House of Cards [CHAPTER 24]



 PART THREE 

THE DEAL


Twenty-Four


The time for change is when it can no longer be resisted. In other words, when you have a man by the balls and are pulling hard, he will invariably follow in your footsteps.


Monday, October 25

The day after the disastrous outing on WeekendWatch, and shortly before ten o’clock, the members of the Cabinet assembled around the baize-covered table. They had been called individually to Downing Street rather than as a formal Cabinet, which was normally held on a Thursday, and most had been surprised to discover their colleagues also gathered. There was an air of tension. They dragged with them the contents of the newspapers and their explosive editorials, and the conversation around the table was unusually muffled while they waited for their Prime Minister.

  As the tones of Big Ben striking the hour seeped into the room, the door opened and Collingridge walked in.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.” His voice was unusually soft. “I’m grateful to see you all here. I won’t detain you long.”

  He took his seat, the only chair in the room with arms, and extracted a single sheet of paper from the leather bound file he was carrying. He laid it carefully on the table in front of him and then looked slowly around at his colleagues. His eyes were raw, sleepless. There wasn’t a sound to be heard in the room.

  “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to inform you that this morning’s meeting was to be one of the full Cabinet. I wanted to ensure that you could all be assembled without creating undue attention and speculation.” He looked around the table to see if he could read anything in their faces, in search of Barabbas. “I’m going to read to you a short statement that I’ll be issuing later today. At one o’clock I shall be going to the Palace to convey the contents formally to Her Majesty. I must ask all of you, on your oaths of office, not to divulge the contents of this message to anyone before it’s released officially. I must ensure Her Majesty hears it from me and not through the press. It’s a matter of courtesy to the Sovereign. I would also ask it of each one of you as a personal favor to me.”

He picked up the sheet of paper and began to read in a slow, matter-of-fact voice.   “Recently there has been a spate of allegations in the media about the business affairs of both me and my family. These allegations show no sign of abating. I have consistently stated, and repeat today, that I have done nothing of which I should be ashamed. I have adhered strictly to the rules and conventions relating to the conduct of the Prime Minister.”

He ran his tongue around dried lips. The paper he was holding trembled.

  “The implied allegation made against me is one of the most serious kind for any holder of public office, that I have used my office to enrich my family. I cannot explain the extraordinary circumstances referred to by the media that have given rise to these allegations, so I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to undertake a formal independent investigation into them. I am confident that the official investigation by the Cabinet Secretary will eventually establish the full facts of the matter and my complete exoneration.”

He blinked, rubbed an exhausted eye.

  “This investigation will inevitably take some time to complete. In the meantime the doubts and insinuations are doing real harm to the normal business of Government, and to my Party, and also to those I love. The time and attention of the Government should be devoted to implementing the program on which we were so recently re-elected, but this is not proving possible. The integrity of the office of Prime Minister has been brought into question, and it is my first duty to protect that office.”

He cleared his throat, a sound of feathered thunder.

  “Therefore, to re-establish and preserve that unquestioned integrity, I have today asked the permission of Her Majesty the Queen to relinquish the office of Prime Minister as soon as a successor can be chosen.”

The silence was profound. Hearts had momentarily stopped beating.

  “I have devoted my entire adult life to the pursuit of my political ideals,” he continued, “and it goes against every bone in my body to leave office in this fashion. I am not running away from the allegations but rather ensuring that they can be cleared up as quickly and expeditiously as possible. I also want to bring a little peace back to my family. I believe history will show that I have made the right judgment.”

  Collingridge replaced the piece of paper in his folder. “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you,” he said curtly, and, before anyone could sigh, let alone respond, he strode out of the door and was gone.






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