He found the heat to be almost unbearable. As the dust drifted across the African runway, the Prime Minister’s modest motorcade was making its way toward the waiting charter jet, after the end of what should have gone down in the annals of political relations as an unmitigated disaster.
But it was far from over. Michael Holden had held the seat of British power for almost two years, and had certainly made his mark. Now being forced to withstand substantial pressures from the various institutions, both legal and political, this modest State visit to the backwater African state was the last thing on his mind.
Michael’s popularity had begun to wane considerably in past few weeks, after actions which many likened to that of a despot, or at least the beginnings of one. But that was not the man he knew himself to be. He had made his name as a visionary, a man whose finger was on the pulse of a nation’s desire, whether they knew it or not, but it had paid off, at least up until now.
But his personal allegiances had also suffered. He certainly did not get to where he was by himself and his allies where also feeling the pinch, as the knives were out and if his enemies could not remove Holden, they planned to systematically remove his mechanism for maintaining his power.
One by one, they were under attack, but Holden, at least for the moment, was untouchable. Michael was not an evil man, not in his own eyes anyway, but he accepted that events had taken a direction of their own and though he may have orchestrated many of them, he had certainly lost control.
His rise was a slow one, from humble beginnings to great heights of both popularity and power, a path which he had never expected or aspired too, but had secretly dreamed of for most of his 51 years. But as he stepped out of his black car and marched with his Aide, Philip Heinze, and his security entourage, he had something else on his mind, and this may have been the core motivation for what happened next.
Michael had been driven straight from his meeting with the leader of this, until recently, war torn state, but as in the old story, the war ended and a leader, who was aided to democratic office by the goodwill of many western states, Britain included, had been installed. But Holden, as did many, recognised this despot for what he had become.But like many others, Holden recognised this despot for what he truly was
His treatment of his own people had become a talking point, his lack of respect for the democratic process, freedom of information and the distribution of wealth and aide to his people.
Michael was many things, but he did operate from a passionate and democratic stand point. If anything, that was his fundamental flaw; he was effectively a fanatical democrat, with a belief in the principles of freedom and expression, and the use of referendum, but he had no tolerance whatsoever for those who would subvert it.
The man who he had just shared the flicker of shutters and flash bulbs with an hour earlier, was the epitome of his scorn. Michael though, was no saint and his motives were about to be driven not solely by his loathing for this man, but by the anger at the fact that the leader would not meet with him privately.
Holden was expecting to sit down in a quiet room and deliver his repertoire to the man who Michael felt was a political infant in comparison. But this ‘backwater despot’ had turned the tables on him at nothing less than a public press conference, the purpose of which was to play host to the two leaders publicly shaking hands.
A moment of contemplation later, after all that he had already been through at home, there was not a chance in hell that he was about to publicly support this man, More to point, this dictator was not going to manipulate him into endorsing his warped leadership. Michael’s pride was always getting in the way of toeing the line, but now he felt powerful and confident enough to deal with him.
With that in mind, as the pair sat down in front of the waiting press corps in front of the palatial fireplace on two plush high backed chairs, Michael discreetly managed not to shake his hand but nodded to him politely as they took their seats. Then, as they both exchanged mundane pleasantries, Holden looked deeply into his opponent’s eyes, trying to bite his tongue and just get through the next few moments without creating an international incident.
But the mere thought of giving this man any kind of mandate to continue with his abuses or, more pointedly, allowing the President this political victory over him, was just too much to bear. With that, Michael suddenly sprung to his feet, looked firmly into the array of flashing cameras and stormed out amidst a hail of light.
The native leader looked on with a collected expression, still managing to hide his utter embarrassment at the unprecedented scenes which were unfolding. Truly the world was changing, though be it slowly.
Back at the airport, Michael and Philip made their way up the steps to the waiting jet, but just three steps from the cabin, Michael stopped. After a moment of pondering he turned and made his way back down, by default ushering his aide with him.
“What’s going on?” a puzzled Philip Heinze enquired, as he had just been forced to perform a rapid 180 on the stairs.
“I’m not having this,” Michael coolly stated. As he again made contact with the African sand, he looked from left to right at the hot, desert-like terrain, which surrounded the barely modern airport. ‘This was no doubt used as a military airstrip’ he thought, as he turned to his Aide. “I need a chair:”
“A chair?” Philip replied queried, almost at a total loss…
“You heard me Phil. Anything will do,” Michael stated, almost oblivious to the oddity of his request. “Put it right here,” he continued, pointing to the sand at the base of the steps.
A still bemused Heinze scurried back into the plane and attempted to find a chair for the PM, one that was not bolted down of course!
“What’s going on!” The pilot’s call from the cockpit echoed throughout the plastic sounding cabin.
“Just a delay, hang on!” A frustrated Philip responded.
“It doesn’t work that way…” The pilot continued, his tone becoming more curt.
“It does today,” Philip shouted, just as he had what he had been looking for; a plastic chair which he raced back to Michael with.
“Thank you,” Michael coldly stated, as he quite simply sat down, in the middle of the runway, with the Press beginning to gather at the gate, long lenses and all.
A few moments passed, as Philip was becoming more frustrated with each blistering moment under the southern equatorial sun. “Prime Minister, What’s going on?”
“Fingers crossed, democracy,” he smartly replied, whilst reaching into his inside jacket pocket to retrieve a small A5 piece of folded paper. He then turned to Philip. “Do me a favour and grab me a drink will you…”
“Of what?” Philip dryly asked.
“My usual,” he stated.
“In this heat!” an ever more bemused Philip exclaimed.
After he had loosened his tie, unfolded his sheet and taken a silver pen out of the same pocket, he turned back to Philip and said, “Yes.”
Philip made his way back into the cabin, leaving Michael to write on the sheet of paper. A moment passed, and Philip trundled down the steps, whiskey in hand, but with an added extra; compliments of a man who didn’t have a clue what he was witnessing.
Once at the bottom of the stairs, the pair exchanged drink for folded paper. Michael then began to drink from his mixer glass when his stopped, and with his forefinger and thumb, removed a cocktail umbrella from his scotch. “What…?” he enquired with a sense of whimsy.
“It seemed to be appropriate,” Philip drolly replied.
“Take that to the first journalist you find over there,” he said, referring to the ever growing mob at the gate.
“Okay,” Philip nervously replied, as he began his walk. On the way he unfolded the note and began to read it as he walked. His jaw began to fall and his pace slowed until both had stopped. Only halfway to the gate, Philip turned back to his leader and looked aghast, and Michael simply raised his glass and smiled, until Philip resumed his walk.
The note simply read: ‘I will sit here until the present leader of this country either resigns of is removed.’
Those words would always be associated with Holden, but that was just the beginning of a saga that threatened not only to break him, but to give new meaning to the term ‘Diplomatic Incident’. A new phrase was about to be coined: ‘Democratic Terrorism’.
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