The short stories of nEoPOL

Novel: “UNION JACK” Chapter 4 “Successor”

They hailed him as their leader: the saviour of a nation, the standard bearer of the future. As epitaphs go, this was not half bad, thought John Peterson. After an eight long years in the editor’s chair at the tabloid giant, he knew what his readers wanted, but was this it?

Yes, the man had died but is that the story? Is it not really more relevant who takes his place? Prime Ministers come and go but the government lives on. Or at least it should.

Nine years had now passed since terrorism had been given new meaning, and the days that gave birth to Michael’s redux political views. Now his dreams were fulfilled, even though at the beginning he never thought it possible, John mused, he knew Michael better than he knew himself.

John was looking over his own notes as he mused over the headlines, bi-lines and stories, all written by his best and up and coming journalists. All vying for the spotlight on this, one of the most unique stories to hit in decades.

A Prime Minister dying in office, it was almost unheard of. And here we were, in the middle of it. But John was no fool; twenty years in the business, a breaker of so many stories, some of which were so close to the mark that they had been censured. He was a man, like most in his business, who only knew how to read between the lines.

The story wasn’t the death of the PM, but the fight to succeed him. Two candidates were waiting in the wings to battle it out, but there was someone else who had caught his eye. He had been watching this man, a man who he himself had coined the name ‘The Defector” for: Michael Holden.

It had been five years since Michael had effectively committed political suicide by dumping his old party in favour of the opposition, but he somehow managed to cling on. It was not an easy ride though. Two years after his ‘courageous’ decision, he was ousted by the 2006 general election and lost his seat back to the party from which he had defected.

The irony was not lost on him, but people can be fickle and have a tendency to display loyalties were none need be. So, back out of the limelight he was, and while he wondered as to when, or if, he would return to the flicker of the public eye, he knew that he had done more in those two years than he had ever dreamed compared to the four preceding.

He was making his mark and justifying the new found faith that he was engendering with his allies, Ken Taylor and Lewis Samuals. Michael was biding his time, set up in a nice easy managerial position while he waited for his reprise, he waited as Ken worked for him in the corridors of power, aiding his return. But as Lewis had stated all those years ago, ‘It was going to be an uphill struggle.’

It had to happen eventually, but not in a way that anyone would predict. The election was called, all the seats were up for grabs, and he knew that given the chance, his old seat was his for the taking, but only if he was to be put forward, and thereinlay in the problem.

Politics was hardly known for its fair play. Michael was making his fair share on enemies within his own camp, rivalries were becoming more pronounced — after all, even in the twisted and often corrupt games of Westminster, no-one likes a defector. But Michael’s conviction and dedication to the thought that he was the right man in the right time drove him forward.

Never getting his hands dirty, never quite asking the tough questions, he would move forward through the ranks. He was becoming the most popular hated politician that we’d ever seen and John Peterson had seen them all.

He recognised Michael for what he was; a single minded opportunist, but there was something about this man, and even though you knew that there was an insincerity about his actions, you felt that his motives were clear and transparent. That he meant what he said and it was exactly that which was winning him support, even from those who wanted him gone.

This was a hungry man, but clearly he was not after the top job, he was a number two, the advisor, the sage man who given half a chance, merely wanted that opportunity. And this was it.

Nothing had been said; Michael had indeed regained his seat, and had become a Minister under the late Richard Hollister, and was primed for a lead job. Not Chancellor, he was simply not qualified, John had thought. ‘Maybe Deputy Leader?’ he mused a year earlier.

Michael would not allow himself to even think it but it was already there, a thought which was lodged firmly in John’s mind. That was the power of Michael, the earnest intent, the mild manners but with the fire to persist in getting it right. The self proclaimed judge, but in a non-hostile way, he simply made you believe in what he wanted without imposing his feeling upon you.

This was, of course, the insipid nature of men like him. The Venus fly trap, the flame to a moth, the chocolate fudge cake. They simply do what they do and their victims willingly sacrifice themselves. All the good intentions in the world will not stop the charismatic power of people like this.

But in the end he had to say it. He knew that if a dark horse was ever going to upset the apple cart, that this was the one. Michael Holden was going for the prize. Whether it was his intention from the outset, who knows, but he was going for it.

But would he print it? This would surly mean that his rag would have taken a position, and just by even naming him, the paper would have put him in the race. But he too, had his own weakness. Pride was a funny thing; it made the best of us fall for the oldest cliché. If we were smart enough to know something we should not, we have a tendency to shout it from the roof tops.

And that was how the now famous, or infamous headline was born: ‘Holden for PM’. If only he had inserted a question mark, it might not have gone the way that it did.

***

Meanwhile in the still smoke filled lounges in the heart of Westminster, Michael was led in by his now good friend and cabinet colleague, Ken Taylor. “What are we doing here?” Michael curtly asked.

“There he is.” Ken replied after a quick scan of the room. He subtly began to lead his friend through the clouds of smoke and scents of stale whisky to the renowned political campaigner, Marco Holmes. “Marco,” Ken declared, “This is Michael Holden.”

With a confident look almost bleeding into superiority, Marco looked Michael over, as if this would convince him that he knew what he was doing. “Michael, good to finally meet you.” He then gestured, “Please, take a seat.”

The pair sat down on the plush antique furniture which had been painstaking re-upholstered, no doubt to cover up the cocktail of liquor deposits and the stench of stale cigar smoke, and placed throughout the large lounge,

Michael was all too aware of the subtle glances and outright stares he is receiving from the party’s hierarchy and civil servants who surrounded him. “Is this really a good idea?” He gingerly enquired, all too aware that by the time he leaves this room the majority of Fleet Street will already have the story of Holden meeting with a top campaigner.

“It’s a bit late in the day to asking that don’t you think.” Marco dryly responded with a smile creeping up his right cheek. “It’s funny; you like to play it cool, dry, pretending that you’re a good citizen trying to make sense of a fucked up world…”

“That’s about the cut of it…” Michael coolly interjected…

“No, it’s not. You know as well as I do, that good motives and bright ideas aren’t enough. What you need is the strength to make it happen.” Marco explained in his now trademark melodramatic way.

He continued, as Michael pondered for a moment. Did he already know? Or was Marco’s revelation just his spiel, part of his cool cat act, “I believe that there’s more to Michael Holden than meets the eye. The challenge is bringing that to the fore quickly enough to blow your two opponents out of the water.”

“I don’t have any opponents…” was Michael’s flippant reply.

“You know as well as I do that by the time this conversation ends, you’ll already be committed. You don’t intend not to run. You’ve wanted to run ever since you shit on your last party.” Marco continued, “You’re a turncoat, a traitor, but you do have at least one loyalty and that’s to yourself and ultimately, running for and becoming the next Prime Minister doesn’t require much else.” Marco explained, “Trust me, you’re amply qualified.”

Michael was clearly hurt by the comments, but he could not really argue. He was a traitor. He did not like to look at it that way, but still, the facts were the facts. It was a decision of conscience he told himself, but was it more a decision of self worth?

Yes, he’d hated his party and yes, he had been offered something better but it was not just for him, it was for the eventual contribution that he could make.

“Why are we here again?” Michael directed at Ken, in a typical flourish of anger towards a man by whom he already feels intimidated.

“This is Marco Holmes. He wants to take you on.” Ken began, “He wants you to win.”

“Why’s that?” A frustrated Michael asked of Marco.

“I like what you’ve got to say for yourself. A lot of people do.” Marco began to explain. “You may not know this, Michael, but you’ve made a much bigger name for yourself than you realise. Forget about your Sunday morning shit, and Question Time etcetera, I’m talking about in the power house,” he continued.

“There are big people with even bigger idea’s than you, if that’s possible, and they think you’re ready.” Marco went on.

“Ready for what exactly?” Michael asked, taken a back by Marco’s revelations.

“The top job. What else?” Marco stated.

***

As the lights flickered on in Michael’s Cabinet office, Michael and Miles both intently marched in, with the former throwing order at his assistant in an almost frenzied assault. “Set up a meeting with Bill Kane as well…,” he continued.

“The Cabinet Secretary? Why?” Miles enquired as he dealt with Michael’s bombardment.

“Oh, and don’t forget Olingsworth, and that Reed woman…” Michael went on as he sat down behind his desk and began to flick through some files.

“Kelly Reed, and which Olingsworth?” Miles struggled for clarification as the orders frantically kept coming, the onslaught only just manageable.

“Whichever one’s available,” he clarified. “This could be it Miles,” he continued, pausing for breath.

“What are we talking about here?” Miles asked, with a hint of enthusiasm.

“How does Private Secretary to the PM sound?” Michael posed.

With a wave of optimism, not a feeling often associated with Miles Underwood, he took the seat across the desk from Michael, “It sounds pretty good.”

Copyright © nEoPOL 2008 All rights reserved

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