For All Nails #230: The Last Straw
by Johnny Pez
(Thanks, as always, to David Mix Barrington for help with Skinner's speech patterns.)
As he listened to War Minister Sir Archibald Chase give his report, Sir Geoffrey Gold felt a slow, terrible anger build up inside him. The blasted Johnnies had gone too far this time!
"To summarise," said Sir Archibald, "we now have incontrovertible proof that the North Americans are supplying weapons and munitions to the Elbittar regime. The available evidence points to the Skinner administration itself as the source of the arms, rather than a private group with ties to the Elbittar regime."
"Thank you, Sir Archibald," said Sir Geoffrey. "I needn't explain to any of you the significance of these findings. It was bad enough when the Johnnies were hampering our war effort and subverting the loyalties of the United Empire states. But now they've crossed the line! They are actually aiding and abetting a nation with which we are at war! This is the last straw! We must bring these upstart colonials to heel!"
"You'll get no argument from me," said Lord Sidney, the Home Secretary. "The question is, what can we do?"
"Could we impose a blockade?" asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Roy Cunningham.
Henry Gilbert-Stewart, the First Sea Lord, shook his head. "We haven't got the ships. They're all engaged in war duties. Besides, we'd run the risk of having the Johnnies ignore the blockade, which would leave us with the equally unpalatable choices of either firing on them or allowing them to defy us."
"Perhaps," said Cunningham, "we could interdict the shipments by seizing control of the Isthmus of Panama."
"The Mexicans patrol that area by treaty with New Granada," said Eustace Sudbury, the Foreign Secretary. "Invading it would mean war with Mexico, and I think Sir Archibald would agree with me that, even in league with our allies, the entry of Mexico into the American War would turn the tide decisively against us."
"Damn it, we've got to do something!" Sir Geoffrey exclaimed.
"Might I offer a suggestion, Sir Geoffrey?"
"Please do, George," said Sir Geoffrey. Now, he thought, something sensible at last. Nobody knew the Johnnies better than George Loring. If he couldn't come up with a way to bring them to account, nobody could.
"It seems to me," said the Education Minister, "that we're looking at this matter from the wrong perspective. We're treating it as though it were a military matter, when it's not."
"They're supplying arms to the Dagoes," said Cunningham. "Sounds like a military matter to me."
"Outwardly, it may appear so," said Loring. "Yet these arms shipments, and the recent spate of anti-British demonstrations, are fundamentally the mere external manifestation of an aberrant component of the North American national character. If we address this aberrant behavior and take steps to correct it, then the arms shipments will cease of themselves."
Sir Geoffrey felt his anger fading. Good old George! This was just what they needed, some deep thinking to help penetrate to the heart of the matter. "What's the nature of this aberrant behavior, George?" he asked.
"At its most basic," said Loring, "it's a feeling of neglect. What you must keep in mind is that the relationship between North America and Britain is and always has been that of a willful child to its parent. Throughout his history, Johnnie has perpetually alternated between loyal devotion and stubborn defiance. Their defiance has taken different outward forms at different periods in history. Outright disobedience in the War of the Rebellion, aloofness in the Gallivan Era, restlessness in the Diffusion Era. Yet always, when properly admonished by the parent, the child returns to its accustomed attitude of filial devotion. The current manifestation of childish disobedience is, as I've said, the result of feelings of neglect. Our attention in recent years has been focused upon the struggle against the German in Europe and the Near East, and lately on the war with New Granada. Johnnie is afraid that we've forgotten him, and now he's being obstructive in an effort to regain our attention. Once we've made it clear to Johnnie that he's gained our attention, and given him a proper scolding to re-establish our parental authority, then we should see an end to his current obstructiveness."
Brilliant, Sir Geoffrey decided, utterly brilliant. The man had the situation figured to a T. "And what would be an appropriate way of demonstrating to the Johnnies that we've got our eye on them?"
"By happy chance," said Loring, "a means of doing so has just presented itself. If I'm not mistaken, I read in Saturday's Times that Sir Reginald Styles, the Viceroy of North America, has just passed away."
"Viceroy?" said Sir Geoffrey. "I didn't know there still was a Viceroy."
"Few Britons do," said Loring. "The Viceroy hasn't played any constitutional role in North America's government since 1936. FN1 Theoretically, the Viceroy is appointed by the Colonial and Empire Secretary. In actual practise the Colonial Secretary 'consults' with the Governor-General, which in fact means that the Colonial Secretary appoints whomever the Governor-General asks him to appoint. The recently-deceased Sir Reginald was appointed in 1959 by Governor-General Mason."
"I see where you're leading with this," said Sir Geoffrey. "You think we ought to appoint the next Viceroy ourselves, and let Skinner go hang."
"I wouldn't have put it in precisely those words, Prime Minister," said Loring, "but that is the idea, yes."
"And you're certain this will put the fear of God into the Johnnies?"
"Quite certain, Prime Minister," said Loring confidently. "Remember, the Viceroy's Palace is just across the Boulevard of the Confederation from the Executive Palace. Every time Lennart Skinner sees it, he'll be reminded that London's eye is on him. He'll not forget in a hurry."
"Just out of curiosity," asked Gerald Cornell, the Colonial and Empire Secretary, "whom should we appoint?"
With a smile, Sir Geoffrey said, "Perhaps you, George."
Loring returned the smile. "I fear I must forego the honour, Prime Minister. I'm still in the process of reforming the comprehensive school system here in Britain. However, I do have the ideal candidate in mind: John Suffield."
Once again, Sir Geoffrey was struck by Loring's brilliant mind. John Suffield, Chancellor of Oxford University, had been a persistent critic of the NRP's policies since the Party first came to power. They couldn't just sack him, unfortunately, and they couldn't muzzle him, either. But the post of Viceroy, with its automatic elevation to the Order of the Bath, would be irresistible, and best of all, would get Suffield out of Britain for the rest of his life.
Sir Geoffrey's only regret was that he wouldn't be able to see the look on Lennart Skinner's face when he heard the news.
Governor-General Lennart Skinner regarded the flimsy sheet of paper in his hand as though it had been deposited there by one of the animals on his Pappy's central Georgia farm.
"Tuck," he said, his voice a growl, "what in hell is this?"
"It just came over the wire from London, Governor," said Tucker Marshall. "From the Colonial and Empire Office."
"I can God-damned well see where it's from! I want to know what it God-damned well means!"
Marshall knew better than to give Skinner another literal answer. "Governor, if I had to guess, I'd say it means that Prime Minister Gold is laying down the law."
"Laying down the law," Skinner repeated, his voice now devoid of all inflection. "Laying down the law." His hand closed around the telegram, crumpling and tearing the flimsy paper as his gaze rose to the high window beyond the dining room table, with its view of the Viceroy's Palace. "Well, Mr. Marshall, I am going to tell you something. If Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Piss-Ant Gold thinks he can lay down the law to me, he's purely got one hell of a surprise coming."
Dropping the crumpled paper to the carpeted floor, Skinner added, "This is the last straw."
Forward to FAN #231: An Opposing Viewpoint.
Foward to 9 March 1976 (CNA Politics): Fox in the Henhouse.
Return to For All Nails.