Author: Howard Jackson

Howard Jackson was born in Merseyside in 1948. He still lives there and has spent most of his life in Liverpool, although he has also lived in London, Nottingham, Glasgow and Preston. He reads, watches movies, listens to music (a lot), supports Liverpool Football Club and climbs hills in the Lake District and Yorkshire. Though not a keen fan of travelling he has toured extensively around Brazil and the Southern States of America. These journeys were a consequence of an interest in Brazilian history and the music of the American South.

PFEFFELS AND PIFFLES – A YEAR WITH BORIS

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.

PFEFFELS AND PIFFLES – A YEAR WITH BORIS

34  DON’T LET THE SUN GO DOWN ON YOUR GRIEVANCES

Call it what you will, two sides of the same coin, unlikely or inevitable bedfellows, partners in crime. or whatever, promises and grievances were meant for each other.  Optimists are tempted by promises, and the protests of pessimists are fed by grievances.  Or that is the theory, except there are gentle political souls and not so timid Blairites that expect the world to move on with nothing but promises.   For them grievances feel too much like aggression.  And no less disturbing, promises talk about the future but grievances exist in the present.  Traditional conservatives are not too keen on promises because, no surprise, they cling to tradition.  They find the truculent grievances of the party-pooping left somewhat unsavoury.  These grievances when uttered are regarded as a threat to Burkean harmony where people are supposed to be loyal to faith, flag and family and live happily ever after.  Tories may have primitive macroeconomics but they can smell instability as well as anyone.   Thanks to the Daily Mail and the Murdoch press we now even have people having grievances about people having grievances.  People still have fun and swap grins but something has changed.   The gentler British comedians of the past have been replaced by aggressive alternatives.  Too often comic fun consists of audiences laughing at the others we hate.

Grievances are mentioned because three have defined the past week or perhaps they did before the resignation of Lord Geidt, the ethics advisor to Pfeffel.   Whether that will have any impact will be seen in future days or weeks.  Meanwhile these are the grievances.   A bullying British billionaire was offended by a reference to suggested links to the Russian government, Pfeffel and his DUP mates are upset by the existence of an Irish Sea border between Britain and Northern Ireland, and Priti Patel appears to think one immigrant coming into the country is one too many.  These grievances may produce different responses but they are rooted in concrete issues.   Billionaire Aaron Banks wanted to redefine his relationship with critical journalists.  The Brexit deal of Pfeffel may have enabled the blonde bomber to claim he ‘got Brexit done’ but it is already undermining the identity of a certain entity called the United Kingdom.  And whether it is liberal or restrictive the immigration policy of Britain will or should at some point need both democratic approval and transparent processes.  What is not just odd but somehow defines Britain after twelve years of Tory rule is the extreme reaction to these issues, how issues were immediately defined as grievances and the response to those grievances has been extreme rather than considered.   

Aaron Banks took his own grievance to court and sued Guardian and Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr.  Summing up what happened is not easy.  The judgement of the court runs to 416 paragraphs and more than a few of those paragraphs have sub-paragraphs.  Neither can the report be commended to readers for its narrative grip.  The consequences of Cadwalladr losing would have been serious.  One determined investigative journalist would have been made bankrupt, a lot more would have thought about career moves, and their editors would have had disturbed sleeping patterns.  Cadwalladr won but she squeaked through.  Before the matter went to court the journalist Cadwalladr denied or retracted the assertion that Banks had links with the Russian government.  The court then had to decide whether a single sentence in an eighteen minute lecture at Ted Talk and then a jokey tweet had ruined the reputation of the billionaire.   Because the remark in the lecture was brief and subsequently retracted and because a tweet is just a tweet, the claim by Aaron Banks was dismissed.   Banks is a critic of what is often called woke culture.  He is not just rich but tough talking.   In the world of macho Aaron we are all supposed to take it on the chin.  In this instance the opinion of the ref was that if you are going to climb into a boxing ring then you should have something better than a glass jaw.   The judgement of the court was that Cadwalladr had spoken truthfully about her unfounded suspicions of illegal funding of the Brexit campaign led by Banks and whether he had possible Russian links.   The evidence presented by Banks was described as ‘mostly truthful’.   Aaron Banks, though, was described as ‘lacking in candour in some aspects’.  What is important is that the court decided that no harm had ever been done to the reputation of Banks.   And if that is the case, why the fuss?   Perhaps his peddling of grievances to advance the cause of Brexit has infected his spirit, as it has the rest of us.  Banks felt aggrieved by a handful of words and was obliged to react.  He was still reacting after the result in court.  He tweeted that he won the result that mattered, the Brexit victory.  The economy might be tanking but Mr Banks has sorted the ultimate grievance.  The ego sleeps tonight.

A government that has to deal with a cost of living crisis would be forgiven for parking certain issues, especially those that are likely to create conflict with international neighbours.   Even those in charge of healthy economies would worry about a trade war with the EU.   Britain does not have a healthy economy.   With no apparent economic remedy in sight for supply failures, wages that cannot keep pace with price increases and rapidly increasing personal debt, Pfeffel has presumably concluded why bother.  Pfeffel has a grievance about how the Northern Ireland Protocol is working.   Despite his signature being on the document and his triumphant cries when the agreement was reached, Pfeffel and his government are now proposing changes.  The Daily Mail has blamed the EU but kept quiet about the amendments already recommended by the European Commission.  These include the relaxation of controls on food and medicines and a proposal to extend this relaxation to all goods that would stay in Northern Ireland.  I may be partial but that sounds generous even if the process of determining which goods are likely or not likely to remain in Northern Ireland sounds like an administrative nightmare for customs officials.   None of this mitigates the grievance of Northern Ireland Protocol signatory Pfeffel.  He wants all goods exported from Britain to Northern Ireland to be free of tariffs and checks.  Pfeffel has also objected to the European Court of Justice overseeing the operation of the current agreement.   For Pfeffel the protocol is nothing more than a piece of puff that he can blow away.   

With that blowing comes a lot of bluster and a problem that has clearly taxed the intellectual skills of Liz Truss.  The line she and the anything but constructive DUP punch is that the protocol is damaging the economy of Northern Ireland.   The problem with this argument is that the Northern Ireland economy is now growing faster than the economy of Britain.  And if looking at figures is anything but enticing for neoliberals then we have the business leaders in Northern Ireland demanding that the Protocol stay in place because it is helping them to make profits, and create jobs, of course, yeah, yeah.  Reliable Liz Truss made a fool of herself on Sky News because she was obliged to present a grievance as an argument. The checks and tariffs stipulated in the protocol may inhibit trade traffic between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland but the ‘province’ is doing just fine with its European market.  The grievance of Pfeffel has nothing to do with economics.  Pfeffel and the DUP are terrified of economic change being followed by political reform and Northern Ireland separating from the United Kingdom.  Truss claims that the protocol does not have the support of the two communities in Northern Ireland.  This is true but it has the support of one, all the folks that voted for Sinn Fein.   You do not need to understand calculus to know that if you remove the protocol then you will only switch the support for the revised deal from one community to the other.  Support from the two communities will still be lacking.  Yet all this is supposed to be worth risking a trade war that will ruin a damaged British economy, an economy that belongs to a society that has run on overheated grievances for too long.

And now we have a certain aeroplane that has been standing for an awfully long time on a runway at Gatwick airport.   The plane would have made more progress if it had joined the lorry queues at Dover.   Even before the plane was grounded by a ruling from the European Convention on Human Rights that said the flight was illegal the lawyers were proving that the majority of passengers did not qualify for the glorious opportunity of having a new life in Rwanda.   The European Convention on Human Rights exists independently of the EU.  The Convention refers to fourteen basic rights that on its website are also called stories.  We can take our pick as to which human right the stormtrooper Patel has broken or which story she has read with contempt.  Four of the twelve that she might find informative are slavery and human trafficking, right to life, equality and torture, and ill treatment.  One of the remaining stories is called privacy.  No support from the phone hackers in Fleet Street for that one.   Britain has received worldwide condemnation for its proposal to dump migrants and asylum seekers in Rwanda, and neither are the Americans too happy about what is happening in Northern Ireland.  Pfeffel has suggested that Britain in the future will not be part of the European Convention on Human Rights.  Winston Churchill was a key participant in its creation.  It has been described as being his brainchild.  The institution and its creation was a response by Churchill and others to the horrors of the second world war.  This is not the first sensible idea from the post-war period that Thatcher and subsequent Tory governments have abandoned.  The other country that refuses to participate in the European Convention on Human Rights is Putin led Russia.  The events of this week are desperate enough to make us suspect that the politicians of this country do not just respond to grievances.  They create and peddle them.      

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.