,000 equates to two-thirds of the annual salary of Putin. The best that Pfeffel can do is wallpaper at £850 a roll, subsidised holidays from Russians that MI6 identify as a security risk and the commandeering of jets for personal use. But there is always Tony Blair. Last week in the New Statesman this chap was lauded as the flag carrier for British democratic socialism. A decade after Blair retired from British politics he had amassed a fortune of $90m. This fortune may not now be expanding at previous rates but, just in case we feel sorry for the really rich, remember there is something called compound interest. Tony Blair was once paid £3m for a three hour meeting with the prime minister of Qatar. The World Cup football stadiums in Qatar have been built by men and women that were denied decent pay rates and healthy and safety regulations. This was something that the rich and powerful of Qatar supposedly could not afford to prevent, similar to Sunak and his response to the cost of living crisis in the UK. In preparing for the Qatar World Cup, 8500 workers have died but Blair at least got his three million for his mornings work with the prime minister. Back home half of the properties or buildings in London are owned by companies. For twelve years the Tory governments have resisted demands for something to be done about Russian money in London and the role of the British in tax havens. Of every $1000 earned in the present world $8 is stashed in a tax haven somewhere. Various figures are quoted as the total amount hidden from governments but academic and accountant Prem Sikka estimates $7.6trn is stashed in tax havens. This is equal to half the reserves of all governments, most of which are either struggling with a cost of living crisis or much worse. The famine in Ethiopia is reported as just one of those insoluble problems that human beings have to endure from time to time. Fixing the consequences of that famine would cost a lot less than $7.6trn. Swiss banks hold a third of the $7.6trn. And we know what the men and women in suits that run those banks look like. In the past they resembled the unheroic in the plays of Chekov. But that was only a masquerade. Now we remember the savagery of Pinter, which is why we should not be shocked by the unprincipled behaviour of Pfeffel and his money grabbing crew.
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.