Tweet of the Day: How I Learned to Write
The Cabinet Room, 10th Downing Street, City of London, 21 December, 09:44 hrs GMT
The distant rumble of snowplows penetrated the well appointed room. Large portraits of ministers past looked on as the Prime Minister struggled with the current crisis. Since the unbreakable fog outside turned from a eerie yellow of refracted city lights to the grey pall of winter daylight a long procession of cabinet members, party officials and Parliamentary liaisons paraded in front of the Prime Minister delivering two types of news: either things were getting worse or stayed as bad as they had been all winter.
The PM stayed rooted in his chair, fighting the urge to move about or worse look out the nearest window. Doing the former would have him spin around in circles around the main conference table, the later would reinforce his sense of doom. He had come at the head of a coalition government determined to put order to the chaos of Parliament and reform the ministries. Dreams of devolution of power to the people, streamlined government agencies and empowerment of the poor clashed with the realities of the modern nation state. And then the biggest crisis since the Battle of Britain landed on his overloaded lap. General Sir Richard Cohen Bentley, cleared his throat. The PM looked up and even though he knew that the nothing was going to change he appreciated the General’s blunt words, unpolluted by political posturing.
“Sir, the situation hasn’t change,” said Bentley as he rolled out a paper map of the country. He used a metal pointer to highlight areas in the map. “Astute and Trenchant continue to patrol the Irish Sea, but aside from increase traffic from Ireland to Wales, they have not discovered the whereabouts of the creature that sunk Diamond. The Admiralty will not risk any other vessels in those waters until the area has been sanitized.”
The PM nodded,” Go on.”
“Fighting has diminished significantly along the border. Royal Marine Commandos and SAS patrols have probed the enemy disposition but so far have found very little about his intentions. As you know our air assets in England proper are grounded and those in Northern Ireland are devoted to keeping an eye on the situation there. Assets stationed in Scotland are overstretched. Now, if we could increase satellite coverage–“
The Chancellor of the Exchequer launched himself from his chair, “Satellites? Do you have any idea how much one of those things costs? I have thousands crowding hospitals around the country do to frostbite and a new flu strain, a collapse of the holiday stores sales and millions of pounds going to keeping roads and power lines–“
The PM cut him off with a raised hand, “Tim-” he nearly called him Timmy, as he did back in their public school days, “the General is not suggesting you go hat in hand to the French to fire off one of their rockets, now is he?” The stocky officer in crisp British Army uniform shook his head. “We will have to make do with what we have.”
“The good news is that we have finished redeploying overseas forces home and that all Territorial Army units outside of Wales are now standing at nominal readiness,” said the General.
“That’s something,” said the PM.
“Perhaps, Sir,” said the General. The hesitation on his voice made everyone sit or stand a little straighter.
“What do you mean?” said the PM in a similar tone.
“I mean, Sir, that counter-insurgencies are never clean or pretty. To go in with full force means that casualties, especially civilian casualties, will sky rocket. To put it bluntly, this government may not survive regardless of how successful the campaign turns out to be,” he said.
“General, may I remind you that it is not the place of the military to dictate policy to Her Majesty’s government,” said the bald Minister of Defense.
Bentley eyes focused on the Prime Minister, “The Boer War, India, Kenya, the Black and Tans, Northern Ireland are just a few examples of what can go wrong even when we do things right. The men and women of the Armed Forces stand ready, but the ultimate consequences will be on us, all of us, in this room.”
That last whisper of PM’s political dreams vanished with those words. He once thought that rationality and policy could solve all problems. Smart men could use logic to fix things in an orderly fashion. But there was little place for logic in a world gone mad.
“Very well, General. I want a preliminary operations plan on my desk by this time tomorrow.”
Alea iacta est…and let the consequences be damned.