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

14 GOD KNOWS WHEN

A sobering thought for Pfeffel.  The two projects to rescue his political career, details of which emerged last week, are called Operation Big Dog and Operation Red Meat.  The titles suggest rhetorical Pfeffelian flourishes. Whatever the circumstances Pfeffel retains his sense of humour.  The  sobering thought?  Big dogs may like red meat but they do not live long.  Too much strain on their loyal hearts is the reason according to the vets.   Loyalty from the pups on the backbenches is what Pfeffel needs right now.  And political loyalty is something he kind of understands.  In 2017 and after what was a disastrous election result for the Tories the more restless Cabinet Ministers had to put their ambitions on hold and provide sufficient grief and respect to the wounded Theresa May.  Pfeffel was at his sensitive best.   The election count ended at ten in the evening.  At one in the morning, three hours later, Pfeffel and his mates were seeking support for a possible leadership bid.  

Almost as disloyal is Bury South MP, Christian Wakeford.   Before what was, crikes, an awfully difficult PMQs for Pfeffel, and on a day that was not short of spectacle, Wakeford abandoned the Conservative Party for alternative rogue Keir ‘Stormer’ Starmer.  The Tory MP, as the political commentators like to say, crossed the floor of the House.  The move made sense.  At the next election Wakeford would not have had ex-Labour MP and anti-Corbynite Ivan Lewis urging Labour supporters to vote Conservative. Without that intervention Wakeford would have been certain to lose his narrow 446 majority. Wakeford and Stormer had been planning the move since last October but timing is everything.  What better than when poor Pfeffel was on the ropes and doing everything he could do with his stout English heart.  But, as with almost everything that Stormer touches, the walk had unintended consequences.  Losing a colleague, even one as unprincipled and calculating as Wakeford, inspired the Tories to take a deep breath, swallow the bile and give Pfeffel a stay of execution.   We may be rubbish, said the backbenchers, but we are better than Wakeford.   And they are right.  The already in-house Labour equivalent of Wakeford is the disturbingly dreadful Wes Streeting, a man that believes change is impossible but providing everything stays the same and he can appear on television and say he cares then he will have a satisfactory career.  Not that it is needed but Christian Wakeford is the alternative dark side to Wes Streeting.  After that horrific thought not just torn Tories need to take a breath.

Someone whose brain takes more breaths than her lungs is Nadine ‘Nada’ Dorries.  This woman thinks she understands loyalty as well as anyone.  Nada Dorries has claimed that to not support Pfeffel is unpatriotic.   The government has a big agenda, and leader Pfeffel has much to do, adds Nada.   There is still the BBC to destroy and a plan to level up the North with the South.   Nada is a Northern girl and from Liverpool where proud Tories are thin on the ground.  The few on the right that do exist there appear to be real stinkers.  Anyone remember the serial liar Paul Nuttal?  Liverpool girls Esther McVey and Nada Dorries are more nimble on their feet than Nuttal but they do have people to help them walk in a straight line.   Nada and McVey define themselves through expensive hair styles and wardrobes, Scouse free accents and flame resistant consciences.   Nada has now pledged to create an alternative funding for the BBC media model or what will be left of it after 2027.   I am repeating myself but this woman is the dope that insisted to a parliamentary committee that Channel 4 was funded by the public sector.  Wait till the civil servants put detail and accounts on her laptop.  Nada explaining rates of amortisation will be worth a YouTube clip.

Now they are in the news Operation Big Dog and Operation Red Meat need explanation but not much.  Operation Big Dog is best summarised in the ‘how to’ policy that David Cameron used more than once for getting out of trouble.   ‘I’ve made a decision.  This has to stop.  I’m stopping it.’   No need, folks, to talk about who was responsible for the cockup.   Expect something similar from Pfeffel when he announces the findings of the independent report by ex-country and western singer Sue Gray.   Her report that should have been released at the end of this week has been delayed. The generous explanation is that she has discovered more than expected.  The not so forgiving suspect political wranglings.   Gray in the past and in her career break performed country music with her husband.  Timing is important for not just civil servants but musicians.  Sue Gray and her husband had to hit notes together and keep three chords tight, so missing deadlines is a habit she needs to break.  One country hit Gray will not be singing next week is the Hank Williams classic Move On Over.  

Away from the steel guitar and mandolin, Gray earns a living as the Second Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office.   This is not quite what the Patsy Cline substitute wanted.  Gray had expected to become the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service.  Commenting on missing the number one spot, Gray reckoned the Irish pop pickers found her too challenging and disruptive.  Well, if she is as disruptive as she thinks and Pfeffel dismisses her report, perhaps Gray can play her boss the old Johnny Paycheck country hit, Take This Job And Shove It.  It could have been worse for us. Pfeffel wanted the report to be written by Simon Case the Cabinet Secretary but we all know where he was and what he was doing, think glasses of wine, suitcases and disco.  

No one should sneer.   Imagine having to dance in a cesspit. Those that think the word cesspit is too extreme should have regard to the remarks made by William Wragg in the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.  Wragg asked Ministers to stop bullying those MPs that were considering a vote of no confidence in Pfeffel.  Ministers have been threatening to reduce government funding in the constituencies of troublesome MPs.  But because what really interests an MP are their own creature comforts, the Ministers have also promised to reveal to the newspapers indiscretions that would wreck lives and perhaps lead to imprisonment.   To what extent this skullduggery began with the Blair governments is irrelevant.   Without a written and fit for purpose constitution British political life stinks.

Operation Red Meat is what is meanwhile being fed to the Tory backbenchers to give merely disgruntled MPs hope and fill their anything but settled stomachs.   It is the usual toxic mix.   Sajid Javid is accelerating NHS privatisation through extra big and bright private sector contracts.  Nadine Nadine, spot the reference to the Chuck Berry number, is grappling with the BBC and airwaves.  Covid masks will not be required in shops despite daily deaths in hospitals approaching 400.  And soldiers are standing on the English shore ready to capture immigrants.  There is an irony in this final initiative.  The soldiers will take ‘illegal immigrants’ to assessment centres where their entitlements to residence in the UK will be evaluated which is, of course, what the vast majority of them are seeking.

One person that has defended the efforts of those in the particular cesspit we call the British political arena is Charles Moore the editor of the Telegraph.  His loyalty to Pfeffel was breached when his newspaper revealed the now notorious Number Ten party that occurred the night before the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh.   The reason for the revelation was puzzling but soon explained.  Moore had taken action while Prince Andrew was being summoned to appear in court to explain why women were making allegations about his singular notions of intimate chats.   Moore believes Tory Prime Ministers and as many of the establishment as possible need to be defended against the restless herd.  Of course, all this vigilance is rooted in hierarchy.   That means rank, and for the Telegraph and its readers nothing ranks higher than the Royal Family.  That particular day Pfeffel did have to move on over, but with one article about just one of thirteen or seventeen parties Moore was able to redefine the Royal Family as victims.   Neat eh?

Meanwhile the lies continue.   The chaos in Parliament was precipitated by Pfeffel the day before PMQs telling Beth Rigby of Sky News that no one had explained to him that the party at Number Ten, sorry possible work event, was in breach of the Covid restrictions.   Forget the other thirteen or seventeen for the moment.  Dominic Cummings wrote in his blog that an explanation was given to Pfeffel.  Actually, there were two of them, and the latest we hear is that an email carrying one of the explanations has been discovered and passed on to a not so famous country and western singer.   This was one lie too many for David Davis.   For two years Davis has been willing to listen to the boastful lies of Pfeffel including the one about the successful management of the cost of living by the government.  

There is a record cost of living increase and that is despite doctored government statistics.  Jack Monroe is a chef that has created healthy low cost recipes for working families but even Monroe is close to admitting defeat.  Collecting from the supermarket items that were essential to a not luxurious diet, Monroe was able to identify a 340% increase in food prices from twelve months ago.   For obvious reasons budget items are more susceptible to inflation increases.   The effect that this will have on poor families is exacerbated by energy prices that are doubling.  Pfeffel may not be a traditional Burkean conservative but he does have a fondness for chestnuts.  He has even grown a couple.   He still maintains that his government is building 40 new hospitals and the UK is top of the growth league in the G7.  There are two new hospitals.  Civil Servants are frantically searching for a hospital that might be having building work, however modest.  In the last quarter Britain was fifth in the G7 economic league.   Where will it all end?  Stormer Starmer and his stormers have the idea that the society and economy can improve but without any change.  Rachel Reeves celebrates the loss of 200,000 Labour members.  At least the members now all share the same values and think like me, says Stormess Rachel.   Stalin said something similar about the kulaks.  Stormess Reeves, though, does have some way to go. 

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

13 IT’S MY PARTY

There are not many British skies that are free of clouds but on the 20th of May 2020 there was only blue in the skies when Pfeffel and his cronies had a party in the garden of Number Ten.  The skies were also cloud free this week when Pfeffel was obliged to apologise for the high jinks.  Despite the surprising January sunshine it has not been a fun time for the British establishment.   And this is without the weekend revelations about the Number Ten partying the night before the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh.  That mayhem will be considered here at a later date.  Before all that the English cricket team failed to win a single match in the Ashes test series in Australia.  The four defeats were heavy, and repetitive batting collapses suggest that British fibre these days has become ruffage free and something like rice pudding without the lumps.  

A uniform can help a man to raise his chest and stiffen his backbone which is one of the reasons they are popular with the Royal Family.  In the future Prince Andrew will not be seen in military uniform.  He has been stripped of his Royal status by the Queen.  No one should be surprised.   In the past Royal families have been world beaters in matricide, fratricide, infanticide and the rest.  Without the medals and brass buttons the Prince appears to be as fibre free as the rest.   Manhattan federal court judge Lewis Kaplan has insisted that the Prince is obliged to attend an American court to answer allegations that he had sex with a seventeen year old girl procured by Jeffrey Epstein.   Majority opinion is against the Prince appearing in court to answer the accusations of Virginia Guiffre.   Those with the calculators reckon a $5m settlement will make the case go away.   So far the Prince has been using his own funds but if an extra five million is needed, a deal-dealing mother and British taxpayers are on standby.

Like the Irish comedian used to say, there is more.   A British court ruled that the Government broke the law when it awarded PPE contracts worth £1000m to companies without inviting competitive tenders.  What the Government refers to as the VIP lane and the rest of us think as mates rates between Tories has been decreed unlawful.  The bad news for the Government is that the Good Law Project, a team of slick and determined lawyers led by Jolyon Maugham, is pursuing more actions against the Government including, and this one is a cracker, suing the Met for failing to investigate law breaking in Number Ten at the party that happened on 18th December 2020.  The newspapers have reported 100 people attended that yuletide gathering.   And what goes around comes around because 100 invitations were issued for the party that occurred on 20.5.20.   Where is Claude Rains to round up the usual suspects when you need him? Only 30 to 40 attended the May party which must say something about how seriously the Brits take Christmas.

There are enough multi-page spreads in the newspapers for everyone to know the details but so far we have not had people wondering over the numerological significance of the date 20.5.20.  At the time of the apology to Parliament five parties had been identified which is interesting because Pfeffel, in what now seems like more innocent times, alleged that there had been none.   The latest number is seventeen.  All those events have generated criticism or, in view of the people involved, opprobrium.  The May party had significance because it not only added to the numbers but exposed the previous deceits.   The skies may be clear but down below amongst supposedly responsible humans there is much murk.  Pfeffel and the crowd around him have the obnoxious taints that the powerful attract.  The callous contempt of self-satisfied scoundrels is tarnished further by hypocrisy which, of course, is the charge that is used mindlessly against the left.   Ordinary people that broke lockdown restrictions were subjected to punishment.  100,000 lawbreakers received fines ranging from £200 to £12,000.  Even five parties at Number Ten is five too many.  But as crimes the parties do not compare to the Tory sins of Grenfell, Windrush, increasing food insecurity and homelessness, money being directed from the poor to the rich, defence of tax havens and the rest. 

This is not the only irony.  Pfeffel is what the British describe as a bon viveur.  He is witty, extrovert, sociable and has a very caring attitude towards his penis but he is not despite all appearances a party animal.  His serious drinking occurs amongst close friends and confidants, either at dinner parties or restaurants.  When obliged he will make a brief appearance at a party, say hello to the crowd and drink a solitary glass of wine before leaving.  Not that this is an excuse for what happened.   Only fools believe Pfeffel when he says he thought he was attending a work event.  Seeing your wife on the lawn knocking back the gin and forty other  people chatting and quaffing wine would have alerted even the dumbest.   Pfeffel, though, and again this is no defence, is more than likely to have regarded his attendance as work. It is this tangential connection with a kind of truth that has contributed to the design of the apology by Pfeffel in Parliament.  The accused went further and argued that he thought the event was technically within the guidelines and he added that might yet prove to be the case.  These are the claims that are supposedly being investigated by senior civil servant Sue Gray.  Now, no one should make allegations without evidence but we live in a world where the crime of a prime minister is being investigated by one of his Whitehall lackeys.  Apologies for having dark suspicions but anyone that does not employ independent investigators deserves what they get and that includes senior civil servants accepting tasks they are not qualified to undertake.  The British media has so far described Gray as a woman of great integrity but only the naive and innocent will be prepared to believe that the apology of Pfeffel was not tested with Sue Gray before he appeared in Parliament.  

The guidelines that applied in 2020 include this direction for workplace events, ‘only absolutely necessary participants should attend meetings and they should maintain a two metre separation throughout’.  Most writers would hesitate before including the word ‘absolutely’ but in this instance it warms the heart.  It nails Pfeffel and his wriggling nonsense to the cross.   We should also remember a particular poster that urged restraint during lockdown.  It consisted of three photographs of Covid victims breathing through inhalers.  Each of the photographs were under a headline that told us to look into the eyes of the victim.  Above the female casualty the headline said, ‘Look into her eyes and tell her you never bend the rules.’

There has been plenty of looking into eyes at Number Ten, alcohol has that effect on egotistical people supercharged on work driven adrenalin.  The only people that remembered something about never bending the rules were those that replied to the email invitation by pointing out that the party was a bad idea, not because it broke lockdown rules but because it exposed the Government and Whitehall to criticism and, while we are still here amongst our masters, opprobrium.  When Christmas arrived even the common sense of the May resisters disappeared.

None of this is mysterious.  People with power behave badly.   More puzzling is the defence of Pfeffel, an explanation that collapsed under scrutiny within seconds and offered a sacrifice to the court of public opinion.  The subtle power players reckon that in a speech that would have had plenty of pre-prepared attention the priority of Pfeffel was to avoid a criminal charge and record.  Ignorance of the law is no excuse is the cliché but proving intent is often a legal requirement.    Pfeffel will continue to insist that he thought a party of 40 people drinking alcohol and attended by his wife was a work event even if it does make him look like a clown unfit for a role in government.  

It appears that there has been an instruction to civil servants to wipe their phones.   Email accounts will also be hammered by the delete button.  Why this is necessary when Pfeffel has reassured his colleagues that no one had done anything wrong is a mystery.  Even on a day when it was imperative that the performance of Pfeffel stayed at least close to the truth, familiar lies appeared.   Pfeffel in Parliament claimed that the UK was leading the world in the rollout of Covid vaccinations.  Fifteen European countries have a higher percentage of the population vaccinated.   Portugal has 90% vaccinated.   The UK has reached 70%.  The nonsense continued.   Pfeffel was delighted to report that the UK had a higher economic growth rate than any other country in the G7.  This was based on an anything but enthusiastic report in Bloomberg.  The problem with growth rates is that they are moveable feasts.  The figures depend on the periods examined and the countries selected for comparison.  The same report warned of an inflation crisis in the UK.  Not in Bloomberg but elsewhere there are figures to show how badly the UK compares with individual countries in the EU.   Last year no European economy came close to the Irish growth rate of 15%.  There were similar boasts about job creation.  Pfeffel said without qualification that unemployment in the UK had fallen.   This is not true.   There are more people on payrolls but fewer people are employed.   Labour shortages caused by the exit of migrants has enabled some of the self-employed to find more secure work with employers.  This might be good news for those individuals, somebody had to benefit from Brexit, but this is happening in a job market that is reducing.  But why nitpick when we have a supposed independent investigation into Whitehall misbehaviour and a compromised media and a wounded monarchy feeling obliged to take defensive action.  Watch out for the straight bats and do not expect any cricket shots to hit the boundary.

Howard Jackson has had twelve 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.