40 GOODNIGHT IRENE
This, I am relieved to say, is the end for me and Pfeffel. I am going up in the world. After this particular effort I will be concentrating on the actions of Al Capone, his friends and enemies. In this final week for me, three rumours have emerged about the future of Pfeffel. Rumour one is that Pfeffel will be offered a job as secretary general of Nato. If Pfeffel does secure this post then the chap has earned it. The UK may have lower economic growth than the rest of the EU, and a lot more problems besides, but that has not deterred the heroic Pfeffel from donating twice as much cash to the Ukraine struggle as any other leader of a European government. Not his own money, of course. Pfeffel is not a man that is fond of taking the change out of his pockets. The money for the Ukraine came from the UK exchequer, yes the one funded by Brits struggling with a cost of living crisis and three and a half thousand pound electric bills. If it all happens for the Pfeffel CV then the ex-prime minister gets a well paid job and, because of the services available from Nato, the best subsidised jet-powered travel available, a perk that we all know is close to his heart. True, a European military role for Pfeffel means that people living in already worrying times will have to look upwards to even darker skies. We take our consolation where we can. The word secretary in the Nato job title will reassure optimists. That alone should keep Pfeffel, and hopefully a few others, out of harm’s way. Anyone with sense would regard the well-paid cushy number of secretary general as a lucky break but Pfeffel has his own ideas about what constitutes good fortune.
Rumour two is that Pfeffel intends to lead the Tories into not just a future British general election but the next, the one that Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak want to fight. Pfeffel supposedly told Tory peer Lord Cruddas that he wanted to ‘wipe away’ anything that prevented him from staying in Number Ten. Anything means a lot of people and an awful amount of history but Pfeffel is supposedly gritting his teeth and ready to fight the odds. 10,000 members of the Tory party, or confused dreamers in blue rosettes, have signed a petition organised by Cruddas. The demand is that members should be given a vote on whether Pfeffel should be allowed to quit. This gesture, or what some of the 10,000 might regard as an impulse to democracy, needs perspective. There are 150,000 members of the Tory party and that leaves a lot of people in blue rosettes that are not so confused and dreamy and are also more than a little weary of Pfeffel. And, in case anyone has not noticed, Pfeffel is no longer the leader of the Conservatives. There is something happening called a Tory leadership election.
The promise to Cruddas from Pfeffel to remain as prime minister occurred over a more than decent lunch at Chequers. Not a bad way to think about a coup in a country where every institution is accused of no longer functioning. The notion of Pfeffel remaining prime minister after the Tories have selected another leader is absurd. Yet there was a time when the idea of the blonde Billy Bunter being prime minister and securing convincing electoral support was considered to be just as fanciful. The conversation between Pfeffel and Cruddas does confirm the warnings of Dominic Cummings, a man that has alway insisted that Pfeffel has no intention of resigning. Plan is too strong a word to use for what is no more than a scheme or broken leader fantasy. Whatever it is, it involves Liz Truss being elected as leader. Pfeffel and his mates will then do everything possible to ensure wild-eyed Liz fails to cope with whatever prime ministerial responsibilities are supposed to be these days. Truss will be obliged to respond with a quick resignation and say something like come back wonderful leader, all is forgiven. Pfeffel appears to have forgotten that mass resignations ended his regime in spectacular fashion. Jeremy Corbyn survived without majority support of his PLP but he was not in government. Corbyn also had the support of a large majority of the then 515,000 members of the Labour Party. Rule changes facilitated membership for a modest fee, and this attracted new members but Corbyn was also a factor in the increase in membership of 325,000.
Faced with not quite the democratic mandate that Pfeffel thinks he has, it is difficult to see how he can fight the next general election. Pfeffel could declare a state of emergency sometime in September, refuse in the circumstances to depart as leader and then summon us to vote. There is talk of a general strike and that might give Pfeffel a Ted Heath type opportunity where he demands an electoral mandate to confront the unions. Nothing, though, beats a nuclear war for declaring a state of emergency. The conflict in the Ukraine might persuade Pfeffel to go to the mattresses, note the already Capone influence on me, or a stubborn prime minister leading his nation from a bunker. There would not be much left to lead, of course, and the empty shelves at Waitrose would be a problem, but the bunker would at least have expensive wallpaper. Pfeffel might indeed return as a future leader of the Conservative Party but his best bet would be after a future Starmer led disaster. There are plenty of South American examples of this happening. When the situation is dire a familiar face allows people to use confused memories to flatter the previous reality. This leads us to rumour number three. Rather than nobbling Liz Truss the mates of Pfeffel are more preoccupied in finding him a safe seat to fight the next general election. This would give him a base to fight a future Tory leadership contest.
The UK has become a crazy country where the people that want political power are those that are reluctant to govern. They simply want to be in power. The modern qualification for political responsibility appears to be deaf ears to the chaos and a smile for the cameras. They are helped by significant numbers within the British electorate that are too easily offended by discourse that offers political and economic options. Rather than evaluate options, voters prefer to seek comfort from media personalities. Starmer has been presented as a serious alternative but the man struggles to utter the clichés that long ago turned his mind to mud. And I know this is a cheap shot but as a parting gift it can be forgiven. Is it me or has anyone else noticed the facial resemblance of Starmer to Desperate Dan? If it is not media personalities plaguing British politics, it is cartoon characters from the Beano comic. For those that think those remarks harsh and ignore nuanced modern British politics, surely by now we have learnt by now not to flatter politicians and give them the benefit of the doubt.
When asked to describe his economic plan for future growth, Starmer replied to the curious by saying it would be British. Relief all round, no Marx, Hayek or Milton Friedman then, but nor should we expect a resurrection of the monetary theory of English liberal John Maynard Keynes. The Labour shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, in no more than half a dozen words confirmed that she did not understand the fiscal rules that she has said will operate when Labour are in government. We all have blind spots but, sorry, not knowing the difference between investment in capital and expenditure on day-to-day expenses is a lot more than a spot for a shadow chancellor.
Meanwhile and over in the blue corner the Tories spout that they are the party of sound finance and responsible fiscal conservatism. Whoever eventually leads the Tory Party she or he will continue to persuade us that the British people including its poor are all suffering in a good cause. Some final notes, courtesy of economist and accountant Richard Murphy, about the fiscal conservatism of the Tories. 71 years have elapsed since the election of a Tory government in 1951. In that period the Tories have been in power for 48 years. Despite the determination not to leave future generations with the burden of paying off government debt, remember we have to think of the children, the Tories have repaid debt in just four of those 48 years. The Tories do not repay debt and neither are they slow to dabble in debt. Tory governments have borrowed 75% of the national debt. If they had merely matched the borrowing habits of anything but expansive Labour governments, rather than being the supposed superior and responsible fiscal conservatives they claim to be, then the Tories would have only borrowed 66% of the national debt. All that austerity, the collapse of infrastructure, a ruined health service, the wilfully ignored cases of appalling personal hardship, increase in hunger, reduced mortality and the rest, and what do we have? Record levels of debt because of tax cuts for the rich and suppressed economic demand for others. The very rich have become richer, and the very poor have become poorer.
And we wonder how Pfeffel became prime minister. I am not aware of women going back to Pfeffel after relationships collapsed. His modus operandi appears to have been to move on without regrets to other ladies. That gives us cause for hope. Pfeffel, whatever he thinks now, might end the relationship. There is still room for gloom. If there is enough chaos and nonsense, rumour three might be eventually verified. The grinning chap could reshape the stand up comedy and accomplish a belated return to high level politics. There are people that believe that the voters of the UK deserve better. The misanthropic and the merely cynical are not so sure. Thatcher has left an economic, political, social and cultural legacy that has persisted for at least three decades more than it should have. As any good economist can tell you, there is a price to pay for anything. Right now it is an awful lot of accumulated debt and damage.
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.