27 SHAKING ALL OVER
Hollywood movie producer Sam Goldwyn used to tell his movie directors and scriptwriters to start with an earthquake and then build up to a climax. The likelihood is that the anecdote was invented by a witty, overpaid and disenchanted writer. There are more than a few tall tales about Goldwyn. This intelligent man was not at his best with the English language, and it meant he had to suffer a degree of snobbery from well-educated writers. Yet by the Hollywood standards of the 1930s the movies of Goldwyn showed restraint and taste and on occasion some interesting subject matter. The Little Foxes written by Lillian Hellman and directed by William Wyler is a good place to start for those that want to understand the impact of capitalism on the human spirit. For reasons I have never found entirely satisfactory I have never had the same opportunities as Sam Goldwyn but if there was ever a collection of words that deserve to finish in a climax, it is this one.
The Tories are in a toxic twist. After shuffling around in his trouser pockets Pfeffel has pointed his moral compass at the overheated tribe that he leads. We all know how real compasses work. They tell us which direction is north, and from that we deduce where we must head, sometimes north and sometimes not. It is all done with a quivering needle that responds to the magnetic properties of the North Pole. The needles of male Tory MPs might not quiver in the same way as those found in compasses but give credit where it is due, these men have proved themselves to be alert to magnetism. More than one Tory MP has been quivering. The quivers range from Tory backbencher Neil Parish discovered looking at porn while kind of working in the House of Commons, a serious sexual assault by Tory MP Imran Ahmed Khan and sexual fervour that female colleagues on as many as 60 occasions have defined as sexual harassment. Pfeffel once said his sexual appetite left him always feeling ready to burst with semen but those remarks were made before he was married to his third and present wife. Times and men change or at least we hope so. Something has changed in Pfeffel because he has now stuck out an aghast chin and condemned the sexism and misogyny of his colleagues.
The unlikely emergence of Pfeffel as a far from convincing champion of feminism began with the Mail on Sunday reporting that the legs of Angela Rayner, which sometimes she crosses, were a distraction to either no longer or perhaps still bursting Pfeffel. This is why she usually has the better of him in Parliamentary debates. There had to be a reason why a working class woman could master an Eton and Oxford educated Pfeffel, concluded a certain and so far unnamed MP. Glen Owen is the political editor of the Mail on Sunday and he gave the unnamed MP quote a story and headline. If we are getting physical, which the Mail on Sunday certainly did about the 42 years old Angela Rayner, it has to be said that Mr Owen has a face that would more than suit a dirty raincoat hanging from his shoulders. Pfeffel issued a statement condemning the article.
The Conservatives have been in uninterrupted power for twelve years. Apart from Cabinet members building up personal photograph collections the Tories have failed to do anything that has been positive. People have started counting. Even the mathematically challenged British are capable of getting as far as zero. In fact a question along the lines of what were the positive impacts of the Tory governments between 2010 and 2022 could be set in future GCSE A levels. That would sort out the real grade A thinkers and lateral thinking revisionists from the rest. Pfeffel is losing debates because the poor chap, like Billy Bunter trying to explain why he stole the rock cakes and ate them all, is obliged to defend the indefensible. Unemployment figures have been low but underemployment, short working weeks, is widespread. This is one of the reasons why in-work poverty has increased. Align that to a cost of living crisis and we have the right kind of beginning for a Sam Goldwyn movie. Someone defending the government in such circumstances would find trousered legs a distraction.
The parent paper of the Mail on Sunday is the Daily Mail and it has been spreading bile and falsehoods for decades. It might be as long as a century. The contempt for the truth is such that the newspaper cannot even provide vaguely accurate celebrity and football gossip. The rot, though, started in its political columns and agendas. Lying, once it starts, becomes a habit. Before Pfeffel was prime minister the Daily Mail used a photograph to compare the ageing legs of the political leaders Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon. Rayner has a lot to carry on her pins. Rayner has since 2021 been the Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work. With all that one expects challenges. Being compared to Sharon Stone opening her legs and flashing where her thighs meet is not really in the job description. Or is it? Perhaps we should ask Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon. The hard to credit rumour is that even Keir Starmer has a firm opinion on this matter.
Although combative the political efforts of Rayner have so far done little to establish a significant lead for the Labour Party in the opinion polls. Rayner is a close friend of the more talented and intellectually blessed Rebecca Long-Bailey. Ideas averse Keir Starmer was horrified to notice that Long-Bailey had one or two proposals about how perhaps the British economy might overcome its malaise and how that recovery could be combined with greening the economy. These were not original ideas. They exist and are being implemented in parts outside the UK. Originality, though, is not needed to shock Keir Starmer. How Keir Starmer reacts to the legs of women we do not know but if he quivers when he hears an idea it is not because he lusts after them. Watching Keir Starmer obliged to weigh the merit of an initiative is like being an umpire in a tennis match that God has promised will be eternal. Starmer is a man whose spine turns to mush when he has to utter the word consider. Tory voters are becoming increasingly apathetic but hardly any of them, with good reason, see the present Labour Party as an acceptable alternative. But despite the fragility of modern Labour the Mail on Sunday still reckoned a physical insult against Rayner was in order. And just because its political editor thinks he is clever, rather than evaluate the achievements of Rayner he opened his raincoat and blamed her for being a woman and having legs.
There is plenty of evidence to demonstrate why Britain has a dysfunctional political system. This consists of heavy handed legislation intended to inhibit protest, electoral manoeuvring to load the democracy in favour of perpetual Tory government, relentless incompetence and much more. But a dysfunctional political system also produces odd specific points or moments that have no significance other than they are happening and they never used to happen. Neil Parish watching porn in the House of Commons debating chamber is not the most serious offence committed by the members of Parliament. Backbencher Imran Ahmed Khan was obliged to resign as the MP for Wakefield when he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a fifteen year old boy. Khan has resigned but only after he delayed quitting to ensure he would be paid for the month of April in full. Nor did every Tory MP think that Khan should have had to resign. A drink is a drink, a grope is a grope and porn is porn, kind of thing. A woman’s legs, though, we have to put a stop to that.
The American actor Chris Carter once said, when discussing the rights and wrongs of watching porn, that ‘most of us’ have had the occasional peep at the stuff. There is some truth in this. But watching porn on the six inch screen of a mobile phone while sitting in a House of Commons subject to constant CCTV scrutiny and listening to Pfeffel fail to explain why more criminal offences have been committed in Number Ten than any other household in Britain? These are the people that not only preach restraint and responsibility to the British enduring economic hardship but also feel qualified to dismantle the human right to protest against the government. No wonder they do not give a damn about having Covid death rates that are at this moment twice as high as anywhere else in Europe. These same people do not care that, thanks to their economic policies, there are people living in areas of the UK where mortality rates are, for example, below those of the long suffering Brazilians. No wonder Tory MPs are able to jeer and gesticulate on behalf of a government that created 20,000 unnecessary deaths when it transferred Covid sufferers to care homes. Without any shame this government told the British public what the Supreme Court has described as a ‘despicable lie’ about this mass murder. Matt Hancock and others told us that a ‘protective ring’ had been placed around the care homes. He knew the opposite was true. So where are we now? Oh, yes, a rather strange and needy Neil Parish from Tiverton, there is a joke in there somewhere, watching porn on his mobile phone whilst sitting in a debating chamber he is likely to call the mother of parliaments. What a waste of all that gothic architecture, and what a waste of the expenditure being spent to refurbish that building. And what a pity that the waste does not stop there, something that the British will understand increasingly in the next months. No doubt we will hear the cliché about most MPs wanting to make a difference and improve lives. One is tempted to say pull the other one but in the circumstances that remark might not be appropriate.
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.