What Prices Paid_Part 5
by Jim Rapkins
House of Commons
London, Great Britain
12 February 1909
“The Germans!” Spittle flew from the rotund man’s lips as he spat out the words, as if they did him physical harm. His outburst did not go unnoticed. Parliament was more full than it had been in weeks, evidence of the anticipation—and dread—that many of the MPs were feeling as to how Jackie Fisher would extricate himself from this one.
“Order! The Member for Stoke-on-Trent will resume his seat or be removed from the chamber!” The gavel accompanying the Speaker’s words was lost in the cacophony of voices that exploded in contest. The Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central, the Right Honourable Kelvin Harris, MP, waved the newspaper in his hand menacingly at the man seated opposite the chamber before the Speaker grudgingly acknowledged him.
“Will the Sea Lord explain how the vaunted, and oh-so-expensive, flying toys that he has insisted time and again the nation needs to move into this new century—in opposition to his own Chancellor I might add!—managed to be defeated by the Germans, who by his own words are mere novices?” Harris turned to address the rest of the House, relishing his moment to perform for the press gallery. “Mr. Speaker, I would put forward that if the Sea Lord’s grand flyers are incapable of defeating “mere novices,” then perhaps it is time for a new Sea Lord!”
In his seat to the right and slightly behind Fisher, Devon Cavendish grimaced. Harris was meant to erode faith in Fisher, not the capabilities of the leviathans themselves. The low-born prat knew these abuse sessions made good copy, and he was milking it for all it was worth, but of course, he didn’t know the stakes that were being played for.
Devon couldn’t have planned it better—a defeat, against the Germans, of all people! Now to make sure Fisher bore the brunt of the responsibility. The problem with trying to guide things along the path he had chosen was people were not dolls to be jerked about on strings. The men in this room were weak, their convictions eroded years ago by soft lifestyles and comforts not enjoyed by the average Briton. But that did not mean they were as malleable as he’d like. Plenty were, of course, but most you had to push in the right direction. For all their status in society, and self-perceived worth, at the end of the day, they were simple folk—largely here by dint of their birth. What did the Americans call it? Manifest destiny? The thought brought a smile to his face.
But this was also a risky move, giving Harris the ammunition he needed to pin one of Cavendish’s own party. The general election was still a few months out, and whilst the Party had the early lead, the Opposition could still score a few points of their own. And though removing Fisher was the ultimate goal, it would not do for his failures to bring down the Party as a whole. Especially given the alternatives.
So Harris had to be reined in.
Cavendish coughed lightly, making an exaggerated gesture. As if on cue, the Member for Erdington stood up, waiting to be recognized by the Speaker. With a flourish, the wigged figure gestured for the other man to begin. Nodding his thanks, the lean figure of Andrew Ryan, MP, launched into his own tirade, this time directed at the opposition. Cavendish didn’t bother to listen. He’d told the other man what to say. Devon Cavendish, Whip for the Liberal Unionists—not even Chief Whip—and here he was directing proceedings in Parliament for the grandest Empire on the planet.
And the best part? No one realized. Not Harris, who thought Cavendish was a misshapen fop riding his brother’s coat-tails; not Ryan, who thought he was the Party’s hope for the future, and Devon was simply attaching himself to Ryan’s own rising star. Not Fisher, squirming uncomfortably in his seat, a competitor in a race he did not yet know had started. And finally, not dear old Spencer, seated at the right hand of the Prime Minister he was plotting to replace, the ambition he kept so well hidden quietly fermenting away.
But others had noticed. Had noticed much sooner than Devon realized.
To Be Continued…