House of Cards [CHAPTER 21]


 

Twenty-One


Loyalty may be good news, but it is rarely good advice.


Sunday, October 17

The scenes of the fugitive Charles Collingridge were still the lead news item as Weekend Watch came on the air. The program had been thrown together in frantic haste and there were many untidy ends. The control room reeked of sweat and stale tobacco, there had been no time for a proper run-through and the autocue script for the later parts was still being typed as the presenter welcomed his viewers.

  They hadn’t been able to persuade a single minister to appear; the harder they’d tried, the more belligerent the refusals had been. One of the tame pundits had still not arrived at the studio. The sound man was desperately searching for fresh batteries even as the studio manager counted down with his fingers and the studio went live. An overnight opinion poll had been commissioned through Gallup and the polling company’s chief executive, Gordon Heald, was presenting the results himself. He’d been kicking his computer all morning and was looking slightly flushed. It wasn’t just the lights, it was what his polling agents had found. Another fall in the Prime Minister’s popularity. Yes, a significant fall, Heald admitted. No, there was no example of a previous prime minister who’d ever won an election after being so unpopular.

  The gloomy prognostications were supported by two senior newspaper analysts and made all the more Stygian by an economist who predicted turmoil in the financial markets in the days ahead. He was cut off mid-ramble as the presenter switched his attention to Peter Bearstead. Normally the East Midlands MP would have been videotaped beforehand but there had been no time for recording, so he went live. He was scheduled on the director’s log for no more than two minutes fifty seconds but that took no account of the fact that, once started, the Honorable, garrulous, and diminutive Member for Leicester North was more difficult to put down than a bad-tempered badger.

“Well, Mr. Bearstead, how much trouble do you think the Party is in?”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“On how long we have to struggle on with the present Prime Minister.”

“So you’re standing by your comment of earlier in the week that perhaps the Prime Minister should be considering his position?”

“No, not exactly. I’m saying he should resign. He’s destroying our Party and now he’s got himself wrapped up in what looks like a family scandal. It can’t go on. It just can’t!”

“But do you think the Prime Minister is likely to resign? After all, we’ve only just had an election. It might be almost five years before the next. That must leave enormous scope for recovering lost ground.”

  “We will not—not, I tell you—survive another five years with this Prime Minister!” The MP was agitated, passionate, rocking back and forth in his studio chair. “It is time for clear heads, not faint hearts, and I’m determined that the Party must come to a decision on the matter. If he doesn’t resign, then we’ll have to make him.”

“But how?”

“Force a leadership contest.”

“Against who?”

“Well, I’ll bloomin’ stand if no one else will.”

“You’re going to challenge Henry Collingridge for the Party leadership?” the presenter spluttered in surprise. “But surely you can’t win?”

“Course I can’t win,” Bearstead responded, almost contemptuous. “But it’ll focus the minds of the big beasts in our jungle. They’re all griping about the PM but none of them has the guts to do anything. So, if they won’t, then I will. Flush it all into the open.”

  The presenter’s lower lip was wobbling as he tried to decide the right place to intervene. “I don’t want to interrupt but I do want to be clear about this, Mr. Bearstead. You are saying that the Prime Minister must resign, or else you will stand against him for leadership of the Party?”

“There has to be a leadership election no later than Christmas: it’s Party rules after an election. I know it’s normally nothing but a formality, but this time around it’s going to be a real contest. My colleagues are going to have to make up their minds.”

  An expression of pain seemed to have taken hold of the presenter’s features. He was holding his earpiece, listening to a shouting match underway in the gallery. The director was demanding that the dramatic interview should continue and to hell with the schedule; the editor was shouting that they should get away from it before the bloody fool changed his mind and ruined a sensational story. An ashtray crashed to the floor, someone cursed very crudely.

“We’re going for a short commercial break,” the presenter declared.






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