House of Cards [CHAPTER 28]

 


Twenty-Eight


Some political campaigns hit the ground running. Others simply hit the ground.


Wednesday, October 27

Daily Chronicle. Page 1: Samuel Ahead. Takes Shock Lead.

• • •

Michael Samuel, the youthful Environment Secretary, was last night emerging as the front runner in the race to become Prime Minister.

  In an exclusive poll conducted during the last two days by the Chronicle among almost two-thirds of Government MPs, 24 percent nominated him as their first choice, well ahead of other potential candidates.

  Samuel is expected to announce his candidacy within days. In a bitter blow to his rivals, he is expected to get the backing of influential party figures such as Lord Williams, the Party Chairman. Sources predict such support could be crucial.

  No other name attracted more than 16 percent. Five potential candidates obtained between 10 percent and 16 percent. These were Patrick Woolton (Foreign Secretary), Arnold Dollis (Home Secretary), Harold Earle (Education), Paul McKenzie (Health), and Francis Urquhart, the Chief Whip.

  Urquhart’s inclusion in the list at 12 percent caused surprise at Westminster. He is not even a full member of the Cabinet but as Chief Whip has a strong base in the Parliamentary party. Observers say he could prove a strong outside candidate. However, sources close to Urquhart last night emphasized he had made no decision to enter the contest, and is expected to clarify his position sometime today…”

* * *

The Prime Minister had changed his mind. He read all the newspapers that morning. The commentaries which a week before had been ripping his flesh off in strips were now, in their fickle and inconstant fashion, praising his self-sacrifice that would enable the Government to make a fresh start—“although he must still resolve many outstanding personal and family issues to the public’s satisfaction,” thundered The Times. As always, the press had no shame in sleeping on both sides of the bed, like tarts.

  He read the Chronicle particularly carefully, as clearly had others. A consensus seemed to be emerging: it was an open race but Samuel was the front runner. Collingridge cast the paper into a corner, where it flapped like a dying swan, and summoned his political secretary.

  “Grahame. An instruction to Lord Williams, copy to Humphrey Newlands. He is to issue a press release at twelve-thirty this afternoon for the lunchtime news. Nominations for leadership election will close in three weeks’ time on Thursday, November 18, with the first ballot to take place on the following Tuesday, November 23. If a second ballot is required it will be held as prescribed by the Party’s rules on the following Tuesday, November 30, with any final run-off ballot two days later. Have you got that?”

“Yes, Prime Minister.” The secretary nodded but hid his eyes. It was the first time since his resignation announcement that they had been alone and able to talk.

“You know what that means, Grahame? In exactly six weeks and one day, you and I will be out of a job. I haven’t always found time to thank you properly these past years, but I want you to know how bloody grateful I am.”

The aide shuffled with embarrassment.

“You must start thinking about your own future. There will be my Resignation Honors List. You’ll be on it. As will several newly knighted gentlemen in the City who will be happy to make you a generous offer. I’ll make sure of it. Think about what you want, let me know. I still have a few favors to cash in.”

The secretary raised eyes filled with regret and gratitude.

“By the way, Grahame, it’s possible Teddy Williams might want to get hold of me and encourage me to shorten the election process. I will not be available.

You are to make it clear to him that these are instructions, not terms for negotiation, and they are to be issued without fail by twelve-thirty.”

There was a short pause.

“Otherwise, tell him, I shall be forced to leak them myself.”

* * *

The tide waits for no man and it was already ebbing for Michael Samuel. Almost as soon as Collingridge had announced his resignation he had consulted his mentor, Teddy Williams.

“Patience, Michael,” the elder statesman had advised. “You will almost certainly be the youngest candidate. They’ll try to say you are too callow, too inexperienced, and too ambitious. So don’t look too much as if you want the job. Show a little restraint and let them come to you.”

  Which was to prove excellent advice but entirely irrelevant to the circumstances. No sooner had the Chronicle hit the streets promoting Samuel’s name than Urquhart appeared in front of television cameras to confirm that he had no intention of standing. “I’m flattered, of course, that my name should even be mentioned but I feel it would be in the Party’s best interests if I, as Chief Whip, remain entirely impartial in this contest,” he said, adding a self-deprecatory nod before disappearing, pursued by the shouted but unanswered questions of the mob.

  The search was on for Samuel, and the release later that morning of the detailed election timetable added fuel to the fervor. By the time the breathless inquisitors of the mob had tracked him down to the Intercontinental Hotel off Hyde Park, just before an early lunch meeting, they were in no mood to accept conditional answers. Samuel couldn’t say no, they wouldn’t accept maybe, not when they discovered that he had already appointed the nucleus of a campaigning team. So, after considerable harassment, he was forced into making an announcement on the steps of the hotel, surrounded by a chaos of baggage and raised umbrellas, that he would indeed be running.

  The one o’clock news offered a clear contrast between Urquhart, the dignified and elder statesman declining to run, and the apparently eager Samuel holding an impromptu press conference on the street and launching himself as the first official candidate nearly a month before the first ballot was to be held.

  Urquhart was watching the proceedings with considerable satisfaction when the telephone rang. He heard the sound of a toilet flushing, which faded into the unmistakable sound of Ben Landless laughing before the line went dead.





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