Alternative Prime Ministers #3, "An English Heaven"

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by EdT, Oct 5, 2014.

  1. EdT Member

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2004
    Location:
    London UK
    This is the third in an occasional series of standalone vignettes. Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 is here.


    [​IMG]

    “And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
    In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.”


    ****

    With a crunch of gravel, the Vanguard Staff Car rolled to a halt. Inside, the Air Minister grimaced at the sudden movement, rummaged in his pocket with a shaking hand and extracted a handful of blue pills. He crunched them down, sighing in relief, then took a long gulp from a hipflask, wiping his mouth with his gold braided, powder-blue sleeve. Now only one part of the ritual remained; he pulled a large cigar from an inside pocket, stuck a match and inhaled with pleasure as he felt the cumulative effects of his ‘sovereign remedy’. Now he was prepared for anything.

    He left the car, leaning heavily on his swagger stick, and limped to the grand door, his eyes passing over the Tudor stonework. Chequers is more impressive than Chartwell, he conceded, but I would not trade my view of the Weald for anything. The two British Legion officers of the National Constabulary, their black and khaki uniforms immaculately pressed, came to attention as the Air Minister passed through. Idly, he nodded at them- for if one failed to acknowledge the efforts of Tommy Atkins and Jack Tar, especially in a time of national crisis, all their efforts in the last decade had been in vain.

    Another man, this time wearing the uniform of an Army colonel, was waiting at the foot of the famous staircase. “They’re up in the Breakfast room, sir”, he remarked, casually; the Minister smiled in appreciation. “Thank you, Bernard.” A damn good Private Secretary, he thought, even if he is a vain little creature. I must talk to him again about wearing that damned slouch hat.

    He climbed the stairs slowly, panting at the effort; even with the pills, the pain was bad. As he did every time his leg troubled him, he thought back to that day near Eupen in ’19. No self-pity, he reminded himself, you only got out of it because that fool Sassoon took the second bullet.

    Catching his breath, he paused to glance at the collection of Cromwellian memorabilia on the landing at the top. His gaze lingered on the Lord Protector’s death mask, as it always did; are we his heirs, he thought, have we imposed rule by the sword? He shook the notion away; there is no room for doubt in the land of the New. The formation of the National Government in those dark days of 1927 was undoubtedly not a revolution, and neither was it, despite the bleatings of the liberal press, a coup. The ineffectuality of the ‘old gang’ had simply become too dangerous, recognition of the immense sacrifice offered by the Common Man too long delayed. His mind went back to his visit to Japan the previous year, and what Baron Sadao had said about his hopes for his own nation. No, not a revolution; a ‘Windsor Restoration’, he thought, and smiled.

    The door to the breakfast room was closed, but he heard voices within and entered without knocking; the PM was never one for excess formality. Four men were lounging around the table, and one, wearing a khaki uniform with the rank of a naval lieutenant displayed on the shoulder, looked up as he entered the room. Even now, after the trials of a decade in power, he was still the handsomest man in England, though perhaps not the man that Yeats had rhapsodised over; the fair hair now had the slightest dusting of grey, but the famous blue eyes were just as piercing as ever. The scar on his cheek, a souvenir of the desperate fighting on the Moselle in the dying days of the War, caught the eye, yet somehow enhanced his beauty rather than detracting from it. “Glad you could join us, old man,” the Prime Minister drawled.

    The Air Minister nodded his head in respect and pulled up a chair to sit with the others. Old man, he repeated to himself, ruefully. It was true of course. Of the ‘War Cabinet’, only Fuller was of a similar age, a fellow Victorian; the others were children of the War, disciples of the New. Not for the first time, he thought of Harrow, and the lectures old Porker had given of Hesiod, where the Olympians ruthlessly supplanted their parents the Titans. My generation destroyed the old world, he mused; it is only right that our children have taken the responsibility of building the new.

    Silence fell for a moment as he sat, and the Prime Minister leant back in his chair. “Good. Now I can introduce our final guest,” he remarked, and as if on cue, the door flew open to admit a handsome figure in the uniform of an Admiral. There was a shocked pause, and the occupants of the room scrambled to their feet; the new arrival began to laugh, clearly delighted at their consternation. “Please, don’t get up on my account,” the King chuckled, “there’s work to be done and you know I don’t stand on ceremony.”

    The Chancellor collapsed back into his chair, taking a drag on his cigarette with a broad smile. “I thought you and the Queen were at Sandringham, sir?”

    The King nodded indulgently, finding a chair and dragging it over to the table to sit. “Officially, Tom, I am, and am currently in discussions with the Maraharaja of Bharatpur. A sound boy who won’t breathe a word of my absence; last time I saw him my little Valkyrie was teaching the poor chap how to Lindy Hop. I borrowed a motorcycle to RAF Marham and then took one of the new Meteors for a spin. Nobody need know I’m here, and I expect you not to mention my presence; while we can sit on the papers, rumours can spread and the last thing we need is a war panic.”

    There were grunts of agreement around the table. The Prime Minister cleared his throat; “John, if you could do the honours?”

    The Secretary of State for War stood, taking a stack of folders containing maps and photographs and passing them around the gathering. “Yesterday evening, our High-Altitude observation Dirigibles observed troop movements around Wupperthal consistent with a partial remobilisation of the Reichswehr. It is my belief that Herr von Blomberg has ordered the imminent re-occupation of the Rhineland; it is an opportune moment after all, what with the unrest in France and the conjunction of Mars and Jupiter from tomorrow morning.”

    There was an awkward silence; not the bloody astrology again, John the Air Minister thought, but at least it gives me the opportunity to seize the moment.

    “As you know, gentlemen” he said confidently, “I’ve had the Royal Expeditionary Force at a state of heightened readiness since d'Espèrey and the Lacau fellow- I won’t even try to pronounce his full name- launched their coup d’etat last month. It would not be a difficult matter to respond to such a flagrant breach of the Geneva Treaty. I could have Leigh-Mallory’s lot dropping on the rooftops of Dusseldorf within twenty-four hours-“

    There was a general murmur of disapproval, the King looking particularly stricken. “Surely that’s a bit steep, Winston? We talked with little Willy about this last summer over dinner in Corfu; he asked me how I’d like it if the French banned us from having any troops in Kent. Chap had a point. Personally I feel for the Germans; they’ve had that dreadful Gajda fellow in Prague calling for their blood for years now, and now Desperate Frankie’s going to be doing the same in Paris. And all the while the Reds are building up their forces…”

    The Chancellor grunted assent, his moustache bristling. “I agree. Any German action is a reaction to the new regime in France, and in any case the Rhineland is a complete distraction to the real threat to peace in Europe- that’s Dzerzhinsky, not the Reichswehr. Look how quiet the Poles have been lately! The Kaiser is right- it’s only fair for the Germans to reclaim what’s rightfully theirs.”

    The Information Minister nodded, thoughtfully. “That tallies with what Mass Observation is telling us about the public mood; although-” he flashed his trademark grin, “-partly that’s because that’s the line of the day.”

    The Old Man has been outmanoeuvred again, the Air Minister thought, despondently, his hand automatically feeling his pocket for his pill box; they’ve already made a decision without me and have got Mass Observation onside.

    All Britons knew how the National Government assiduously monitored their views through the latest scientific techniques; how much more democratic than relying on the imperfect representation of the middle men in Parliament! Less known was the Organisation’s clandestine seeding of concepts and phrases helpful to the Government in line with Dr Dicks’ theories of Thought Contagion. The phrase “Unity Government” had become ubiquitous since the King’s recent marriage; few outside the War Cabinet realised this was the result of MO agents introducing it into a thousand casual conversations.

    The Prime Minister smiled, patting his colleague on the knee; two sets of famously piercing blue eyes met. Not for the first time, the Air Minister recalled the rumours that intermittently swirled round both men; the tales from the PM’s days in Cambridge were well-attested, and well-informed gossip suggested that the Information Minister’s predilection for posing as one of the Working Men went beyond Mass Observation information gathering. How does one know though? he thought. This New World, the world of the Soldier, suits the bond of Achilles and Patroclus.

    “Thank you Tom,” the Premier said. “I think we have a consensus then; we will restrict ourselves to a formal statement of concern. The King will return to Sandringham and the Maraharaja, where he will perhaps call the Kaiser to discuss the situation informally. Perhaps, Winston, you could organise some aerial exercises to drive home the point that we retain the capacity to intervene should we have seen fit? There’s a good fellow.”

    The Air Minister nodded, chastened. “Yes Rupert.” A thought struck him. “What about Parliament?”

    The Prime Minister smiled. “What about Parliament? They’ll have their debate, but the people have spoken- through us. I will not see a drop of blood spilled over this, old man. Not British, not German. We have lost too much already, you see; and we may need it for the real struggle ahead. Let von Blomberg take back what’s rightfully his, and then let him act as a bulwark to the Bolshiveks.”

    He paused, and his smile shifted into something more predatory. “Unless you feel differently?”

    The Air Minister shook his head, as the others got up to leave. “No, Rupert” he said, quietly, hands fumbling for his pill case. There is no room for doubt in the land of the New.
     
    Electric Monk likes this.
  2. Van555 Social Reformist

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2010
    Location:
    Santa Clara Region, Republic of California
    I have no idea what happened! :(
     
  3. Callan Absolutely Dire

    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2013
    Location:
    Toronto
    With all the Cromwellian nostalgia and a reference to a Lord Protector, I'm guessing the PoD is pre-1900.

    I love the illustration. Looks so real.
     
  4. EdT Member

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2004
    Location:
    London UK
    If it helps the PoD is March 1915, when a mosquito in the Aegean zigs left instead of zagging right, gets swatted and then is in no fit state to bite anyone...
     
  5. OwenM Red Tory Scum

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2010
    Location:
    Colwyn Bay/Manchester
    I'm guessing Rupert Brooke is the PM?
     
  6. AlfieJ Tony Benn spitting image puppet

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Location:
    Oxford
    Very interesting indeed! I'm certainly no expert but from what I can see Edward is king, WW1 ended in some sort of peace deal which saw the Kaiser stay in power, Rupert Brooke is PM of some dodgy unity government and the man that OTL sent him to his death is now his subordinate? :D
     
  7. Meadow but see, when Meadow does that, Monthly Donor

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2010
    Location:
    Balham
    You bastard, this undercuts my loose plan to have Sassoon become a British Hitler analogue in a silly TLIAD one day. However, it's far better and though I did see where it was going, I had Wilfred in mind right up until the reveal.

    Mass Observation [That Does More than Observe] and the National Constabulary are fine additions to the noble craft of British Unfascism, it truly is a lot of fun to see you back and on form. I'd be remiss if I didn't point you toward Agent Lavender in my sig, which (without spoiling anything) has its dalliances with high intrigue and unconventional national governments. It's nearly over, too.

    But back to this. It's a great piece of work, and I was smiling like a child recognising the writing style of a beloved author from his youth. I particularly adore the coup d'etat you've done on your readers by having everyone assume the bastard at the head of this Unity [Windsor, née Mitford] Government is Oswald Mosley, as per usual, at the start. And then as time goes by, we realise that he is a questionably 'involved' number two - when, for want of a few letters in a drawer, he could be First Colleague of the Federation of Workers' Republics...

    Finally, a more scholarly note - you touch, as I intended to in my Sassoon piece, on the romanticism and Greek imagery of the Great War and the men who fought in it. I have always thought there was the potential for something very dark to emerge from their writings and thoughts - particularly Owen's. A surviving Brooke would combine that with his poetic patriotism - nationalism, really - and I find it chillingly plausible that Winston (Who Is Always A Character In Everything) would observe that 'This New World, the world of the Soldier, suits the bond of Achilles and Patroclus.' Points too, for the liberal use of 'New'. I always thought the collapse of Mosley's New Party was a shame, as it denied us a far more British-sounding authoritarian name for a party than the BUF.

    Overall, I'm supremely glad you popped in for the day, as it were. It would be lovely to hear your thoughts on Lavender if you do get the chance, but quite apart from that, this is yet another excellent piece of work.
     
  8. Blackadder mk 2 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2010
    I don't know much about Rupert Brooke, but Oswald Mosley as Chancellor suggests that this Britain is definitely on the authoritarian side, and it does fit that a war poet would become a figurehead of a replacement of government. If I had to venture a guess, perhaps Brooke went Tory, convinced Mosley to stay/fled with him to form a New Party, and then a General Strike with a much less quick resolution leads to all sorts of social chaos, or maybe the post-war period was worse for Britain than OTL?

    For the life of me, I have an idea of who you made Secretary of War, when bringing up the astrology, but no name comes to mind. I only recognise J.C Fuller as a member of this War Cabinet, and I thought that Edward VIII might have been the King, after using Mosley's nickname and disregarding protocol so, but the Admiral uniform makes me wonder if someone else got the throne instead, after George V passed on however he did.

    I get the feeling that Churchill is not much of an entity in the Cabinet, more a way for someone to claim that they have a statesman there, rather than an actual desire for him to stick around the place, and it makes me wonder just what happened even more when seeing this. The Information Minister was someone I assumed was just 'WWI dead person who survived due to butterflies', but the comment about rumours suggests that he was actually someone IOTL, creating a nice bit for those who know, and a mystery for those who don't.

    Others will say it as well, but I really liked this, Ed.

    EDIT: On a re-read, I just noticed the Yes Minister reference, at the very beginning. :p
     
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2014
  9. Japhy Second Best Poster on the Site Banned

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2007
    Location:
    Albany, New York
    I'll have to join Meadow in saying you've undercut a bit of an idea I had with your Mass Observation concept. Specifically that a Fascist-type state in a traditionally Democratic Society would turn Fascist Concepts of a "National Will" into a co-opting of legislative democracy. That said, I can only bow to your creativity on the topic. Where I was going to go with simply votes for everything, you've gone and created a marvelously creepy agency for action.

    The clash between Cromwell and the Unity (hehe) Government is an ironic one that I like too, a reminder for readers that Fascism is often inherently contradictory. And the use of Poets is great too, you of course know whom the first Father of Fascism is, after all you're the guy who showed us that horrific picture of D'Annuzio. ( :p )

    Overall, glad to see you back at it Ed.
     
  10. iainbhx Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant Donor

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2010
    Location:
    Birmingham, England
    Radola Gajda (neé Rudolf Giedl) an interesting figure to be the beast of Prague. I'd have thought the New Party would have rather taken to him.
     
  11. Lord Roem Lord Mayor's Lord Roem.

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2008
    Location:
    Southwark
    Ed, as ever, it's wonderful to have you back!

    A superb little snapshot of British Ur-Fascism - with very much a sense of the fears of technocracy that I think the likes of H. G. Wells were writing about at this time. I certainly felt a slight twinge of 'The Shape of Things To Come' and 'The Autocracy of Mr. Parham' in the overall feel of post-War Britain.

    As Meadow, Japhy and the rest have pointed out, the excellent thing about this is that it is an Authoritarian Regime that is very much grounded in British tradition and imagery - there's none of the silly Brownshorts and slightly absurd Spode figures that I think we use to delude us into thinking that 'It Couldn't Happen Here', Fascism, or at least something approaching it, could quite easily have taken route in Britain in the correct circumstances and it is very impressive to see such a nation in a glass-half empty, rather than half-full way that you showcased in 'A Greater Britain.'

    I don't have much else to add that hasn't already been said, but once again - really, really good work!
     
  12. EdT Member

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2004
    Location:
    London UK
    Really glad people enjoyed this; it's nice to write some alternative history again...

    As it happens, the Cromwellian memorabilia is all kept at Chequers IOTL as well; I'd love to see it!


    Thanks, the terrifying Mass Observation poster is actually based on this equally terrifying London Transport effort from a few years back.


    Yep...


    Yes, I assumed WW1 would go on for rather longer (perhaps the Americans don't come in?) leading to Plan-1919 shenanigans in the Rhineland before the Germans cave. British war exaustion is worse, there's a worse general strike, maybe the IRA manage to blow up George V into the bargain, and then it's time for The New, with Churchill doing his best Goering impression.


    Glad you enjoyed it; clearly great minds think alike! The vignette’s been percolating through my mind for a while and has actually been sitting on my computer in a sort of 75% finished state for about a year or so. I thought it was about time I finished the thing up. I settled on Brooke simply because of his iconic status as the archetypal ‘doomed youth’ but also because I figured his establishment status would give him a leg up come the rise to power.


    Thanks, I'm amazed nobody's done anything on Mass Observation before tbh. Reading about it, it really is mind-boggling; quite aside from the generic survey stuff, they actually paid people to hang around pubs and shops eavesdropping on private conversations and then report back. Seems a natural fit for an authoritarian regime, especially one that that puts great store by its modern methods. I figured it could have a Royal Charter like the BBC…


    Oh, I completely agree; one of the spurs to this was in writing that thing about D’Annunzio, and realising that a lot of his themes were rather similar to less icky war poetry. Combine this with a golden boy like Brooke and I think you’ve got something rather nasty; and as you say, Churchill is the sort to get swept up in it, although by the late 30s he’s the embarrassing uncle really, especially in his opiate-addicted state.


    Everything is Capitalised in the New Britain! I see this TL as being towards the revolutionary end of the Unfascist spectrum; this Britain’s canonical text is definitely Rex Warner’s The Aerodrome; it’s all very clean and modern with lots of slightly phallic Big Steel Things that go very fast.


    Thanks, it’s nice to be back. Can’t promise I’ll make a habit of it, but I have a spare time surplus at the moment (joys of unexpected gardening leave) so hopefully that will let me get a spot of writing done. I’m very conscious I haven’t really done anything along those lines for quite a while now so I’m keen to make up for lost time.

    And yes, I will read Agent Lavender- do you happen to have a .pdf available for PM? No worries if not, have plenty of time to find the thread.


    Pretty much- I hadn’t definitively worked out all the details but as I mention above I assume a nastier WW1, a worse General Strike/Ireland and then a bit of a discontinuity in Government.


    Oh, Fuller’s in at War; the others are Mosley at the Exchequer and Tom Lawrence at Information. It is David as King; I figured a naval uniform might be a bit nattier, and ultimately it’s his navy! I’m also surprised nobody spotted the Monty cameo.

    I very much saw Churchill as Yesterday’s man, as you say; plus he has his little fiefdom and can always be relied to come up with new ideas, so he’s worth having around as elder statesman. For now at least…


    I figured it might be an interesting way to run things, and not too different to what Mass Observation got up to IOTL. Plus what better way of discerning the national mood than an army of mystery shoppers surveying the nation? And of course if they hear something illegal being discussed then they’ve got a duty to report it to the National Constabulary….



    Ordinarily yes, he’s certainly their sort of chap. But he just can’t stop pissing off the Germans, and they can’t have him stirring up a hornet’s nest like that, can they?


    Thanks, as I mentioned above my source text is Warner’s The Aerodrome; I definitely wanted that futurist feel. God knows what Wells is making of it all; probably utterly appalled. I’m hoping that Eric Blair will have avoided being packed off to Burma; he’d be a brilliant in-house propagandist for the New Britain…


    Glad you think so! I think I’m beginning to run out of random early 20th century British regimes now; I still would like to do a Noel Pemberton-Billing one with Cult of the Clitoris-style homosexualist conspiracies everywhere and Parliament divided into male and female houses, but I think it might be a bit silly…
     
  13. LancyIain Eternal Typist

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2013
    Location:
    Ipswich, England
    As others have said, the sheer Britishness of this government by the New Party is a very good and utterly chilling touch. Especially at the end, with Churchill's musing about who there is a place for in this land. I doubt I would have realised the PM was Brooke, but a war poet as PM makes sense, especially him.

    The calculating cynicism of using Mass Observation to both find out what people think and to seed thoughts into the public consciousness is another chilling touch, but it fits perfectly. As does the way Parliament has effectively become an irrelevance as a result.

    I am in full agreement with everybody who appreciate this, and there are few others I've read that are quite so effective at saying it could have happened here.
     
  14. Blackadder mk 2 Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2010
    Well, now I just feel silly with that comment on Bernard. :eek:

    I shudder to wonder what has happened to OTL's main men, mostly since it sounds as if they've either gone into 'voluntary retirement', or they're currently being forced to act as figures in a neutered Parliament, with protection from the Special Constabulary from any sort of 'outside threat'. The idea of a revolution of young men wanting quick action now is something rarely explored in AH scenarios involving Britain, although I get the feeling that actual policy basically falls under whoever has Brooke and Mosley's favour and what interest they have, rather than any ideological focus beyond restoring the nation and keeping everyone in line.

    Churchill's replacement will probably come at the speed of their courting the rest of the War Cabinet, at an opportune moment where his purpose is fulfilled.
     
  15. Thoresby Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2012
    Once again a great vignette, I wish you'd write more stuff you're definitely one of the most talented authors here. Have you ever had anything published?
     
  16. Lord Brisbane Pam Poovey's stunt double

    Joined:
    Apr 8, 2006
    Location:
    Canberra, South of the Tweed
    A great piece of writing indeed. It really set a very powerful tone and drew some very clever pictures. Especially liked the the Mass Observation...:)
     
  17. Orville_third Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2009
    Location:
    Piedmont Socialist Republic
    This does sound fascinating. I did get Churchill and Fuller, but I was sadly not as up on British politics to get the others.
     
  18. Archangel Battery-powered Bureaucrat

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2007
    Location:
    Portugal
    Excellent work, Ed!:)
     
  19. St. Just STOP BUMPING STOP BUMPING STOP BUMPING THREADS

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2010
    Location:
    The DMV
    Lovely look at a different Britain; very amusing to see Churchill-as-Goering.
     
  20. SenatorChickpea Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2009
    I have nothing intelligent to contribute apart from the fact that I always found Brooke's poetry twee, so this vignette is oddly pleasing.