Boris Johnson – lies




Trains can disappear mysteriously from timetables in the south-east but for the moment time travel is beyond the National Rail System of the UK.  Most rail passengers would settle for trains that ran punctually and fares that were pegged to no more than the rise in price inflation.  But if time travel was possible, more folks would remember the promises that accompanied rail privatisation, the confident boasts of soon to arrive modern, comfortable and punctual trains and claims about  cheaper prices.  All these improvements would be paid through investment undertaken by our dynamic private sector, said the Government and its eager profit hungry partners.   Pardon me if I whistle.  Pfeffel as much as anyone believed and believes this baloney.  He can even take the kids to Peppa Pig World and come away spouting absurdities about how civil servants would struggle to manage amusement parks for children.  I suppose, yes they would, as they are, well, civil servants.  We can give Pfeffel that one.   What we should not give credit to is the belief that the private sector created increased rail traffic.  That has been a consequence of increased urbanisation and of motoring becoming both expensive and difficult. 

The latest plan to invest in the railways has had a bad press but few of the critical journalists have compared the £96bn proposal with what has already been paid to the private rail companies.   Since 1995, when rail privatisation was introduced, 90% of all rail investment has been coughed up by the British taxpayer, known to you and me as mugs.   Transport experts warned that running a railway for profit would end in tears but they were ignored.   A little short-term subsidy for set up costs but the market will soon sort it out, said the government.   The initial 1995 plan was so inept that after five years the annual rail investment or public subsidy was doubled and it is still rising.  The average annual subsidy rail from 1995 until the present day is around £5bn a year.  Not quite the market deciding, one has to say.  Pfeffel has described the proposed £96bn expenditure as the biggest ever investment in rail ever undertaken by a British Government.  Some simple maths then, although not so simple for Pfeffel.   26 years at $5bn a year amounts to £130bn paid by British taxpayers since privatisation, all handed over to help risk averse companies to make profits.  The reward for all this cash has been reduced services and increasing prices.  Pfeffel believes that future long term investment below the levels that has created the existing rail chaos will transform the experience of British commuters.   At least he found his way out of Peppa Pig World. 

And, of course, it is easy to mock.   As my father used to say when I asked him for spare cash, ‘That’s a lot of potatoes, son.   Don’t spend it all at once.’  Managing £96bn is not easy.  Nor can it be denied that there have been some successes in the rail industry in the UK since 1995.  All of them, though, have been delivered by companies that are publicly owned.   Unfortunately, most belong to foreign governments.   Pfeffel takes pride in what he regards as his creative temperament, hence his disastrous decision to discuss Peppa Pig with the leaders of what is left of British business and industry.  It does not, though, need a Tolstoy or literary genius to spot the obvious.  Perhaps there is a place for competition in regional rail but the bids should be restricted to the publicly owned rail companies in the UK and Europe.  Then the trains might arrive on time.  Right now we need to get some Peppa Pigs out of the trough.  

First, though, some more time travel.  Pfeffel won an election in 2019 by doing something he does rather well.  He promised the impossible, and us remembering his adroit sincerity has to put a smile on faces, especially in Northern Ireland.   In the beginning there would be a painless Brexit, then extra cash would be given to the North of England to help those poor folk up there create a competitive economy, and last but not least the affluent in the South would see their living standards rise and not even have to pay any extra taxes.  The inevitable has happened.   The elastic band has snapped, and those who collect that kind of thing are looking for it on a railway line somewhere between Leeds and Manchester.

Nothing has been more embarrassing than poorly briefed Tory spokespersons imitating the charge of the light brigade and arguing that the cancellation of the HS2 high speed link between Manchester and Leeds will make all rail travellers better off.   Actually there is something more embarrassing.   It is Nadine Dorries Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport attending a Parliamentary Committee this week and arguing that the public sector media organisation Channel 4 should be reviewed and evaluated against private sector alternatives.   Only one problem with that claim.  Channel 4 is not in the public sector.   Apologies, need to get back on track.  Not quite in the class of Nadine but still more than capable of tripping over their open mouths were the not so bright government defenders of the rail investment plan.  This is what has come out of some rather vacant faces.  Cancelling the HS2 link between Leeds and Manchester will free up funds to improve local rail services, those that connect towns.  This way, they said, there will be more local rail stations and more trains for pesky passengers trapped in the snowy wastes around the northern uplands.   To be fair to the government spokespersons they lasted longer than Nadine Dorries arguing black was white but not by much.

The promised £96bn investment has two elements, the HS2 rail link and something called Northern Powerhouse Rail.   The £57bn HS2 investment is supposed to transform travel between the major cities of the UK, and the £39bn allocated to Northern Powerhouse Rail is to improve local services.  What somehow was forgotten by the Tory spokespersons, and much of the British Press, is that £7bn has been lopped off the previous £46bn allocation to Northern Powerhouse Rail.  That is more than a 15% reduction in a budget that was supposed to close the gap between what is spent on public transport in the north and equivalent expenditure in the south.  Northern Powerhouse Rail is a defunct project.  Instead there will be piecemeal improvements.   Transport funding for London from government equates to £2731 per person.  In the North East it is £5 per person, and, no, there are no missing zeros.   That means Londoners receive a transport subsidy over 500 times higher than their fellow British citizens in the North East.   The London region receives more transport subsidy than all the other English regions together.  The truth is that northerners like to use public transport.   It is a highlight of their occasional weekend trips to London and their holidays abroad.  And perhaps so do the folks from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  But the £96bn investment plan only refers to England.  Not that you would necessarily know it from reading the British Press.   Thank God for the New Civil Engineer magazine.   In language that the New Civil Engineer would never use this almighty cock up is the responsibility of the English and us alone.  And there are more problems ahead.  Mark Wild, the CEO of Transport for London, has warned that it is imperative that more money is made available for the train services in the capital.   London is at breaking point, has said Mr Wild.      

The cancellation of the high speed link between Leeds and Manchester has not just upset local businessmen.   Newspaper reports have indicated that between Leeds and Manchester some people have seen their homes destroyed to make way for a railway line that will not exist.    The HS2 link between Manchester and Leeds was also claimed to be essential for the economic recovery of the city of Bradford.  Well, up there on the moors they do have the National Science and Media Museum.  How many, though, make the protracted journey to look at pre-digital cameras is not known.   Bradford will remain a city that has 500,000 people without access to a mainline railway station.  

Liverpool was supposed to have a high speed link with Hull.  This has not been cancelled but no date has been set for work to commence.   That perhaps will feature in post-apocalyptic plans when the absence of houses after nuclear destruction should reduce costs significantly.  It does not, though, take a holocaust for the Mancunian neighbours of Merseyside to identify the downside of any proposal.   The reduction in the time taken to travel to London from Manchester is welcomed on the eastern side of the M62 but some sourpuss has wondered just where the railway lines will be put in a city that is notorious for dense housing and traffic.  The official response is that the railway line will be supported by stilts.   A history of Victorian aqueducts persuades Mancunians that they have as much right as anyone to be wary about railways on stilts.   Nor does it need someone from New Civil Engineer to ask the next question, which is just where will the stilts go.   So far the locations of these stilts have not been shared with the residents of Manchester.    A few people best described as drunkards’ dreams accept that a feasibility study into this will have been done.  The rest already have serious misgivings.

At least Pfeffel is having less criticism from Tory MPs in the House of Commons.   This is not because his performances have improved.   Last week, Pfeffel was admonished by the Speaker on four occasions.   Thanks to plenty of experience, Pfeffel knows how to eat humble pie and he did.  More than a few Tory MPs are vacating the House of Commons when Pfeffel appears.   Makes one wonder why 137 of  them ever needed a second home to do their job.  No one should expect an insurrection soon.   We have a fool that does not know Channel 4 was a private company and she is running a government department for media and culture.   There seems little danger that Captain Pfeffel will lose his status within his hopeless team that is guiding our country towards the light.   On such a journey, of course, nothing can beat a railway track.  But just when you want one, where are they?

Howard Jackson has had eleven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism.  His latest book Offended Shadows is now available here.



The word disinterested is much misunderstood.   More than a few confuse disinterested and uninterested.   The word disinterested means impartial.   Disinterested is such a misunderstood member of the English vocabulary it has probably passed its sell-by date.   The same can be said for an awful lot of English punctuation.  It might be best for the word disinterested to be quietly forgotten, and in future the users of the English language can settle for the narrow option of impartial.   After the antics of Pfeffel in Government, though, even the word impartial is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the UK.  Be fair to the man.  The attention span of Pfeffel and his cronies was always bound to struggle with the nuanced principle of impartial or disinterested evaluation and decision making.  Much easier and much more fun is to let  governing bodies make up their minds without having to talk to people or look at boring papers.  Wasting time weighing up two sides of an argument.  Pfff says Pfeffel.   And we all know how talk of standards and principles has always had a gravitational effect on the eyelids of Pfeffels.  These days fairness and even handedness are no longer on the menu.   

A long-standing wheeze from Pfeffel is to have the exceptionally foul mouthed ex-editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, as the anything but open-minded chair of Ofcom.  This is the toothless regulatory body that is supposed to ensure the rogues in the British media give the British public a good service and avoid bad practices that might injure members of the British public.   Although there is an additional responsibility to prevent newspapers scamming innocent victims the alert will have realised that the Ofcom terms of reference are so vague that a HS2 high speed train could drive through them.  Not that any high speed trains will be going to Leeds any time soon after the latest news from this government.   All that news, though, waits down the track and should arrive at this station next week.  

In its history Ofcom has done sweet nothing to stop the Daily Mail telling lies and inventing stories, a practice that began when the very partial Dacre became editor of the newspaper.   Each of us will have their favourite bogus Daily Mail story.  Some like the invention that described how stay at home Romanian immigrants were crowding aeroplanes that were actually already full of British businessmen.  Others inevitably have a fondness for the Daily Mail article that proclaimed open-mouthed the health benefits of fellatio.  That nonsense was soon rubbished by aghast medical experts. Catching up with the sexual revolution, though, is the Daily Mail at its least harmful.   More sinister was the claim that working mothers caused autism.   No pressure there, and an awful lack of sympathy for women dealing with difficult responsibilities.  Worrying about potential victims, though, is not the Dacre way.  Under his editorship the Daily Mail created so much trash that Microsoft now warns users of its Bing search engine that the Daily Mail website publishes fake news.  And the architect of all this fake news is the man that Pfeffel wants to regulate the British media.

Yet Pfeffel is anything but a one wheeze man.  He has them all the time.  This is why he keeps having to make promises.   There is, of course, a downside to his good and generous nature.  Few of his promises are feasible.   The Daily Mirror has counted 39 U-turns from Pfeffel while he has been prime minister.   This does not include the latest shambles over the nice knowing you but this could never last high speed HS2 link between Leeds and Manchester.   Admittedly there is a trust issue but even before HS2 in the North had run out of track the Mail had actually counted 43 U-turns.  Thank God, we do not have to use typewriters anymore.  Scribes do not find it easy keeping up with prolific wheezemaking.   Not quite a U-turn is a wheeze from way back.   This stopped being a wheeze because the man nominated to take the wheeze forward had feet too cold to carry serious freight.   (Expect the same to happen with Dacre.) Baron Moore of Etchingham, as he is probably not known on his Visa Card, was suggested by Boris and his people as someone that could be the next chairman of the BBC.   Charles Moore, or Baron to his mates, is an ex-editor of the Telegraph.  Friends of the Baron say he has the manners of a gentleman and that this is a man to be trusted.   There were, though, doubts, probably something to do with the Telegraph training of the Baron.  

The Telegraph has always been a Tory mouthpiece but in gentler times it sometimes made an attempt at being impartial.  These attempts were not the norm but they did exist.    Any pretence of impartiality soon disappeared under the editorship of Charles Moore.   While the rest of the British Press were condemning the antics of Owen Paterson and the escape plan designed by Pfeffels, Moore and Rees Mogg the Telegraph had printed, courtesy of the Baron of Etchingham, an article defending Paterson.   Charles Moore is remarkably relaxed about what the rest of us call corruption.   He prefers to describe pay rises negotiated by Trade Unions in response to inflation as theft.   No, that does not feel impartial to me either.   Quick aside.   The young will have forgotten the Northern comics that used to perform at the variety halls of Britain.  Some and one in particular, Jimmy James, had a couple of odd looking straight men.   Pfeffels and the Mogg would be perfect in an old-fashioned music hall act.  No need, though, to criticise  a man for his looks even if there is scant pleasure to be found in anything else that is happening in British politics.

But we were talking about impartiality.   Just in case anyone still thinks Moore could have managed to behave impartially over at the BBC this is the man that has burnt the midnight oil crafting his adoring biography of Margaret Thatcher.   Not everyone likes the book but what is turgid to most will appeal to tub thumpers that compare industrial relations to bank robberies.   And there will be those that think a biography of the woman that encouraged the destruction of British industry still allows Moore into the chairmanship of the BBC via the margins.   And it might have happened except someone remembered that the Baron of Etchingham also thinks it is a good idea to abolish the BBC.   Once that was remembered and there was a subsequent outcry the Baron decided that the job was not for him anyway.

Two people that are anything but disinterested about Pfeffel and his future are his wife Carrie and an ex-mistress called Jennifer Acurri.   In a recent off the record restaurant dinner Pfeffel let it slip that he was fast losing enthusiasm for married life.   In a probably boozy dinner with journalists Pfeffel revealed that the third time around he was suffering from ‘buyer’s remorse’.   Feminists more qualified than me can debate and discuss the use of language in this instance and what it reveals.  If the remark was intended to be off the record, no journalist can resist a U-turn from Pfeffel.   There have been so many and we are still counting.  With this oaf in charge, someone must have thought, who needs to probe for leaks.  No one can blame impoverished circumstances and economic struggles for the growing disenchantment in the yearning heart of Pfeffel.  There are still mumblings about the £200,000 that was paid to refurbish the flat in Number 10, the £200,000 that no one can remember where it came from.   But £850 rolls of wallpaper and rent free holidays in £25,000 per week villas can do little to mitigate yearnings in the heart when they occur.  And when Pfeffel has yearnings there are usually consequences.   The yearnings are not always located in the heart, of course.

This brings this particular train at almost HS2 speed to our next destination.   Jennifer Acurri is more than willing to sprinkle quotes around the British media.   Acurri is again in the news because of the sexual relationship she had with Pfeffel while he was the London Mayor.   The Observer has seen extracts of a diary written by the USA born and well-built blonde,  Jennifer Acurri not Pfeffel.   One extract from her diary quotes Pfeffel as saying, ‘How can I be your thrust- the throttle – your mere footstep as you make your career?  Tell me how I can help you.’  One way Acurri received a helping hand was the £100,000 awarded by the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport to the company owned by Acurri and called Hacker House.  So it goes, one day it is a lack of funding for football fields in the North and the next there is cash for companies owned by well-built blondes willing to forget neoliberal scruples.   But just as there is mystery about just who coughed up the £200,000 for the flat of Carrie and Pfeffel there is confusion as to how Acurri was able in 2018 to boost the accounts of Hacker House with £700,000 that suddenly landed in the accounts.   At the time Acurri had debts that included a £100,000 student loan and negative assets of £350,000 in her main company Innotech.   Pfeffel had hardly kept Acurri at a distance to protect his integrity.   In 2013 he followed Acurri to a high tech conference, grabbed a microphone and assisted in the Innotech presentation.   His staff advised against him attending the conference with Acurri.   It is in the diary of Jennifer Acurri how Pfeffel boasted of ignoring that advice.  ‘I want you to know they came to me and I crushed them,’ said Pfeffel.   ‘I only want to do this to make you happy.’   And so she was, for a while.

A woman not content at all is Caroline Pidgeon.   She is the chair of the Greater London Authority oversight committee.  To the ears of this particular Pidgeon the revelations in the diary extracts of Acurri must sound like shrill squawks.   Pidgeon thinks that there are grounds for a fresh investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct into the activities of Pfeffel and Acurri.   Pigeon believes that an enquiry would be appropriate for the IOPC because Pfeffel was a police commissioner when Acurri was looking for diaries.    The days when our rulers had regard to impartiality appear to be long gone.   Bring on the well built blondes and lose a few words like disinterested.

Howard Jackson has had eleven books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism.  His latest book Offended Shadows is now available here.