Boris Johnson – lies

PFEFFELS AND PIFFLES – A YEAR WITH BORIS

25 I SLIPPED, I STUMBLED, I FELL

One thing at a time.  The Partygate lawbreaking of Pfeffel, Sunak and Mrs Pfeffel will have to wait another seven days before being discussed here.  And no mention of the wife of Rishi Sunak either, or at least for another fifteen hundred words or more.  Tory MPs and Cabinet Ministers have discovered political correctness and are now telling us it is seriously bad form to criticise a minister for the behaviour of his wife.   The truth is that Sunak was always a second rate politician, with or without the missus.   Philip Roth identified what he considered the two qualities that would qualify anyone for the post of CEO in a modern corporation.  If my memory is correct, the novel was American Pastoral.   The two qualifications are working hard without needing to pause too often for breath and having a permanent smile for everyone.  Intelligence and ability, according to Roth, were irrelevant.  Not everyone will agree with Roth but his theory does explain an awful lot about the never ending infiltration of mediocrity into the ranks of our betters.  Sunak is a striver, and an anything but sincere smile never leaves his face, but bright and adept he is not.   

The Tory Party has been impressed by Sunak but only because rather than thinking about the limitations of the man it has contemplated instead what really impresses, the magnet behind the moral compass, money.  Having wealth and keeping it so it can grow is no laughing matter in a political party stacked with landlords.  And the man who has always been rather glib about the lack of available cash floating around the British economy has plenty of his own.   If  the one talent of Sunak appears to be making money, he concentrates his efforts on accumulating cash for his own household, one that requires at least twelve houses.   The man has expanded his bank accounts from an early age.   Even at the beginning he picked the right womb for his embryo to think ahead.   His mother and father coughed up the annual fee of £40,000 a year for him to attend Winchester College.   After the required Oxbridge education Rishi married money, actually the richest woman in Britain.  With cash in his back pocket he found a job in the gambling casino that some people call the finance industry.  Amongst like minded spirits he did the same as everyone else and used his money to make more money.   The smile and his work ethic would have helped but becoming a rich hedge fund manager is evidence of nothing.  A hedge fund that does not make money is a rarity.  

The record of Sunak as chancellor is poor.   His budgets have been like flies.   They pass by without making much noise and a day later they are without consequence.  The furlough scheme for which he was praised was an idea borrowed from other Western governments.   The inferior scheme designed by Sunak was, despite warnings from others, full of holes and is second to none in money lost to fraud.  And that level of fraud would have been higher if Sunak had not deliberately excluded 3m of the self-employed.  Sunak and Johnson were the two voices in Cabinet that insisted on either delaying the introduction of lockdowns or removing them quickly.   Despite it being explained to him in Janet and John language by the IMF and the World Bank the not so impressive Chancellor has still not grasped how early lockdowns not just avoid deaths but keep more of the population fit and able to work and support the economy.   

Thanks to Sunak, and with a serious help from Pfeffel, Britain has an appalling number of Covid deaths, now approaching 200,000, and an economy that is suffering prolonged recession.  Covid restrictions no longer apply, and yet the economy still has almost zero growth.   The Eat Out To Help Out scheme, like everything Sunak devises, helped the affluent more than the poor but worse than that contributed to a wave of Covid deaths that could have been avoided.  Without any sense of intellectual rigour his response to the cost of living crisis was to taper a previous National Insurance increase.  While wallowing in shortsighted confusion he introduced an inadequate £200 loan to mitigate the increase in fuel bills.   The initial proposal from Treasury officials, folks not noted for soft hearts and compassion, was £500.  Sunak resisted.  He is the only chancellor or equivalent in the other Western economies that has increased taxation after the impact of Covid.  But then no one else has given tax rebates to bankers.   During Covid and when times are bad Sunak is able to find an annual £1bn tax cut for his mates.  There might be no money in the budgets to help struggling British families but Sunak has merely shrugged his shoulders when faced with funding the eight nuclear plants promised by Pefflel.  Admittedly the number eight is really four.   And if the project is like any of the others we have heard about in the last two years the only hot air coming out of the reactors will be that blown by Peffel.

More than 500 words in and still no mention of the skinflint sneakiness of Mrs Sunak or Akshata Murthy.  She is not the only rich person to be tightfisted, so something about non-doms in general.  Labour MP Jon Trickett has revealed that three out of every ten individuals that claim non-dom status are earning £5m or more a year.  Of those that earn less than £100,000 each year three in one thousand people seek the non-dom alternative.  Prem Sikka, professor of accounting, states that HMRC admits that it has failed to collect over £400bn since 2010 through tax avoidance, evasion and, when needed, fraud.  In that figure there is also a marginal loss caused by error.  Tax officials, though, worry that the figure could be as high as £1500bn.  No one can blame them for being paranoid when their own boss, Sunak, is listed as a beneficiary of a tax fund that is registered in a tax haven in the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands.  And before we buy this nonsense that non-doms have loyalties to other countries, 230,000 of the tax dodgers were born in Britain.  The four billionaires that own the right wing mass circulation newspapers in the UK all have non-dom status and pay no taxes to the British government that they insist must be right wing.  

No wonder Ed Milliband and just about everyone in the Labour Party wanted to abolish non-dom status for tax purposes, everyone that is apart from frightened of his own shadow Keir Starmer and off the shelf neoliberal warrior Rachel Reeves.   This Sunak impersonator is baffled as to why nurses would want higher pay.  Austerity and years of no pay rises for the nurses have escaped the notice of anything but imaginative Rachel.  And while all this is happening 1.3m of the British population will be added to the numbers that are already in absolute, not relative, poverty.   Absolute poverty is not having enough to pay for food, heating, rent and clothing.  Odd is it not that a cost of living crisis has emerged in the UK around the same time the establishment stopped being an oligarchy and became a plutocracy supported by the two main political parties?

The movie director John Frankenheimer died in 2002.   If he had still been around, he could have directed the sequel to his classic The Manchurian Candidate.   Britain was a step away from having an American citizen as a Prime Minister. Well, we always knew the plutocracy was bigger than Britain, just ask Rupert Murdoch.  The Gerard Depardieu movie Green Card only half explained how American immigration works.   Although there are special categories for war casualties and victims of abuse the standard Green Card applications fall into three main categories.  These refer to people that have a spouse or relative in the USA, immigrant workers that are needed for jobs and, we all know what is coming, immigrant investors.   Once eligibility has been established the applicant has to state that he or she wants to become an American citizen and intends to live there as a permanent resident.   If the Green Card is approved but there is a delay in the applicant arriving in the USA, think wealthy investor, then each year the applicant fills out a repeat application and states he still wants to become an American citizen and the rest.   America has its own problems but at least it has the occasional journalist that knows how to keep awake.   At a White House briefing a journalist asked why a member of the British government was, against the law, granted what amounted to American citizenship.   This alone should have forced the resignation of Sunak.   In fact it should be a major scandal.  What we have instead is nonsense, Tory MPs claiming the Green Card application being something that penny pinching Rishi forgot about and let drift.  Sunak made nine repeated Green Card applications, all successful.

Not that anyone can expect anything other than untruths from Sunak.  And at this point we have to talk about his missus.  Sunak was challenged about his wife claiming non-dom status and living in Britain tax free with her favourite Cabinet Minister in his taxpayer subsidised constituency home.  Sunak replied that his wife needed non-dom status.   Oh dear, the sacrifices these people make, and they work so hard for our benefit.   Just to be clear, both clauses in that sentence are sarcastic.  Sunak argued that the non-dom status of his wife enabled her to retain citizenship with India.  This, of course, is nonsense and a lie.  Under pressure Mrs Sunak has agreed to pay tax in the future, not as much as she should perhaps but some.   Odd how future payments of tax by Mrs Sunak will not affect her citizenship of India.   There is a time and place for everything, and a misplaced self-serving and government supporting chivalry has done nothing more than line up the Tory equivalents of footballers that do not understand the offside rule.  Para 7.3 of the Ministerial Code states, ‘this also covers the interests of the Minister’s spouse or partner’.  Whether Akshata Murthy likes it or not the rules that apply to ministers apply to her.  And so they should.   The money grabber is no slouch when it comes to taking money from the British government for her companies.   She also takes money off the Russians but that is another story.        

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

24 SERVES YOU RIGHT TO SUFFER

Dry thoughts for not so dry times, some economic history.  Ralf Rangnick has come clean.   The football team that the not unlikeable and fast ageing German manages is either known as Manchester United, just United, Man U or, as it is known by Liverpool fans, Man Ure.  The straight talking Ralf has admitted to probing journalists that his football team is not very good and it will be years rather than months before it can compete with its high achieving rivals.  Yet Manchester United this season will make more money than any other football club in the world.   

During the last Covid disrupted season Manchester City were the only club that declared a profit but, well, no one believes their figures.   The lawyers at Manchester City offer the interesting notion that their accounts should be kept secret from governing bodies.  The so-they-say income of Manchester City includes sponsorship from an awful lot of very generous companies that are based in the United Arab Emirates.  Sheikh Mansour is the name of the Manchester City owner and he is an oil rich bigwig in the United Arab Emirates.  His full name is Mansour bin Sultan bin Zayed bin Khalifa Al Nahyan.   Not the best way to start an introduction on a first date perhaps but one can get used to anything when there is the promise of billions.  Sheikh Mansour is chairman of the Ministerial Development Council, the Emirates Investment Authority and the Emirates Racing Authority.  Sheikh Mansour may not be known for his humility but neither does he always insist on being chairman.  He merely sits on the Supreme Petroleum Council and the Supreme Council for Financial and Economic Affairs.  He also is a member of the boards of, anyway, there is a lot.   But despite all this pull no one earns as much money as Manchester United, and this is happening even though the club has not won a Premiership title since 2013 or during what Liverpool fans like to call a decade.  The reason why Manchester United continues to make so much money is simple, it has history.   Around the globe United fans spend money to watch their favourite team and buy Manchester United products because this is what they have done for as long as they can remember.   

Britain has the sixth largest economy in the world.  This has not happened because Britain in 2022 has a competitive economy.   The decline in the competitiveness of British industry began in 1876 when it was overtaken by the German and USA economies.  An imperial legacy softened the blow but that was lost when after the second world war ended the Americans put pressure on Britain to lose its empire.  Because the Americans wanted to establish one of their own, this had to be done fast.   Under pressure Churchill buckled and did what he was told.

Wealth, though, has persistently accrued within the British islands since the Industrial Revolution.  All these pennies have helped Britain to survive because of its large retail economy.  And industrial production, although much reduced, has not disappeared.  London also has money making casinos that include the Stock Exchange, banks, hedge funds and the rest.  Money from people like the Russian oligarchs passed through the turnstiles of the country because money and people were here already.   Britain, though, has never regained the competitiveness it had in the nineteenth century.  Public school privilege and a class system that nurtured confident overseers in the colonies have been less effective at producing effective face to face supervision.   Lessons were learnt from Japanese bosses that were willing to socialise with their workers but short termism within the British stock exchange has undermined the modest gains made by British management.  Britain has a terrible record in investing in research and development.  But the British wealthy continue to make money from money.  So who cares?  Not those who prosper, and certainly not Pfeffel who has declared his undying loyalty to British banks.  All of this is why the workers in Britain are paid low wages.  Like Manchester United, the economy of the UK has history.   

The relationship of wealth, affluence and low productivity is confirmed by visits to the provinces.  It is possible to enjoy civilised days in leafy towns buttressed by long lasting wealth that continues to generate consumer demand.  The citizens of these leafy towns do not produce very much or at least when compared to competitive neighbours in other countries.  Yet the size of the British retail economy and the permanence of the affluent mean a leafy town can have residents living very comfortable lives.  Elsewhere in Britain there are industrial towns where, because of the lack of residual wealth to support the economy, the locals struggle to get by. The coast land of Britain contains a weird rural Disneyworld that shortchanges both tourists and residents while elsewhere there are pockets of real deprivation.   

The support for the economic Spring statement by Rishi Sunak showed that there are an awful lot of Tory MPs, like their Chancellor, who are not too concerned about the present plight of ordinary people suffering the cost of living crisis.  Sunak has been described as a fiscal conservative but his wife is a grasping non-dom that pays no tax.  Within billionaires that own twelve to eighteen houses there usually lurk devotees of flat tax rates   Sunak enjoys his wealth, and that is possible because he feels no responsibility to the less affluent.   His parsimonious Spring statement confirmed an increase in taxation in the middle of a cost of living crisis and restricted help with astronomical fuel bills to a £200 loan.  But if this government has ambitions to make the British tax system as regressive as possible, it is prepared to tolerate what is, by world standards, a high minimum wage.   This is not because the Tories have hearts and compassion.   Without a minimum wage set at 60% of the median wage the country would have had workers toiling for starvation wages and lacking the strength to support the economy.   All of this has happened because Britain has an economic history that guarantees a high GDP but poor wages.  GDP expenditure is swelled by the spending of those with wealth, and their wealth makes for them more wealth.  The wages are low because Britain has failed to produce a competitive and productive economy.   A shortage of skilled labour exists because of this unbalanced and dysfunctional economy and not because of full employment.  Britain has underemployment.   Part-time jobs and zero hour jobs are plentiful, jobs that guarantee a working week less so.  Only blinkered neoliberal accountants that call themselves economists will at this point be not adding two and two and making four.   What might be inflation in other countries is a cost of living crisis for Britain.

The common jibe from Tories is that Labour would have taken Britain back to the stagflation of the 1970s.  Well here we are back with stagflation or falling supply and rising prices or what some economists call cost inflation.   This time the workers are burdened not just by OPEC increasing the cost of oil as it did back in the 1970s.  Now housing costs average at about 30% of income and for the poor are often as high as 50% of their wages.  Neither are there powerful unions that can negotiate wage increases to compensate for the increase in prices although Sharon Graham at Unite appears determined to recreate herself as Rosa Luxemburg.   The British welfare state is also nowhere as supportive as it used to be.   Richard Murphy is an economist that advocates modern monetary theory.  Murphy and others argue that taxation does nothing more than control the rate of inflation.  Thinking of it as income that pays for government expenditure is an error especially in a country like Britain that can trade in its own currency and has financial autonomy.  Murphy believes that £50bn can be pumped into the economy especially as Sunak and Treasury have £30bn to hand because tax receipts are above previous estimates.  

This will not happen because this is not how Sunak and the Tories think.   There are even members of the this government that somehow believe it is excess demand that is causing the cost of living crisis.  The problems are on the supply side, increasing costs that have been amplified by the impact of Brexit and Covid.  All of this is ironic because the Thatcher revolution was inspired by supply side economists.  Blasé about the demand side of the equation they argued that we need not worry about the balance of payments or unemployment.  That only left controlling inflation and creating efficient and low cost suppliers.   It has not worked out well.   For people and tax avoiders like Jacob Rees-Mogg it is different.   Muck goes to muck, and his wealth grows.

Neither is it all bleak for Pfeffel.  It is a comfort to him that he and the increasingly vacant leader of the opposition are baffled by economics and are immune to the suffering of others.  Both have careers and destinies to fulfil.  And partygate is leaving echoes rather than persistent rage although Rees-Mogg unwittingly has fanned the flames by suggesting a European war somehow puts law breaking by the members of the government into perspective.  His next move might be to claim that wife beating in Britain is not important because there is wholesale raping and torture by Russian soldiers.  Pfeffel now has a war in Ukraine, a cause to champion and monsters to condemn.   No doubt the war is keeping Pfeffel at a safe distance from what is an economic calamity for the British economy.  It has not, though, improved his stature.  Pfeffel is an optimistic warrior which is no surprise because he is optimistic about everything else.  We might, though, be down to the dregs of his steadfast optimism.  Fast forward military triumph may be beyond Putin in Ukraine but he will still flatten the  buildings to rubble.  He did this in Syria and he has, as the poker players say, a lot less skin in the game in the Middle East.  Perhaps this is why Pfeffel appears to be a reduced figure.  Without a happy ending his warrior speeches consist of clichés rather than memorable soundbites.   Rufling a mop of blonde hair has not had the impact of the cigars and the V sign of Churchill.   There must be real agony amongst his advisors.  There are only so many types of hard hats a man can wear and, as Benny Hill understood, the face of an overweight man under an army helmet is only comic.  

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.