28 YOU’RE SO VAIN
Standup comedy has been shaped or, they would have us believe, radically changed by the modern generation. The smart, the sly, the wise guys that can take on all comers are the comic stars of today. Bluster and embracing ridicule was more popular amongst the old timers. Some of the old comics combined bluster with slapstick. Norman Wisdom and Tommy Cooper are good examples. Eric Morecombe was more complicated. He was a sly version of the blustering fool, the idiot that always had the last word. Pfeffel has peddled Billy Bunter type bluster and had the last word for most of his life. Look at me being silly and my strange hair is his pose as he forgets facts and tells whoppers. Relentless bluster not only earned him a good living as a journalist it has given him disproportionate success in his sexual escapades with women. Pfeffel has also used bluster to blow up his fair share of balloons. He has waved his fist and made preposterous claims about the world beating achievements of a hapless government.
The campaign for Brexit that Pfeffel led was the biggest balloon of all. He claimed there would be £350m a week for the NHS, more jobs for Brits, more control over national borders, more money to spend, cheaper food prices and more. The NHS is in chaos but private contractors in health and medical supplies are earning billions. The jobs for British folk are there but only because after Covid and record numbers of fatalities an awful lot of people are not. The wages earned and benefits paid to the Brits are the lowest in Europe. Border controls have had to be suspended otherwise essential supplies will not reach the country. With those essential supplies will come items that should not be allowed to cross any border. Apart from weekly increases in food prices reaching record levels there is now the threat of poisonous foodstuffs arriving in supermarkets. Somewhere someone is writing the next big horror movie hit. It could be set in a supermarket, perhaps a hero with anorexic dystopia will save the day.
You do not even need to count on your fingers to know that 3.9m kids or 27% of all children living in poverty hardly qualifies as a triumph of utilitarian capitalism. New Labour may have been in cahoots with an unprincipled elite but for all its faults the Blair government did set itself the task of abolishing child poverty. Progress was limited because too many concessions were made to the neoliberals but the figures went in the right direction, that is down. Right now poverty charities estimate that by the end of the year the high number of children living in poverty will increase by a further 500,000. Add this 500,000 to the 3.9m children already living in poverty and almost a third of British children will then be affected. Well done, Pfeffel, something else to grin about. There are classrooms in the deprived areas of Britain where all the pupils are identified as having special needs. This is a consequence of poverty. The phenomenon has not occurred because all the kids have suddenly become less intelligent. Nothing offended certain people on the right in the 1960s than the increase in working class teenagers becoming graduates. The reactionaries heard coarse regional accents and responded with slurs about ‘a drop in standards’. The numbers of working class families sending youngsters to University, to the surprise of no one, is falling. Poverty and student debt have sorted the ‘drop in standards’ problem big style.
None of this bothers the GCSE sidestepping Michelle Mone. This particular monster, a role for her in the supermarket horror movie perhaps, has no sympathy for children living in poverty, the beckoning third of the British population. Having left school with no qualifications, her solution is that the poor will just have to stop making excuses and work hard like she did. Stop complaining about what is in your wage packet, says Michelle Mone. Covid contracts worth £230m were awarded to Mone by the Tory Government. At least £140m was paid to her for supplying PPE for workers in the NHS. These contracts were awarded without her having to submit to competitive tendering, you know, the kind where due diligence is supposed to be applied. Michelle the Monster then bought on the cheap from China a load of unusable PPE equipment. With no sense of patriotism or even responsibility she sold the duff PPE at inflated prices to the taxpayer funded Government. Her profit ratio on this deal was at least 700% or many millions or an awful lot of potatoes. In recent days the Fraud Squad has raided her home. Michelle Mone, though, is actually Lady Michelle Mone and a member of the House of Lords. All this bluster and there is always more to go around.
How Lady Monster Mone became rich is complicated, as it always is in these stories. According to journalists, how she tells her history has a few untruths but perhaps not quite as many as those of Aaron Banks, the Brexiteer that rarely tells the truth about anything. Michelle Mone is not a stand alone success whatever she thinks of children living in poverty and the negligent third of the British population. Her not without a few bob husband was also her business partner. Yet Michelle Mone must have had some skills to become head of marketing in Scotland for the Labatt brewing company, her last job before she and her husband established their business. And in business she did sell diet pills and lingerie. But PPE to the NHS?
Thanks to a British media owned by non-doms, whose guiding principle is not to pay tax, most of these balloons filled with bluster have been able to float as far away as the white cliffs of Dover and disappear over the Channel. The partygate balloon is not small because it really does have a lot of bluster to carry, yet even that bloated lump of hot air is drifting towards the coast right now. A sudden wind from the cops, though, might blow it back inland after the Met resumes its investigations. The problem with balloons is that they can be pricked. Pfeffel has a high energy style and worries little about gaffes. The more flat balloons lying around the streets the less we notice, thinks Pfeffel. His theory has been put to the test this week.
When Piers Morgan featured on GMB News in a partnership with Susanna Reid she was always the better half. Morgan is another chap more than capable of filling balloons with bluster. This week Reid asked Pfeffel about Elsie, a 77 year old woman that is struggling to survive in this latest version of the British economy. Elsie has been reduced to eating one meal a day. She uses her travel pass to ride on buses throughout the day so she can keep warm. This is because Elsie can not afford to heat her home. Britain has old age pensions that are well below the average that prevails in Europe. Pfeffel responded to a question by Reid about Elsie by reminding us all that it was him that had created the bus pass. More than a few noted the lack of empathy in the answer. Rather than talk about the appalling suffering of Elsie, an enfeebled 77 year old woman, Pfeffel insisted on talking about himself and his achievements. Even if he had introduced free bus passes, and Pfeffel did not nor has he even dreamed of doing so, the answer suggested to many a lack of empathy in Pfeffel. It provided confirmation that Pfeffel was indeed the narcissist that his critics, enemies and more than one biographer have persistently claimed. Susanna Reid pricked the balloon, and, while air was still leaving, others stamped it into the gutter.
Because we are desperate, there is a temptation to believe or hope that this is a moment when the balloon of Pfeffel is not pricked but finally punctured. Pfeffel, though, is the domineering kid at the birthday party that grabs the packets of balloons and insists he will blow up the lot. There will be yet more balloons from Pfeffel. This is his talent, filling every room with balloons. The poor Ukrainians are not just seeing Russian missiles over their heads, they also have balloons from Pfeffel. We can imagine how long these balloons are going to last out there in the Ukraine sky.
This cost of living crisis would damage any political party. For the Tories it is as treacherous as an egg and spoon race. Shrill boasting is no longer disguising serious fumbles. Rishi Sunak proclaims he will help ordinary families and then retreats to Whitehall where he insists nothing should be done. Not an extra penny is coming out of my budget, says Rishi. Let them settle for an inadequate loan to help them pay their utility bills. Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, drew the short straw and appeared on television to offer advice to families struggling to pay for food. They should eat supermarket brands, no luxuries like Heinz Baked Beans on toast for these working class gourmets, thinks Eustice. Nutrition experts soon appeared on TV and social media to remind Eustice this was what poor families had been doing before the cost of living crisis and that the tax rises of Sunak had made them even poorer. And if that sounds like an unfair argument, which it is not, others were not slow to remind us that the anything but sympathetic Eustice in one year claimed expenses worth £190,000. No wonder that Tory councillors fighting for re-election were describing themselves as ‘Local Conservatives’ and distancing themselves from the shenanigans at Westminster. The losses in these local elections are significant but they would have been worse if the Tories had not had been left with so few after the votes in 2018. Since the Brexit referendum the use of dirty money to fund shameless untruths on social media has ensured an endless supply of bluster for increasingly essential balloons. The local elections results, though, might mean no escape for Pfeffel. Even after his demise, assuming it happens, there will be plenty of others ready to blow into more balloons. Not just comedy has changed in the UK, so has political argument and debate.
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.