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PFEFFELS AND PIFFLES – A YEAR WITH BORIS

30 IT’S ONLY MAKE BELIEVE

We all know or should.  We have been told often enough.  A lot of people are fond of Pfeffel, think of him as a good chap.   He attracts women, not all stunners to be honest, and wins elections, well, a couple and with plenty of support from the British media.   Women or electorates, the promises of Pfeffel are consistent and simple.  Commitment is too strong a word to use in the case of this chap.  Some speculation may be required but it is not difficult to imagine Pfeffel telling the woman whose head happens to be on the pillow next to his that he has never met or adored anyone quite like her.   It makes sense.   Seduction requires a simple premise and 100% flattery.  Once it becomes complicated it becomes a relationship, even the meetings that are doomed from the beginning.  Pfeffel also kept the lies simple when he made his promises to the British electorate.   Britain will be world beating, and just as important, puffed Pfeffel, we do not have to think about how that could possibly be achieved or worry over any statistics that reveal an underperforming economy and fractious society.   

Sexual seductions often follow expensive meals and occur in luxurious hotel rooms.  In the election of 2019 a lot of money was spent by the Pfeffel campaign team to create crude, vexatious and dishonest propaganda.  Some of that money involved shell companies, and that way the electoral rules on funding were sidestepped.  Asked why rules could be so easily broken, the people at the Electoral Commission said, ‘Oh, dear, what rules?’   The day after the 2019 election Pfeffel celebrated his victory. He attended a champagne and caviar party held by Russian oligarch and ex-KGB officer Alexander Lebedev.  Allowing tax exiles to give cash to the Tory election campaign facilitated an intense and industrious operation that concentrated on Facebook.   Seven million Facebook subscribers were identified as potential Tory voters and bombarded with campaign advertisements that were designed to be mistaken for news headlines.  Level playing fields are so old-fashioned these days.   Forget about anything but equal election campaigns.  Just look at the income distribution within the UK, the declining health outcomes and life expectancy for the poor, and the never ending reduction in social mobility.  Thinking about what happens to others just slows a man down.  Pfeffel and the cronies pulling the strings behind him had a simple plan or premise and it involved a cynical promise, unspoken perhaps but rule changing.

Pfeffel persuaded a large section of the British electorate that with him in charge politics would go to where the simple souls amongst us had always wanted it to be, in a place remote from them.  Pfeffel promised that he could make politics ‘go away’.  He did this in two ways.   First, Pfeffel offered a celebrity comic personality, an alternative to politicians that insisted upon argument and debate.   Instead of dry argument from people that acted as if they were clever and superior, we were offered a shambling and untidy comic.  For many of the electorate this was more than a good idea.  Not only had the endless debates given them a headache it had meant that people that they did not want to listen to would now be obliged to do what a large part of the electorate had always wanted.   Boring politicians and people they disagreed with would at last ‘go away’.  There was nothing original in this pitch by Pfeffel although political commentators have been slow to spot the totalitarian implications and comparisons.  The reliance on crude comedy by authoritarian right wing leaders is not a coincidence.  Second, Pfeffel promised that he would make the EU and all the argument about whether the UK should be a member or not also ‘go away’.  In this instance the slogan used was GET BREXIT DONE.   Britain would begin again, and everything we disliked would ‘go away’.  All we had to do was catch a bus that had £350m written on the side.  And the right wing has the cheek to call those on the left utopian.  

Something that will not go away is Northern Ireland.  Despite what has been claimed by the thickest ever Attorney General, Suella Braverman, the country of Northern Ireland is not part of Britain.  Although an increasing number of the population of Northern Ireland would prefer no connections whatsoever with Westminster, the country was created to be part of the United Kingdom.   But if Northern Ireland is to stay in the UK, which is what the British government wants, and Ireland is to remain in the EU, then someone needs to sort out the borders between Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain.   EU officials know as well as most how to kick a can down the road but puffing and making problems go away is not quite their style.  Northern Ireland staying in the EU single market to avoid a hard border with Ireland makes sense but that means the country or what some prefer to call a province will have to remain in the single market.  And that requires a border between Northern Ireland and Britain.  Plonk a border down in the Irish Sea and the part of the Northern Ireland population that are not that keen on being part of the UK wonder what the hell Northern Ireland was doing in the United Kingdom in the first place.  Actually that sentence requires the word again, wonder again what the hell etc.   

Now some basic stuff in language lawyers like.  EU officials can be picky but if you create a single market that is defined by economic rules and a geographical entity outside of which there are trading restrictions and tariffs then you need a border around that entity.  Without that border, guess what, there is no geographical entity and that means an awful lot of places where goods can be exchanged without regard to the trading restrictions and tariffs that are important to the definition of the geographical and economic entity.  Oh dear, who would have thought.  Not Pfeffel and his mates.  Those cowboys were too busy promising that the EU and boring analysis could be made to go away.

Over the years tricky borders have roped more than one dope.   In a government that leads the way in vacant stares the dopes have been forming a queue.  Suella Braverman has claimed that the majority of the Northern Irish support the wishes of the DUP to remove the border in the Irish Sea.  This is what happens when we have an Attorney General that cannot think and blink at the same time.   Sorry, but the majority of the population of Northern Ireland did not vote for the DUP in the 2022 election.  29% of the 1st preference votes were for Sinn Fein, and 21.3% were for the DUP.    Whatever Braverman thinks the majority of people of Northern Ireland want no border between Northern Ireland and Ireland and are more than happy with a border in the Irish Sea, especially as it keeps the economy of Northern Ireland in the EU single market.   Not sure if all this sounds like a Shakespearean tragedy but here is the rub.   Like its southern neighbour has for several years, Northern Ireland is prospering in the single market.  While the British economy has had additional suffering since Brexit the economy of Northern Ireland has adapted to the Irish Sea border and expanded trade with Ireland and the EU.  For some time the economy of Ireland has outperformed that of Britain but thanks to Brexit and staying in the single market Northern Ireland is now able to regard Britain as an impoverished neighbour.

Pfeffel, Liz Truss and the increasingly onanistic patriots on the Daily Mail may think they are laying the law down but without realising they have become spokespeople for a country with an inferior economy.  Truculence and Tory arrogance cannot disguise what are desperate pleas by hard up Britain to remove an Irish Sea border.  This border is not only exposing an inferior British economic performance.  It also threatens the existence of not just the United Kingdom but Britain, a misconceived and lopsided political, here is that word again, entity if there ever was one.  

And if all that sounds gloomy, rest assured there is worse.   We know that the politicians of Northern Ireland, Ireland, the EU, Joe Biden and an awful lot of Irish Americans want that Irish Sea border.   The politicians in the rest of the world either agree with the Irish, the Europeans and the North Americans or are indifferent to the plight of the British.   The arithmetic in all this is a hell of a lot simpler than elections with first preference votes.  Subtract the rest of the world and what is left is Britain.  Lacking not just economic strength but international diplomatic support, the government of Pfeffel thinks this is the moment to talk tough and threaten to break international law.   No problem, says Suella Braverman, laws and such are so yesterday.  As more than one commentator has noticed, inviting a trade war with more powerful economic neighbours in the middle of a cost of living crisis is not the best of ideas.   There have been trade disputes before.   The plight of the fishing industry inspired Nigel Farage to take a megaphone on more than one boat. We all know how that dispute ended.

Times must be drastic because Pfeffel has visited Belfast to negotiate a solution.  He visits Belfast even less than he goes to Liverpool.  Pfeffel may be responsible for creating this mess but a tragic CV hardly qualifies him as the man to solve the problem.  Tony Blair was given a lot of credit for negotiating the Good Friday Agreement.  The man does have the gift of the gab but his greatest contribution to the negotiations was not his superior persuasive skills.  No doubt people had to put in long hours and be patient but what helped Labour secure the Good Friday Agreement was that Blair and his delegates were not Tories.  History reveals that whatever the problems the Irish have had to endure the Tories have always managed to make the situation worse.  Unreasonable demands from British Tory governments are, as far as many of the Irish are concerned, anything but water under the bridge or in this case a border in the Irish Sea.     

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

29 DON’T PLAY THAT SONG

Tolstoy was reluctant to give Napoleon credit for anything.  But if the Emperor slipped up in Russia, Boney showed common sense when he claimed that timing was the essence of genius.   Committing to levelling up the regional economies of the UK while there is a cost of living crisis would have for Napoleon brought back memories of the Russian Steppes and deep snow. Yet if Britain had a dynamic government led by someone like Franklin D Roosevelt and there was a plan similar to the New Deal we could have had the prospect of crusading heroes seizing magic moments and making history.  FDR may have been the right man at the right time back in the 1930s but he would have suffered days when he was obliged to hold his breath and hope for the best. The President survived because he had a plan and energy.  Dynamism, competence and faith helped Roosevelt mitigate the worst effects of the economic depression.  And despite opposition from the American rich he held out until the second world war arrived, and after that, economically at least, it was plain sailing for the four terms American President.  Or at least until his death.  

The limitations of the British government will ensure that it cannot replicate the success of FDR and his Democrats.  The UK government  already compares badly to the alternatives in Western Europe.  A scoundrel called Pfeffel and his pack of blinkered and incompetent lackeys have not revealed problem solving skills.  Roosevelt had Keynesian convictions.  He believed that a government could make a difference.  Pfeffel and the people around him have nothing but a neoliberal do nothing faith in a market unencumbered by government planning.   Faced with a cost of living crisis and with no neoliberal elbow room, the knee jerk reaction of the government to the existing economic problems is to get rid of 90,000 civil servants.  Of course what the government says about governing is not meant to be taken seriously.  They do not believe in governments and governing.   The market and the invisible hand will solve everything or at least eventually.  With nothing to do, the members of the government campaign rather than rule.  Pfeffel has put on more hard hats than Cate Blanchett has worn movie costumes.  They also look at how the money coming out of the Treasury can make them and their friends rich.   

But right now living standards are collapsing.  Higher marginal cost curves may not be important to the average shopper but they have noticed the jaw dropping weekly cost of groceries.  The government message is that chancellor Rishi Sunak is thinking about the cost of living crisis.  This is the new style of government.  Nothing is done to solve problems but the politicians are thinking about how people are suffering.  On a good day they give speeches and powerpoint presentations.  Often these occur in front of a Union Jack.  Welcome to the intellectual bankruptcy of neoliberalism.   Pfeffel, with and without his hard hat, has said that the underperforming economies of the regions will be addressed by levelling up.  The  programme always looked inadequate.   Now it feels like a con.  David Milliband is not the most popular politician amongst Labour Party members.  Many on the left believe he was too easily seduced by power and neoliberal economic theories.  The critics of Miliband remember his willingness to sanction rendition, the practice of sending terrorist suspects and even reluctant witnesses to other countries where they would be tortured on behalf of the British government.   But even Milliband has a point when he says that Britain is now in a position where it is left with two alternatives, obituary and revolution.   There are no next measured steps that will solve the social and economic problems facing the UK, especially when hysterical hegemony dismisses even modest reform.   

Unbalanced and stuttering economies and a cost of living crisis require government actions that neoliberals are obliged to consider taboo interventions in the market.  Even free with his money Pfeffel is reluctant to tread on the toes of the folks with the cash.  This is why he prefers to build bridges and tunnels.  Economic interventions are what neoliberals dismiss as socialism.   And after forty years of British media hysteria we all know what we are supposed to think of socialism.   But even socialists and social democrats would struggle with this cost of living crisis.   Covid and Brexit have intensified previous and now perennial problems with the supply of the raw materials needed for production.  Covid and Brexit have also reduced the number of people available in the labour market.   This is why prices and the cost of fuel bills are increasing.  And, just to make it complicated, lockdowns reduced the profits of companies and increased their debt.  Not always because Covid has made some people very rich.   The less fortunate enterprises, though, are looking for payback.   Hate to kick a man when he is down but it is difficult to see how Pfeffel, as he claims, will solve these problems by creating a high growth and high wage economy.  Even if he did deliver what he says, and only the poodles in his Cabinet talk as if he might, such success risks making worse the labour and raw material shortages that have already driven up prices.   

But these are serious problems for serious people.   The neoliberals are programmed with the invisible hand nonsense of Adam Smith.  Roosevelt had a high investment programme and managed inflation with an incomes and prices policy.  Some have argued that he saved capitalism but, if he did, he gets no thanks from the neoliberals.  There will be no prices and incomes policy that can prevent extra investment in green jobs augmenting the existing inflation in the British economy.  Utilising heavy investment and an incomes policy is not without risk but not as risky as doing nothing.  It would also ease the hardship being faced by ordinary people.  Of course a prices and incomes policy and higher taxes to help pay for investment shifts the burden of the cost of living crisis towards bankers and wealthy companies or what some of us in our weaker moments call capital.  Much easier for Pfeffel and his cronies is to let ordinary people suffer cost inflation and watch demand for goods and services shrink.  Or put simply, exacerbate a cost of living crisis. 

And all this is before we even think about levelling up.  The author of this ruse is Michael Gove.  The chap was already having a bad week before his failed Scouse impression but after that the jibes about his cocaine habits were not slow to appear.  Poor Gove.   How does one level up the economies of the regions without making government interventions that are supposed to be socialist in a society that has confined such notions to the dustbin?  The answer from David Milliband, a man that spent his political career retreating from the left wing opinions of his father, is that you do not.   The UK options are either obituary or revolution.  Note that we are talking about a population fed nonsense by the British media.   Obituary it is then.

To understand how neoliberalism is inconsistent with levelling up we only have to look at the one British success story, the Premier League. And why not?  After the economics some light relief is in order.  Funding from the Abu Dhabi sovereign state has made it almost impossible for anyone to be competitive with Manchester City.  Liverpool football team won a title two seasons two years ago but that only happened because the team manager of Manchester City failed to have adequate cover for his defence.  European competition ensures that the rich clubs get richer and the poor clubs become poorer.   If Manchester City win the League every year for the next decade, it will only be imitating what Paris St Germain and Bayern Munich already manage in France and Germany.  Spain has a ubiquitous two horse race but Spain is really more than one country.  Without its geography Spain might have been dominated by just one team. 

In the football world the big boys receive most of the European money and claim the hog share of the TV rights and commercial sponsorship.  This they use to establish themselves as international brands which means that they get more money again.  And so it goes.  This is neoliberal economics in action.   A couple of months before his 22nd birthday Erling Halland signed a contract with Manchester City.   So far his skills have been limited to scoring goals.   His statistics for retaining possession, making successful passes and creating assists are not great.  While running around a football pitch and, when the opportunity arises, aiming the ball at a net he will earn £350,000 a week and, no surprise here, undisclosed bonuses.   There is an irony within this dream neoliberal model.   Manchester City are owned by a sovereign state, one that so far has invested billions in the football club.  There is another irony.  The  NFL in the States has salary caps and drafts to ensure talent is balanced out between the teams and American football remains competitive.  All this happens in the USA, home of modern capitalism.  Perhaps it was the influence of Roosevelt.

In the Premiership some money is taken from the big clubs and given to clubs lower down the League but not enough to threaten the status quo.  This support for the less successful does not happen because the Premier League contains closet social democrats.  To establish the Premier League the creators had to give voting rights to all the clubs.  British politics is dominated by a two party system where the winner takes all.   Levelling up requires a lot more than a powerpoint presentation from MIchael Gove, nothing less than a radical overhaul of the British Constitution.  This brings us back to David Milliband and his quote about obituary or revolution.  No one should hold his or her breath.   There is a scene in The Dark Knight when The Joker describes himself as a man without a plan.  ‘I am someone that likes to watch it burn,’ says The Joker.  Seeing the UK head towards calamity should give him a thrill.  

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.