politics

PFEFFELS AND PIFFLES – A YEAR WITH BORIS

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.

PFEFFELS AND PIFFLES – A YEAR WITH BORIS

39  UP, UP AND AWAY

Without the edgy direction of David Fincher the movie Se7en would have been recognised and perhaps dismissed as familiar stodge.  The plot even had the cool yet cynical detective visiting a library and searching for clues.  Bring back Agatha Christie, all is forgiven.  In Se7en, the director Fincher used endless and heavy rain to suggest modern nihilism. This summer we have the option of another metaphor for human folly.   Around the world, people and the poor in particular endure exceptional heat and record temperatures.  Brits loyal to the modern world soon stripped down to t-shirts and shorts.  Couples put on matching baseball caps and carry into the nearest air conditioned and energy consuming shopping mall their exposed and often ruined bodies, all courtesy of their devotion to a ruthless food and drink industry.  The alternative Fincher lashings of heavy rain still have a place.  His definitely effective metaphor will return in the increasingly wet British winters.  The problems with climate change and the environment are worth mentioning if only because the issue has been neglected by all the candidates for the leadership of the Tory party.  Their bodies may be melting in the heat but neoliberal dreams persist in their steadfast hearts.  No break then from an unregulated economy and pumped up consumerism.  And no surprise.   Without it how would the rich scavenge interest off the debt that the poor need to fill the cash tills.  

Ex-leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt has something about her that suggests a no nonsense plain speaking and perhaps old-fashioned Tory.  The steely grin does not persuade us that she is blessed with compassion but Mordaunt looks like a competent matron willing to intervene and sort the problems of others.  Her politics may be just as dangerous as her rivals but somehow she is more likeable.  If unwilling to accept the economic cost of addressing serious environmental issues, Mordaunt was the only candidate prepared to acknowledge that a wrecked planet was the price of maintaining a neoliberal economy.  Asked to consider this dilemma the others just stared into polluted air.  

Kemi Badenoch used to be a banker although she prefers to talk about a teenage student job when she worked at McDonalds.   Whatever she used to be, Badenoch has been affluent all her life and remains a woman on the make.  Badenoch is too busy living the neoliberal Hayekian dream with her banker husband to worry about anything.  But the direction of the Tory Party is such that in the future she might be offered the opportunity to implement the full Hayek vision.   Friedrich Hayek was the economics professor that said it was not important for a government to maintain democratic freedoms.  The objective of politicians was nothing more than to ensure the market operated unhindered.  The market would provide a functioning economy and that would be enough for the ordinary folk.  It makes a certain sense.   With right wing economics the only game in town, what is the point of political freedom?  Leave it to the masters, said Hayek.    Just how would a government ensure an unhindered market?  Well, one could crush the socialists for a start and after that you could shut up the people that in 2022 think 9.4% inflation and an average rise in house prices of 12.8% deserves at least wage increases to match inflation.  And rental charges are increasing faster than house prices, so full marks to Pritti Patel and her efforts to create a police state.   

Hayek and Ayn Rand are the gurus or couple of nutcases that shape the modern Tory party.   Anyone expecting the present floundering economy to raise doubts in these devotees will be disappointed.  Forty years of neoliberalism in the UK not only failed to make British industry competitive as was promised, it halved the annual rates of growth in productivity and wrecked the infrastructure that supported the British economy.  If anything, the followers of Hayek are as devoted as ever.  Badenoch will continue to be a rising star.  Mordaunt for a while looked a threat in the leadership contest but Paul Dacre, the owner of the Daily Mail, is not a fan.   Penny Mordaunt became Dormant Mordaunt.  The Tory party appears to be heading for the next nightmare scenario, party members choosing between anything but convincing Tony Blair soundalike Rishi Sunak and the empty headed Liz Truss, a woman more interested in tanks than Lamborghinis and dangerous in both.

The Hayek vision that has destroyed any common sense and Burkean responsibility within the Tory Party has inspired disenchanted non-Tory voters to promote an electoral alliance of the centre and the left.  That way, they argue, the next election will at least provide a half sane alternative to the politics of Batman imitators.   Yet in an odd way there is also a form of Hayekism in the Labour Party.  Those in charge of Labour are more than willing that party members and even the voters sacrifice political freedom and hopes of economic and social reform.  Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves may spout the same neoliberal nonsense as Sunak but the good news, we are told, is that with her in charge we will not have a Tory chancellor.  The alternative label will suffice.  Blair preached the same message, and without ever being given the credit helped create the disenchantment that led to Brexit. 

After two years of delay and hoping that a heatwave and a Tory leadership contest would be a distraction for the British media, Starmer has released the Forde Report.   The findings confirmed that the supposedly pragmatic moderates of the Labour Party exaggerated the influence of anti-semitism within its ranks.  They also resisted the attempts of the Corbyn administration to implement processes that dealt with the small numbers of anti-semitic incidents that had occurred.  And if that was not enough, the right wing of the Labour party sabotaged the electoral campaigns led by Jeremy Corbyn.  On the day the report was published, the Labour leadership was briefing the media with phoney conclusions that were the opposite to those outlined by Forde QC.    

Thus the anti-democratic spirit of Hayek and the less than privileged position that he advocates for ordinary people has spread beyond the Conservative Party.   Blair and Brown did not resist neoliberal economics, and Starmer has adopted the second Hayek principle.   Trust the economy to feed ordinary people but deny them a voice.  Labour Party members are entitled to a membership card but little else. Since Starmer was elected more Jews have been expelled from the Labour Party than ever before.  The charge against them is antisemitism.   Jews are welcome into the Labour Party of Starmer but not those that refuse to be uncritical of the existing bad-news and right-wing Israeli government.  The Forde report recommended that Jewish Voice for Labour be involved in developing anti-semitism training.  Starmer had sight of the report two years ago,  His response has been to expel members of Jewish Voice for Labour whenever he can.  

The impulse behind an electoral alliance has many causes but it is now popular on the left because some hope it is the only way a government and the British people will even hear left wing opinions.  After the disasters of the last twelve years an electoral alliance of the left deserves the opportunity.   But we should not be too optimistic.  The Tory Party resists proportional representation for general elections but saves the best for its own leadership contests.  Majority right wing votes from Tory MPs with the help of a form of proportional representation in the early rounds have ensured the redistribution of right wing support and the elimination of Mordaunt and Tugendhat.  The support from Tory MPs for Liz Truss was modest.  A decent majority of MPs do not rate the woman but the right wing swell that had supported other candidates has lifted the boat of Truss.  She has also the backing of the Daily Mail and the bookies make Truss the favourite to be the next prime minister.   No doubt the heat is having an effect but it feels like UK politics is trapped in a conservative cul-de-sac.  Rather than provide escape routes Vacant Starmer is leading us into a never ending neo-liberal loop that resembles groundhog day.  No wonder there is apathy.   Nothing in the political system is attracting electoral participation like votes for strike action.          

Never to be forgotten and future senior statesman Pfeffel has, though, mentioned the heatwave and future environmental catastrophe.  He compared the atmosphere that surrounds the earth to a tea cosy.  Why search for a metaphor when banal similes are on hand.  The remarks of Pfeffel were never likely to be taken seriously, especially as he added the compulsory rider that the environmental efforts of the UK were, like everything else done by his government, world beating.   The legacy of Pfeffel is being defined by the soundbite that he ‘got the job done.’  The truth is that he has left Britain in a much reduced state.  His remark about the supreme efforts of his government to improve the environment choked more than the fishes in British rivers that are swallowing buckets of sewage.  The concern of Pfeffel for the environment also followed a jaunt high in the sky in a RAF Typhoon fighter jet.   Inside the cockpit, wag Pfeffel took a photograph of himself giving a thumbs up to his mates and the people he had failed as prime minister.  And so it goes.  The appetite of the British for public school oafs has to be fed.  We have just seen from Pfeffel what must be the ultimate in selfies.  The best Jeff Bezos could do was a photo and an interview after his return from being fired into space, an experience that made Bezos put on a cowboy hat and pretend he was John Wayne.  Back to British minimalism.  Seeing that familiar English thumb erect against a clear British blue sky, the behaviour of Pfeffel as prime minister now makes sense.  Blessed with power and authority, some rule and are inspired by a vision of a better world.  Pfeffel had different ambitions.  He posed for endless photographs and stored selfies.  How gratifying it all must have all been for a man compelled to satisfy excess vanity.    

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.