By Iain Bowen
Welcome to the latest in our series of first chapters showcasing our books. Today, we have Dislocated to Success, by Iain Bowen
Iain Bowen’s Arose from the Azure Main is one of the most popular and acclaimed timelines on AlternateHistory.com. Beginning with the dislocation of the United Kingdom from 1980 to 1730, the effects are predictably enormous.
In Dislocated to Success, Norman St John-Stevas, Viscount Fawsley, one of the story’s best-loved characters, looks back on the extraordinary event and what followed it, in ‘memoirs’ written fifteen years after what has become known as ‘the Dislocation’.
Dislocated to Success
Dislocated to Success
By Viscount Fawsley
Faber and Faber, 1995
To Adrian, to whom I hope The Hague was kind
Over the years before the Dislocation, a number of my friends remarked that I was probably born 50 years too late and that I would have found the atmosphere and politics of the 20s and 30s more conducive than those of the days before the Dislocation. Since the Dislocation, of course, they have joked that I was born 200 years too early.
When I started writing this, a few months after retiring from the Cabinet, I originally considered it as a short political life. I had my collected Bagehot to finish, and I thought that this would be comparatively short and simple. However, like Topsy, it grew substantially and in the end I have had to confine it to the period from the Dislocation onwards. Even so, it remains a substantial work, and the decision was made some time ago to turn it into two volumes – especially considering the careful thought and editing that will have to be applied to the Cyprus War and its aftermath, which will be covered in Volume II.
Obviously, even this is not fully revealing of my time in office; whilst we have very open government in the United Kingdom, there always considerations of national interest and national security. Whilst many of these events took place over a decade ago, there are still people and interests that might come to harm. Similarly, there are people whose behaviour when visiting the UK may be somewhat different to their behaviour in their home countries; I have no desire to reveal things that may do harm either to them or to our relations with those countries, although I have been happy to add context and clarification to some of the more salacious stories of Fleet Street which have often done so much harm.
This is not meant to be a full history of what happened in that period; it is a memoir of what I did. There were many important pieces of politics and actions which, whilst they had immense effects, I was only superficially involved with. Others have written or will write on the titanic struggles to keep Britain working, to ensure the supply of raw materials, and to deal fairly with our colonies; I may only mention some of this en passant.
The Dislocation ruined many people's lives. It affected nearly everyone in the country; some never recovered from it, some struggled mightily and some people thrived on it. Whilst I was initially one of those strongly affected by it, and I had a very torrid month after it occurred, I was offered a great opportunity and, with some trepidation, I took it. Had the Dislocation not occurred, I do not think I would have spent nine years as Her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Foreign Department, so I was Dislocated to Success.
Funchal, May 1995
After the end of thirteen continuous years in power for the Conservative Government, there has been considerable discussion on what would have been if the Dislocation had not occurred. I will admit that I am not a habitué of allohistorical circles, and have never really dwelt on the matter. We had been elected in 1979 on a fairly radical programme, and the Prime Minister was determined to implement it. She was backed by a coterie of young men on the make and a wide range of rough voices from Fleet Street. I, along with others who belonged to a more traditional One Nation position, still had voices in Cabinet but were both increasingly disliking the tone of the Government and the declining position of the country.
It was also clear that my remaining time in office was limited; whilst the Prime Minister and I had got on well when we had been in office together under Edward, things had been a little rocky since. I will admit that perhaps I had been a little indiscreet, but the PM had surrounded herself with a rather sycophantic claque and was not listening to a considerable wing of her party. As Leader of the House, I knew that, whilst the accountant and estate agent wing were delighted, there were a lot of the older members who were not so happy about the rising unemployment and what looked like an almighty – and perhaps unnecessary – clash with the Unions. Whilst strikes had dropped since the election, the continuing high levels of inflation meant difficult wage rounds and I was not sure that a confrontational approach was the best way forward. The nature of Cabinet had also changed; what had previously been a more collegiate affair was now more like an inquisition by the PM.
My secondary role as Minister for the Arts was quite easy, although the upcoming budget cuts would not be. I was determined to improve the access to the arts for all, but I could see that there would be problems with the Arts Council – who often sponsored unpopular art. Now, art should be challenging, but there was an unhealthy concentration on art that was only accessible to those steeped in the milieu of the arts rather than a broad range. As someone who was rightly regarded as arts-friendly, I was supposed to support this. The problem is, you bring more people into galleries and concert halls with old favourites – and then you can expose them to something else. The likes of the Arts Council didn’t get that; nor did they get the importance of dealing with the provinces, who could get awfully chippy at times. It is, of course, quite right and proper that London, the cultural centre of the United Kingdom, should get a substantial amount of funds, but the suggestion by the Arts bodies that it should get over 85% of the remaining budget was outrageous.
As Leader of the Commons, I also faced a lot of challenges. Margaret was fond of the guillotine, as are most governments, but the use of it was not just considered excessive by the Opposition but also by members who had become used to being indulged by a government which had no majority in a lighter programme and more time for debate. Here, I initially very much sided with the Prime Minister; we had been elected with a programme and there were several urgent things that needed legislating on. Of course, it all seems laughable compared to the load immediately after the Dislocation, but there were a lot of dear old buffers who were upset by being treated as mere lobby fodder and being told "There Is No Alternative".
As Leader of the House, I had raised these firstly with the PM's PPS; but, as it was clear that sentiments were not being conveyed to the PM, I raised it directly – and was met with what was commonly known as a handbagging. It was made clear that my role was not seen as to convey backbench sentiments, that those should come through the Whips or the 1922. My card had been firmly marked, and I suspected my time in Cabinet would be short; it was just a question of her blooding some of her Young Turks, and then there would be a reshuffle. Many of us knew we were doomed, and unfortunately started to react against that. The failure to change that behaviour by a couple of colleagues after the Dislocation cost them their positions despite having done a good job.
I could have joined those who bridled at their side-lining, but I knew better than to do that. I concentrated on trying to do the best job that I could within the new regime. Not that there weren't those who, by the Christmas of 1979, weren't already plotting in case there had been no further improvements in the situation soon – and this was exacerbated by watching the Labour Party tear itself apart over a deputy leadership election. What a ridiculous thing to fight over. I did wonder if I would have been happier if I had been Secretary of State for Education – but, well, that idea was gone now. I also wondered if it was too late to consider the Speaker's Chair, but it would be exceptional if I got it as a former Cabinet Minister – and besides, we had two excellent candidates next time it was my party's turn. So it would have to be a dignified retirement and then off to the Vegetables.
There were rumours that a new party would be set up, mainly by Labour dissidents, but mine was one of the Tory names occasionally batted around with Jim and Francis. I can't speak for them, but – as much as I quite liked Roy Jenkins – our politics were quite different outside of some social issues. Whilst I may not have been of Margaret's political stripe, which owed rather more to the old Liberal Party and to the followers of Boulanger than she would care to admit, we were both Conservatives at heart, albeit from different traditions – mine was more Disraeli, hers more Churchill – and we were to be very glad of that in times to come. Neither of us were in the remotest sense social democrats.
I was, of course, one of those who loyally voted for Ted in the first round of the leadership election, I must admit more out of despair rather than hope. I had enjoyed working with Margaret at Education, she was a good decision maker and a hard worker, but I had some difficulty in seeing a woman as Prime Minister. I also had a problem with Willie, who was somewhat scarred by his torrid time in the piece of Ireland that passeth all understanding. I was very, very wrong about that, and considering how highly I have always valued the comments and advice of some very distinguished women, it was very silly of me. Of course, I voted for her on the second round; my heart said Willie despite my doubts, but my head said Margaret.
It was not as if we hadn't had these wobbles with the PM before; despite a considerable reinvention programme by the likes of Gordon Reece, a little too much remained of Alderman Roberts' daughter in the early days of her leadership, and she struggled when Labour switched from that old rotter Wilson to the dangerously pleasant Sunny Jim. There was then some talk of an attentat; but, again, she found her voice – albeit with an unpleasant nod to the then popular National Front – and was aided and abetted by the Brothers in the Unions to a sparkling victory.
Of course, it was at this point that some thought things would return to business as usual, that our wise voices would prevail and we would settle on a more moderate course with The Blesséd Margaret as merely a figurehead. Having had slightly more experience of her, I had warned that The Lady was not for turning; but Jim, Francis and Ian knew better. Of course, they hadn't anticipated such a large majority, nor had they kept an eye on the candidates list. There were rather less People Like Us, not many good Bow Groupers and rather a lot of somewhat déclassé accountants and estate agents. Mercifully, Norman Tebbit is sui generis – the thought of two of them would be too much to bear (although every party needs one Norman, and we certainly did; he was one of those who thrived on the Dislocation).
However, there was a general malaise, a worry about the opinion polls and a feeling that Margaret wasn't working. I maintained that she was seeking her voice again, although only in a rather weak way. I certainly refused to get involved with the cabal who wished to reinstate Ted, who failed to engender much in the way of support apart from a handful of misogynists. Any attempt to reinstate him would have just led to general mutiny – not that stopped Ian and a few others. If there had to be a replacement it would have to have been Willie at that juncture; there really would have been no alternative. As it was, Willie was far too loyal – and I think his flame of ambition had been quenched.