35 WAITING FOR A TRAIN
Pfeffel has been in hospital for an operation on his sinuses, and some people have been sniffy, and not just about the rumour that the nasal repair was a response to cocaine abuse. Wondering which days Boris is off his head or not on cocaine helps us to recall the crack from Dorothy B Parker when she was told that ex-President Calvin Coolidge was dead. ‘How can they tell?’ said Parker. The less than a day record recovery from a general anaesthetic by Pfeffel has made conspiracy thinkers doubt the integrity of the Number Ten spokesperson. But it is not the first time an overweight and unhealthy human has defined medical expectations. Guõlaugue Friõpõ was a hefty Scandinavian seaman that fell overboard on a fishing trip. His blubber and will power kept him alive in the cold sea for six hours and well beyond normal endurance limits. The medics did, though, keep Guõlaugue in hospital for weeks to work out how he had survived. The mystery has persisted, and the epic escape was retold in a movie that was not as interesting as it could have been.
Pfeffel also previously claimed record recovery time after receiving intensive care for Covid. Two superhuman feats are grounds for Pfeffel being thrown into the North Sea while the rest of us wait and see what happens. Pfeffel could be given the title Emperor Chubb, symbol and key for the next stage in human evolution. Any man that takes a hard line with Trade Unions demanding pay rises when there is high inflation and full employment is not without courage, or something. Total pay growth in the public sector in the last twelve years under the Tories amounts to 1.5%. In the private sector it is 8%. Inflation is 10% and rising.
Many of the foreign workers that have left Britain after the Brexit result slipped away quietly and avoided the chilly North Sea. Some reacted to what they thought were their weakened economic prospects. After Brexit they either expected their jobs to disappear or be less remunerative. Others talked about their changed view of the British, and said that they felt unwelcome. These unwelcome folk are now being missed, and it would do no harm to any Brit that has hurled racist abuse at an immigrant worker to think about those remarks when they look at the prices in their local Tesco. Both Brexit and Covid have reduced the British workforce. The 200,000 victims that died of Covid cannot be added to the labour market. So far, Pfeffel has not given them a second thought. The dead are not that productive although in their favour they never ask for a pay rise. Lockdowns have convinced some of the workforce that they have had enough of working, and somehow these workers have found alternative ways to survive. And there are those suffering from long term Covid. The medics insist that this is a serious problem but only a fool would expect the less than eagle-eyed and Ayn Rand freak Sajid Javid to know the numbers.
Whatever the relationship between these three factors the size of the labour force in the UK has shrunk by an estimated 1m people. There are 1.3m job vacancies and there are around the same number of the unemployed. Tory governments have been fiddling unemployment figures for decades but, because a portion of the unemployed will always be switching jobs, it is safe to assume that after a fifty year hiatus the British economy has returned to full employment. Admittedly, this requires high numbers of people categorised as self-employed. The Tory record on waged employment over the last twelve years has been disastrous. There are fewer waged employees than when the Tories arrived in 2012, and overall working pay and conditions have deteriorated. Of course, the existence of too many rubbish jobs also contributes to the shortage of manpower. Anyone that doubts that this labour market shortage exists and that it is serious should check with an airline CEO cancelling flights or a fruit farmer whose crop is rotting in a field rather than being picked.
These days Pfeffel no longer has an ethics advisor. Pfeffel has decided that he does not need one. He might be right. Mere days after the resignation of Lord Geidt the issue had been forgotten by the ethic free British media. And after all, you cannot make a runny and undercooked omelette without breaking a few eggs. An ethics advisor is the kind of chap or woman that insists you wear a kitchen apron. Pfeffel may have no ethics consultant to break his stride, and his constitution might qualify him for a prolonged sojourn floating on the surface of the North Sea. But there are other reasons why this might not be the best time for Pfeffel to provoke the public sector into industrial action. Pfeffel could win a few disputes but with even fewer public sector employees to deliver services the wheels will fall off more than a few railway carriages.
The always late with the news New Statesman has at last noticed that Britain, in its words, isn’t working. The front page headline refers to an article by centrist Andrew Marr. Centrists shift with and adapt to the status quo, and we should not expect too much from Marr, but when centrists register social and economic carnage the situation is serious. Marr is a kindred spirit to Observer columnist Will Hutton who for all his adult life has preached the benefits of capitalism while arguing for regulation to prevent asset stripping. Hutton is now as gloomy as Marr. Falling house prices have alerted Hutton to the possibility of an investment strike. Faced with a broken economy, the investors and their capital will seek more profitable alternatives. Hutton is nothing if not an optimist. The asset strippers, finance industry and British governments have ignored the good intentions of Hutton for years. Hutton hopes that a new political leader will emerge to create a new economic order and identify national missions. You can bet your life that if Hutton ever makes an omelette he will need a bigger kitchen than Pfeffel. We should all wish Hutton well but will the new order arrive?
The political cycle that gloomy Plato described consisted of aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. This theory has been refined and extended over the years. Chaos, theocracy, aristocracy, democracy and chaos is a catchy alternative. If the British people had a sensible core, it would soon have enough of the present nonsense and move, as Will Hutton hopes, towards a more democratic economy and society. Much fuss will be made of the two by-election defeats for the Tories this week but it might be best to pause for breath. The prospect of a heavy defeat for the Tories at the next general election offers hope but all this right now feels like the end game for British democracy. Will chaos or tyranny come next? Take your pick but I know my limitations. No way am I going to bet against Plato.
Yet the results of the two by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Ollerton have inspired not just optimists. Even this Jeremiah can imagine a 2024 electoral coalition that yields a Tory wipeout. It is not without significance, though, that the two by-elections in Wakefield and Tiverton and Ollerton were the consequence of sexual scandal. One Tory MP had to resign because he was found to have made sexual advances to a teenage boy. The other Tory MP was caught watching pornography in the House of Commons. Ayn Rand would have said fair play to both of them but Sajid Javid should take note. This is what can happen when you believe in libertarian entitlement and the virtue of selfish wants. No chance of Pfeffel setting standards. It has emerged that as foreign secretary minister he tried to get his then mistress Carrie Symonds a £100,000 a year job in his department. It is not just pole dancers that Pfeffel thinks should be helped with taxpayers money. Britain has seedy politicians and a half alert electorate.
Not quite as enthusiastic about embracing chaos as their English counterparts, the Welsh government has agreed a pay settlement with the rail workers represented by the union RMT. The transport company Stagecoach has also awarded their bus drivers in Worthing a 15.8% pay rise. Superhuman Pfeffel and his gym conditioned Minister of Transport Grant Schapps, though, have decided to take a stand and refuse the RMT demand for a below inflation 7% pay rise. Pfeffel has threatened the RMT with legislation that will allow the rail companies to hire agency workers. The British economy may have full employment but it does not impress. Yet if those in work are often poorly paid and working less than a full week, they do have jobs. Only the skilled and well-paid jobs in the rail industry should attract a significant number of other workers. Jobs for rail drivers at £63,000 would tempt but, although quoted by a not impartial press as the reason why a below inflation pay rise is not deserved, the rail drivers are not involved in the dispute. Rail drivers are represented by the union ASLEF. It is possible that the government moves RMT out of the rail industry and then brings in non-unionised agency workers to work for existing rates of pay. But if it is simple as Pfeffel and Schapps think, we have to wonder why rail company CEOs wanting to sustain £500m profits have not thought of this before. None of these CEOs, though, have bounced back super-speed from a general anaesthetic. The only potential superman to emerge so far in this dispute is RMT leader Mick Lynch. Cool media interrogators and anything but cool backbench Tory MPs have perished in debates with the union leader. Sky News interviewer Kay Burley suffered more than most. Fumbling for words she proclaimed that she was older than she looked, as if she sensed the plastic holding her face together might crack under pressure. Lynch, a little like Mulder and Scully in The X Files, has been stepping forward and shining his torch, scorching a previously secure but narrow minded and empty headed neoliberal hegemony. There will be resistance from those that find the union leader threatening. Fiona Bruce did her best to undermine Lynch on BBC Question Time. Mr Lynch is doing good work but he needs to be careful and watch his back.
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.