The attendees clapped. Mary paused the autocue. She grinned her best conference smile. The applause subsided. Yes!
‘…We will ensure that this island is Great Britain. And I mean Great.
…A Great country for all.
…A Great trading nation.
…A great influence in the World.
…A great environment for business and culture.
…With a great future for all … under the Tory Party.’
The hall burst out into thunderous applause and stamping of feet. Delegates rose to their feet. Yes! Yes! Mary felt herself trembling. This is how it should be.
She stepped off the platform and waved to the crowd. They love me. They really do.
As the accolade subsided, she made for the wings. She spotted James waiting for her.
‘Well, that certainly went down well.’ I saw you stone-faced out there I the front row the whole time. This is not what you want to hear is it. The party loves me, not BJ or that other dumb-foot Christoph.
‘Indeed, James, I know how to whip up the faithful.’
‘Well, all you’ve got to do now is convince those who don’t approve of your version of Brexit.’ The traitors, you mean.
‘They’re coming around, as you know.’ To be ritually slaughtered.
‘Like Bernard and Merkel and Macron are?’ What? Why bring Europe into this?
‘Don’t you go on as well. Salzburg was a mistake.’
‘Whose? Yours or theirs?’ That’s it, I now know we need another chairman.
‘You think I screwed up?’
‘Well someone seemed to have. Your Plan got short shrift.’ Totally disrespectful behaviour by those Johnny foreigners. Bah!
‘Tusk is a euro fanatic. He can’t conceive of anyone wanting to leave the EU. You’ll see, Merkel, Marcon and the others are more level headed on this. I’m sure they were just as much upset as I was.’ They’re responsible to voters; they’ll suffer if there’s no deal.
‘I’m sure they were.’ You can be sarcastic, can’t you? Just you wait. You’ll eat your words.
‘The important thing is to be optimistic.’ Or fatalistic in your case.
‘Where do we go from here?’
‘Onwards, of course. Article 50 has been triggered, so there’s no going back.’ Given a choice, I wouldn’t go back to that lot. But I’ll have to. She sighed inwardly.
‘But there’s pressure building for a second referendum.’
‘You know that’s not possible. Anyway, we’re leaving.’ Why can’t everyone accept that and move on.
‘Not everyone agrees we need to.’ She eyed him. What are you suggesting? ‘You know, reverse the decision. Send another letter saying we’re sorry.’
‘We won’t be doing that as long as I’m PM.’
‘Of course, Mary. I think your views on this are well known.’
‘Are you suggesting I court the Remoaners?’
‘Well. Not every Tory voted for Brexit you know.’
‘I’m trying to get a deal that will please even the Vote Remain crowd.’
‘We’re not making much progress, are we?’
‘According to Bernard, “October is the moment of truth for Brexit.”, so we’ve still got some time to go.’
‘What is your strategy, then?’
‘Well, we’ll go on to the end. We shall fight for market access, we shall fight on for fishery concessions, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in our cause, we shall defend our Island from immigrants.’
‘Quite some list you have there, Mary.’
‘Don’t interrupt. I’m not finished. Whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on for Galileo, we shall fight on for reciprocal regulations, we shall fight to maintain the integrity of the United Kingdom and never surrender Northern Ireland. Even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island were forced to negotiate with the EU on their terms, then our good sense, armed and guarded by British common sense, we would carry on the struggle, until, in good time we overcome adversity.’
‘Quite some speech there, Mary. All it needs is Land of Hope and Glory as a soundtrack.’
‘I’m glad you like it. I plan to use it for my closing address.’
‘Ah! I see!’
* * *
Aiden went down the corridor checking the room numbers. He eventually arrived a the one he wanted and knocked at the door.
It opened. ‘Ah, it’s you.’
‘I am invited, am I not, Chris?’ Aiden peaked beyond Christoph to see several others had already arrived.
‘Only if you cut your palm, offer your blood as proof of your sincerity and swear you’ll never divulge a word of what we say tonight—on pain of never being offered a parliamentary candidacy—ever.’
‘I think I’ll just head off.’
Chris caught Aiden’s arm and pulled him into the room. ‘I’m just joking.’ He gestured at the rest of those in the room. ‘You know everyone here, I think.’
‘I do.’ He looked around at the hotel room. It was not large. Christoph’s suit was hanging on a suit valet press. His suitcase stood open on top of the chest of drawers revealing his belongings.
‘Aiden find yourself a space.’
This was easier said than done. The earlier arrivals had taken the available seats and had even colonised the bed. With the seven of them, it felt very crowded. He made for the bed. Those sitting there, nudged up to make room. He sat down. It was a tight fit.
‘Chris are you seriously going to throw your hat in the ring if there is a leadership contest?’
‘If Mary must resign, don’t you think I’ll be well placed to stand?’ He gestured at those present. ‘You will support me, no?’
‘Of course, we do.’ This came from a backbencher Aiden recognised as being a diehard Remainer who had even voted against the government on the withdrawal bill.
Chris nodded in his direction. ‘Then, the next question is: how do we bring about a leadership challenge.’
‘She’s doing a good job of that herself.’
‘She’s riding for a fall.’
‘We’ve got enough support to get Sir James to call an election.’
‘Woah! Woah! Woah!’ Chris had his hands out to silence everyone. ‘Many thanks for your support. Now, we mustn’t play our hand too early. We should just let the PM dig herself ever deeper into a hole with her Brexit Plan.’
‘We’ve got to act now.’ It was the diehard again.
‘Now, George, while you know I agree with your stance on this, we only have one chance.’
‘That’s why we must go for it now.’
‘George, please don’t interrupt. I’m not finished. Whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on for remaining in the EU, we shall fight on for a second referendum—which we are bound to win, by the way—we shall fight to gain control of the party and never stop till we have won.’
‘Might be hard getting a second referendum bill through Parliament.’
‘You mean Cotton’s lot? At their conference, they practically begged for it.’
‘Cotton didn’t say anything for it.’
‘We know his views, don’t we?’
‘If Labour doesn’t support another referendum, there’s enough Brexiter MPs to scupper the idea.’
‘We must not allow that to thwart our plans.’
There was a knock at the door.
‘Are you expecting anyone, Chris?’
‘No. Everyone’s here.’
‘Who is it, then?’
‘Wait a moment.’ He went over and used the peephole to identify the caller. ‘Shit! It’s Harcourt-Smythers.’ Chris waved at the room. ‘He can’t see you lot.’ He pointed at the bathroom. ‘Hide in there while I find out what he wants.’
There was a mad dash for the bathroom. Aiden found himself being squeezed in the with the rest. It was worse than the tube after a Wembley football match.
Chris pushed the door to. It clicked loudly.
The room went dark.
‘Can’t we have the light on?’
‘Shush! We don’t want Harcourt-Smythers to hear us.’
Aiden strained to hear what might be going on in the bedroom. It was a faint murmur. Then a voice was raised. ‘…of course, it matters…’ Then silence. Then another voice, which he thought was Chris’. ‘…I have no intentions…’
The door opened. Light streamed in from the bedroom.
‘You can come out now.’
‘What did he want, Chris?’
‘He’s a slimy bastard, he is. He was asking whether I was going to request a leadership election.’
‘But you have written to him to do that, haven’t you?’
‘Bloody hell, you haven’t, have you?’
‘Well, not exactly…’
‘That’s a bloody disgrace that is. While we’re out there in the firing line, our name in the chairman’s little book, you’re hiding in here unscathed. You’re the slimy fish here, Chris.’
‘I go along with that.’
‘And so do I.’
There was a general exodus for the door.
After a moment it was just Aiden and Chris who were left.
Chris pointed to the minibar. ‘Fancy a drink?’