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

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.

PFEFFELS AND PIFFLES – A YEAR WITH BORIS

26 RIP IT UP

No one that writes an 851 page analysis of the British Civil Service called Whitehall is likely to be tempted by polemic.  The author Peter Hennessy may have the title Baron Hennessy of Nympsfield but the same man gushed when he was given a place in the House of Lords.  The ‘h’ in Nympsfield is missing for a reason.  There are no nymphs in Nympsfield or, if there are, there cannot be many.  Nympsfield is a small village of over 300 people in Gloucestershire.   No one then should have reservations about calling Hennessy a dry man.  The likelihood is that he would be flattered rather than offended.  This week Peter Hennessy has been quoted as saying that Britain faces a constitutional crisis greater than any he has seen in his lifetime.   A simple translation for simple folks like me is that this is really serious.   Poor Pfeffel, what have you done?

The British Constitution is what is known as unwritten.  Procedure and behaviour is governed by conventions and precedent rather than written rules.  This means the British Constitution is kind of like the early days of cricket.  There was a time when batsmen walked away from their wicket before waiting for a decision from the umpire and kids playing football avoided making fouls because it would ruin the game.   The problem is Pfeffel was not that good at cricket and he cheats in the games that he does play.  This means Hennessy is right.  We have a problem.  Without written rules to underpin the Constitution there is little that can be done to remove a prime minister that lies to the House of Commons, fails to observe legislation agreed by him and his cabinet and rips up the rules regarding ministerial conduct and accountability.   

Some Tory lackeys have claimed that the fuss about Partygate is mere tittle-tattle or as Pfeffel would say, a mountain of piffle.  Tittle-tattle or piffle it is not.  Pfeffel has defied legislation, and this occurred just weeks after he had signed off that legislation.  This rule breaking has led to Pfeffel and others close to him being fined by the Metropolitan Police.  Pfeffel has apologised to MPs for breaking the law.  He also claims he did not lie to the House of Commons on those occasions when he refused to admit breaking the law.  One hates to continue with this Lewis Carroll absurdity but needs must.  Chronology has consequence.  Pfeffel not only signed off this legislation that he felt entitled to defy.  He simultaneously observed a daily routine of reminding the British people, or at least those that watched the telly, that they must observe these new laws. And just in case anyone thinks all this is being sniffy.  He wrote an appreciative letter to a child that had forfeited a birthday party because she did not want to spread the virus.  Pfeffel stressed to the same child how important it was that we all followed the legislation.  That should put one cynical sneer on her face when she hits puberty.  What she and we need to realise is that any sentence uttered by Pfeffel containing the word ‘we’ will always struggle for consistency.

Oscar Wilde once said that people could resist anything but temptation.  Most of us have had moments when that remark has felt especially pertinent.  The difference between Pfeffel and the rest of us is that he never hesitates before embracing temptation.  Neither is there in Pfeffel a trace of guilt or shame after the transgressions have been committed.   The not rare moral flaw that Wilde identified is multiplied by at least the power of ten by our Pfeffel, or if you want to be gloomy, the prime minister of the United Kingdom.  And this simple weakness in a badly flawed human being is why Peter Hennessy is now talking about a constitutional crisis.  The recognition that human beings cannot be trusted with excess power is why other countries have written constitutions.  No need in Blighty, though, when there were always reliable Brits with a sense of honour.  The cynical say politicians have always been self-serving and without honour and that might be true.  There was, though, a time when English batsmen walked before hearing the verdict from the umpire and British kids could play football in the street without kicking lumps out of one another.   This adherence to rules existed not because everyone had read Mallory.   Nor were people especially honourable and wonderful.  What they realised, though, was politics had to be an alternative to warring barons, cricket could not be allowed to spoil a relaxing British summer day and surly kids had to be prevented from taking their footballs home.  All that, though, happened before Thatcher arrived and redefined politics as nothing other than confrontation and victory.

Thatcher, though, was a woman of her time.  There have been other factors.  Australia has a longer and hotter summer, and its cricketers are not so concerned about preserving balmy summer days.  The Aussies always waited for the umpire decisions and then introduced ‘sledging’.  Kids now carry around a lot more than footballs, and abandoned games of footie can be dismissed with shrugs.  Truculent childishness also defines Pfeffel, and the influence of Australia is present in the latest government gee-whiz scheme to process in Rwanda future migrants to Britain.   The objective is simple.  Immigrants to Britain will be redirected to a country that most people would want to avoid, especially those that have been traumatised by events in the country that they were trying to escape.   The worldwide reaction was predictable, especially as all these migrants will now look for alternatives to the UK and Rwanda.   The British government has been condemned by world leaders as lawless and immoral.   Some commentators have suggested the Rwanda scheme is more than a cynical attempt to save Pfeffel and add that too much would need to have been done behind the scenes before the joint announcement was made by the British and Rwandan governments.   There is some truth in this but the timing of the announcement suggests the influence of the unsavoury antipodean Lytton Crosby, the man famous for his willingness to throw dead cats on the table.  Right now the Rwanda scheme feels like a dead cat thrown to divert attention from a prime minister that should not be just investigated by parliament but forced to resign.  

Peter Hennessy might or might not be relieved by the inability of the government to persuade all its MPs to block the referral of Pfeffel and his misdeeds to the Parliamentary Committee On Standards.  Despite recent turbulence from the Tory rebels a substantial number of Tory MPs remain opposed to Pfeffel being asked questions about his lawbreaking.  The Tory parliamentary majority is 80.  At least 40 MPs were not prepared to be identified to their constituents as those that wanted the Prime Minister to avoid investigation.  For Tory MPs in marginal seats it was about survival and not honour.  There were plenty of others that wanted their blessed leader to be shielded from scrutiny and prevented from being held accountable.   They have their reasons.  Pfeffel might get nothing more than a slap on the wrist from the Committee on Standards but the real dirt will now be made public.

None of this should surprise anyone.   This crisis may have crystallised in a point about the behaviour of Pfeffel but others have played the part.  If John Bercow was still the Speaker in the House of Commons then Pfeffel would have endured at least one suspension from the House of Commons.  Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, like some umpires, is meant for gentler times.   Pfeffel is a problem, and that problem has been ignored too often by Hoyle.  A more commanding leader of the opposition would have long ago reduced Pfeffel to a laughing stock and inflicted damage that even Tory loyalists could not have ignored.   The lack of an impartial and critical media has encouraged arrogance in a government that, like the people that run the Labour Party, has never given a damn about lacking majority support.   Brexit rivalries have meanwhile replaced debate and analysis with gung ho and emotional nationalism.

By slicing graphs and tables into convenient and misleading examples Pfeffel has lied to the House of Commons repeatedly about the economic performance of the British economy and the dreadful and still occurring Covid fatalities.  Pfeffel has even had the audacity to claim the achievements of his government have been world beating.   He is helped by a British electorate that is not good at numbers.  If the disproportionately high number of Covid deaths in the UK is recognised by a truculent few, the majority of Brits walk around believing that the government did the best it could.   But while Pfeffel boasts about a superior economic performance the IMF has confirmed that the British economy is being outperformed by all the other countries in the G7.    There is more than a constitutional crisis to give Peter Hennessy sleepless nights.  Britain has an underpaid and dysfunctional civil service, food banks instead of an adequate welfare state, ineffective and corrupt policing, rampant tax abuse by the very rich, oligarchs rather than British citizens holding the government to account, bankrupt local authorities, an overstretched health service, transport chaos, a cost of living crisis, housing costs beyond ordinary families, daily dumps of sewage in its rivers, inadequate investment in its economy, an unwieldy balance of payment deficit, household debt reaching record levels, serious social division and the rest. The people willing to take responsibility for this mess are either greedy rogues interested in nothing other than their own careers or revolutionaries.  The Daily Mirror has identified 50 government scandals that have occurred since the last general election.   Not all those scandals should have led to the resignation of Pfeffel as prime minister but a majority of them should have and they would have in those distant days when English batsmen walked without waiting for the verdict from the umpire.  

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.