Alternative Prime Ministers #1: "England's Rose"

Something I knocked up over the weekend; one in what might possibly be an occasional series of stand-alone vignettes about alternative British Prime Ministers. It might have been even better if I'd posted it to coincide with International Women's Day on Friday, but that would have required forethought and organisation... :rolleyes:





“Goodbye England's rose
May you ever grow in our hearts”


****

He rose, as the last chords of Thaxted reverberated through the gothic splendour, and carefully made his way down the nave, his head bowed. The only sounds in the Confessor’s Abbey were his slow footsteps. He passed the memorial stones- Darwin, Livingstone, Allenby, the Princess Elizabeth- and realised that She would soon be commemorated with them, perhaps at the far end, by the tombstone with the poppies. It would be fitting, he thought, and the corners of his mouth twitched upwards in the approximation of a smile. England’s Warrior Maid laid alongside England’s Unknown Warrior, their bodies a living sacrifice to the nation.

Finally, he reached the lectern, pulling his notes from his pocket as he did so. He looked up, dimly aware of the congregation before him. Fully half the Abbey was filled with women; the green pullovers of the Land Army intermingled with the khaki fatigues of the Women’s Irregulars and the occasional powder-blue uniform of the female RAF contingent. He looked beyond the Great and the Good, women like Maureen Dunlop, the Angel of Biggin Hill, with fifteen victories to her credit, and eventually his gaze settled on the distant, anguish-stricken face of Annie Kenney, seated in one of the back rows, where nobody might notice her. Even that concession had been resisted by Archbishop Garbett, but it was likely that She would not have disapproved of such caution; She had never been anything but discreet with her proclivities.

“When the death of the Prime Minister was announced to us on that dreadful day one year ago,” he began, slowly, “there struck a deep and solemn note in our lives which, as it resounded far and wide, stilled the clatter and traffic of the War, and made countless millions of human beings pause and look around them. It is not given to human beings, happily for them,” he continued, “to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values…”

He had been Her implacable foe in the beginning, of course. The first time he laid eyes on her, She was being manhandled by three policemen for disrupting a speech he was making… when was that? Oh yes, Manchester, a few weeks before Balfour lost his seat in the landslide. Then when he was Home Secretary, She had caused him endless trouble; dynamiting post boxes, sending letter bombs, invading Parliament…. He remembered the day he signed the order for tubes to be inserted down her throat, and also his relief, upon the declaration of War, when She had returned to Britain not to cause trouble, but to encourage women to rally to Crown and Country. The menfolk of Britain breathed easier knowing that her fury was directed against the Germans, rather than them.

His mind continued to wander as he spoke of that day in 1918, when She became the first woman to take her seat in the Commons, and the years following, when She carved out a reputation as a Parliamentarian in her own right. He knew the words he had to say well enough, after all; he had spent weeks crafting them. Her former radical colleagues had called her a traitor for her vociferous opposition to the General Strike, and that was when they had first forged their friendship. He needed copy for the British Gazette; She needed to reach the working women of Britain. The results were electrifying.

“I conceived an admiration for her,” he continued, “as a statesman, and a woman of affairs. I felt the utmost confidence in her upright, inspiring character and outlook and a personal regard-affection I must say-for her beyond my power to express to-day. Her love of country, her respect for its traditions, her power of gauging the tides and currents of its mobile public opinion, were always evident, but, added to these, were the beatings of that generous heart which was always stirred to anger and to action by spectacles of aggression and oppression by the strong against the weak. It is, indeed, a loss, a bitter loss to humanity that those heart-beats are stilled for ever.”

Their stars had declined in the 1930s, though hers had persisted long enough for Ministerial office in the National Government. Neither were in fashion by this point; both seemed like vestiges of a past, more bellicose age. She had entered the political wilderness with good grace, and had never lost Her passion. If anything, Her fervour increased; it was at this time, he knew, when She had found her faith.

“She was sustained not only by her natural buoyancy,” he said, “but by the sincerity of her Christian faith. She feared God and nothing else in the world, and lived every day as if it was the eve of the Second Coming. She was a Godly woman, and recognised absolute evil when she saw it.”

Unlike so many others, was the unspoken implication. He had realised the danger of a resurgent Germany too, of course, but She was the leading proponent of rearmament. For six lonely years they served as Jeremiahs, endlessly warning the nation about the coming storm. Few had listened, until it was too late.

“When war broke out in all its hideous fury, when our own life and survival hung in the balance, she was ready. Not one man in ten millions, let alone a woman, would have taken on such a responsibility as to save the nation, and the world, from Nazi barbarity. Not one in ten millions would have even tried, not one in a generation would have succeeded, not only taking on this task, not only in acting vehemently in it, but in succeeding.”

He remembered the debate after the bombing of Baku, of her passionate speech, of the famous cry that went up- “Speak for England, Christabel!” He knew that she believed her own rhetoric, that she was convinced the end of days was indeed finally here, and that the Beast as foretold in Revelations walked the streets of Berlin. When she spoke of the New Jerusalem, it was not as a metaphor. And when the old guard were finally washed away, and she was installed in Downing St, She had brought him with her, knowing that the nation needed his talents as much as Hers. Every Prime Minister needs a Winnie, She had said. He paused between sentences, and smiled sadly.

“Her conduct in Office,” he continued, “may well be a model and a guide to leaders throughout the world today and also in future generations. We think of her, so faithful in her study and discharge of State affairs; so strong in her devotion to the enduring honour of our country; so self-restrained in her judgments of men and affairs; so uplifted above the clash of party politics, yet so attentive to them; so wise and shrewd in judging between what matters and what does not.”

They had stood together through everything; through the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, through the triumph in Africa, through the disasters of Singapore and Sicily… He had begged her not to go, on that day in the summer of 1943, as the Liberation of Europe began in the flooded fields of the Pas de Calais. In truth, he knew it was futile; had he been Prime Minister, he would have done the same. Only the old King might have been able to stop her, had he survived, but Queen Margaret was too young to stand up to her. And so She went, heedless of the danger, or perhaps welcoming it. Maybe She welcomed the prospect of martyrdom.

He cleared his throat as he reached the peroration. “Mortal existence presented itself to so many at the same moment in its serenity and in its sorrow, in its splendour and in its pain, in its fortitude and in its suffering…”

Suffering. Did She suffer, he thought, when Skorzeny’s men raided the front and brought Her back to Germany as a prize of war? He knew that She had caused Her captors as much consternation and trouble as she had her English gaolers, with her hunger strikes and symbolic protests. Not for her, the slow descent into madness and indolence, like Hess in his hospital ward. She had remained defiant and contemptuous even in her weakened state. He had read the classified transcripts of her interviews with Himmler; they reminded him of the interrogation of Joan of Arc by Henry Beaufort.

“To the end,” he boomed, “she faced her innumerable tasks unflinching. When the Reich crumbled, and Canaris’ Brandenburgers assaulted the fortress of Wewelsburg, she refused to be used as a bargaining chip. She died in battle, like her soldiers, sailors and airmen, who are carrying on their task to the end all over the world. What an enviable death was hers. The tempestuous, restless vitality of a woman who would have scorned the ease of a peaceful retreat ended in glory and martyrdom. She had brought her country through the worst of its perils and the heaviest of its toils. Victory had cast its sure and steady beam upon her. Herr Hitler, now caged in his cell, protests with frantic words and gestures that he only desired peace. What do these ravings and outpourings count before the silence of Christabel Pankhurst’s tomb?”

He paused for a while. “On the day she became Prime Minister,” he eventually continued, “I asked her what she felt. She replied that she felt as if she were walking with destiny, and as if all her past life had been but a preparation for this hour and trial. Therefore, although impatient for the morning she would sleep soundly. She will sleep sounder now that her work is done.”

He lingered for a few seconds, looking out across the congregation once again, then quietly took his notes and descended from the lectern. Sleep soundly, Christabel, he thought.
 
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Nicely done. :cool:

I especially liked the subtle accuracy (at least as far as OTL is concerned) of this little aside;
She became the first woman to take her seat in the Commons,

But then I would expect nothing less. ;)

Falkenburg
 
Wow, that was excellent.

Glad you liked it! Just a bit of fun really; nothing too involved but it's an idea I've had bouncing around in my head for a while. It's nice to have a quick break from the 17th century.


Cool. What's the PoD?

500 or so people change their votes during the 1918 General Election, allowing Christabel Pankhurst to win the Smethwick seat she narrowly lost IOTL.


I especially liked the subtle accuracy (at least as far as OTL is concerned) of this little aside;

But then I would expect nothing less. ;)

I almost made a specific reference to Constance Markievicz in the text, but it seemed a little redundant. I am nothing if not pedantic!


Cool beans. Hope there is a vignette with Bottomley at some point...

I actually think Bottomley has been done a little to death- if I do more of these (and I have one definite, if weird, idea in mind) I'll try to go with people slightly more from left-field.


Colour me impressed! I'd love to see how this develops.

It's just a standalone piece I'm afraid, so it's the only glimpse you'll see of this TL; however, we may see some companion pieces with a similar theme but involving different people when I get round to writing them.
 
Damn good effort Ed, I found it rather moving as it happens. Pankhurst always strikes me as a person of contradictions, but then, so does Winston.

Skorzeny is one of those people who never seems to get his comeuppance in any TL, so I hope he had a rather miserable fate here.
 
Damn good effort Ed, I found it rather moving as it happens. Pankhurst always strikes me as a person of contradictions, but then, so does Winston.

Glad you enjoyed it- was quite fun to write. Pankhurst was a fascinating woman- you don't get that many conservative lesbian feminist evangelical christian terrorists, after all! I honestly think that she's the best candidate if you want to go for an early female PM- certainly has a better chance than Nancy Astor or anyone like that. I suppose the other potential rival is Ellen Wilkinson.


Skorzeny is one of those people who never seems to get his comeuppance in any TL, so I hope he had a rather miserable fate here.

I imagine somebody did for him with piano wire during the Third Reich's little civil war, if that's any consolation...


Edit: Also, if people enjoyed this there will be another vignette on an entirely different topic, although keeping the alternative Prime Minister theme, posted this evening.
 
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A lovely little glimpse into an alternate World War 2 and I too found it moving. I like how Churchill thinks of Pankhurst in tems of Her and She throughout his speech. It really drives home the respect he held her in.
 
I don't know what to say that hasn't already been said. This is beautiful and, despite being utterly fictional, quite moving. One can only wonder where women's rights would be today if a woman had led us through that darkest hour - more important, I'd wager, would be what happened between 1918 and 1940 in British attitudes to sex to get her to Downing Street.

Christabel is my favourite 'early woman PM', so it's wonderful to see her immortalised by AH.com's Daddy Of Downing Street.
 
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