By Andy Cooke
With politics and the effects of disagreements on EU membership and even debates taking centre stage in the UK right now, you might be forgiven for believing that this article was written solely to benefit from that.
You might have a bit of a point, actually, but I'm going to maintain that this was planned weeks ago. And none of you can prove otherwise...
The idea for the Fourth Lectern came about from two factors:
The famous "Cleggasm" of the 2010 campaign, when Nick Clegg, given the stage next to Gordon Brown and David Cameron, briefly galvanized the political scene.
The seemingly inexorable rise of UKIP in the Coalition years.
So... what if UKIP had been given the stage as well?
One problem was that the UKIP leader at the time was an obscure peer (as Farage had stood down for a bizarre and quixotic bid against Bercow in Buckinghamshire); another was that Clegg's success would suck the oxygen from any putative UKIP success; a third was that the broadcasters would resist giving UKIP a lectern out of nowhere.
My solutions to this were:
Firstly, that the BBC decided to invent a set of rules for debate participation (like they have in the USA) and intended to ensure that they allowed the Lib Dems in but kept out minor or fringe parties. The rule they hit on was that all participating parties would have to be standing in a majority of constituencies (so they could theoretically win a majority of seats; if you weren't standing in that many constituencies it would be impossible to win), and that for credibility, they needed to have MPs already (to keep out parties like the BNP or the National Law Party)
Secondly, I (fairly ignorantly - this was my first ATL) broke the rule of "Only one PoD" and put my thumb on the scale of the 2007 Lib Dem leadership election to have the late ballots counted and Chris Huhne win the leadership (and thus not use Clegg's "speaking to the camera" trick that worked so well in OTL).
And then, in response to the BBC's rule, UKIP manages to persuade Bob Spink (an MP who in OTL did defect to UKIP in 2008 before later designating himself as an Independent) to announce that he was, in fact, still a UKIP MP. Then, to gain credibility before the debates, they ruthlessly sideline Lord Pearson for Tim Congdon - an economist and former adviser of the Bank of England, and I let the story run from there.
Turmoil, disruption, four-way contests, debates, polls, and the FPTP system making its effects known, and it wrote itself...
Then, a year or so later, with a clamour for a sequel from many whose opinions I valued, I wrote The Fifth Lectern. Which built upon the success of the first and redoubled it.
Because if a plausible four-way contest was so much fun and chaos, what could possibly be better than a five-way contest?
There were plausibility issues, of course, but as it turned out, OTL proved more implausible. And justified some of the more "out-there" assumptions made. To the point where I was asked to stop making them, because it was starting to look like the author of OTL was taking dangerous inspiration from them.
(I am not, in any way, responsible for the current Brexit debacle; I abandoned the early plans for The Sixth Lectern when it became undeniable that OTL was always going to trump me on this entire area)
The Lectern series (The Fourth Lectern and The Fifth Lectern) can even lay a (slightly stretched) claim to being the godparents of Sea Lion Press, believe it or not. In a Chains of Consequence example that would fit well in one of Tom Anderson's articles, it went like this:
- I decided to write the first Lectern book practically on a whim, in order to try to contribute some writing on a subject about which I enjoyed reading.
- The second Lectern book made the demand look even stronger.
- UKIP's seemingly inexorable rise made them look prophetic.
- I decided to see if I could self-publish these on Amazon, and, with help from Tom Black and Jack Tindale, successfully did so. To my pleasant surprise, the books started to sell.
- Tom Black, an instinctive entrepreneur, saw that this route was viable and also realized that publishing several books and series all based around alternate history would have the capability of cross-fertilising sales and interest. And he set up Sea Lion Press (I gratefully accepted their offer to 'grandfather' the Lectern books into their stable).
Andy Cooke has written the sci-fi Endeavour trilogy (The End and Afterwards, Diamond in the Dark, Beyond the Sunset) and the political alternate history Lectern books (The Fourth Lectern, The Fifth Lectern), published by SLP