The Reformist Saga – Part Six

The Reformist Saga – Part Six

Disagreement and Deceit

by Nick Lucas

This is a part of The Reformist Saga and follows the part Behind the Velvet Curtains. Having read the previous parts is a prerequisite for fully enjoying this story.

Period Pains

Rebecca and Samantha Fitzgerald stood in the hallway as their parents got ready to leave. It did not leave anyone else much room to get past but Mr Fitzgerald liked to check their appearance before leaving home. He was just tightening his wife’s muzzle in the lounge. Rebecca could feel hers pulling on her teeth as she tried to move them, hating it, but everyone told her that she would get used to it, in time. She had only got it the day before, after suffering her first period, a dull rite of passage she had been dreading for months. Her parents had not waited even an hour before rushing out to buy her a muzzle. It was as if they could not wait, as if God would punish them for the sin of letting their youngest daughter take her time. Now she was just like her big sister, hidden beneath layers of velvet, silenced, half deaf and almost blind, ready to earn God’s love.

Her parents had saved for months to buy her a new church outfit, and the muzzle. People at Church had been talking about her menstruation for months too. They talked as if she was a gift to God, and her disappearance behind her layers of velvet would be celebrated, by everyone else. Rebecca herself felt only guilt, because she was in no mood to celebrate. Her lessons told her that she ought to rejoice, but she had seen her sister suffer for God’s love. The two girls leaned close, Rebecca’s head, encased in her bonnet, resting gently on Samantha’s shoulder. They could not hold hands, or even link arms. Their hands were useless inside their mittens, and their arms were buttoned inside their long cloaks. It would not be forever, of course. Samantha had already told her sister that she was looking forward to being married, as soon as possible. It would be arranged for her, to a good Church boy, but she doubted if she would attract anyone with the money to restrict her life as her parents had, and she expected to have much more freedom as a young wife, running her own home. Only the rich could afford guardians and a permanent life of piety and obedience.

The Westminster Enclave

Downing Street had started to resemble Meadvale. Charles Buckingham chuckled at the thought, as he walked towards number ten, his papers held under his arm, nodding politely at the veiled woman moving in the other direction, and at the policeman beyond her. Modesty was certainly more visible on the streets, with immodesty almost totally removed, but it was still rare to see a traditionally dressed Reformist out and about anywhere other than the Church capital, as Meadvale was thought of by most people. Philip Henderson, still the Prime Minister, likened it to seeing a fully covered Muslim woman, and he had a point, of course. In certain place it was a common sight, as the Muslim communities tended to flock together in places like Bradford, Birmingham or Southall, but in others it was rare. But Westminster had become another place where Reformists had to gather. Pastor Winstanley had been collecting statistics from his juniors. When Charles Buckingham first arrived in Meadvale the first congregation in total numbered some four hundred people. Less than half of those were women, and even some of those did not veil apart from services at the Cathedral and some social events. In less than eighteen months, the estimates suggested that a thousand women and children were veiling on a daily basis, and up to two thousand more dressed accordingly for Church schools and businesses. The first congregation had over three thousand members, and congregations were all full to bursting point in the Meadvale area, with church attendance in general, across the entire country, up by some five thousand percent and rising all the time. In all, across the entire country, they reckoned that some ten thousand women owned a proper church gown, and veiled ‘sometimes’ as the pollsters put it. Still a tiny amount, and although the press still tried to make an issue of it, trying to scare the voters into mistrusting the popular Christian Democratic Alliance, the truth was that the number of level one Reformists, again as the pollsters dubbed them, for want of a better description than extremists, was incredibly small, even if it was growing fast. So it was not an extremist revolution, although the people at the sharp end of the organisation were all level ones, and anyone hoping for a position of influence in the movement had to become a level one. Henderson gave the example of Iran, when the subject was discussed over dinner. The Iranian regime were ruthless, relentless hardliners, imposing their ideals on the people, but compliance was not, in general, fervent or passionate. Outside of the bubble in Tehran, people went on with their lives, complying with the basic laws without going to extremes. But because the level one Reformist’s all worked out of Westminster, the press could always snap a veiled woman somewhere. In fact, much to his surprise, Charles had been told that the Reformist style of dress was even becoming fashionable. The church approved designs were selling well, not only to the faithful but to those who just wanted to copy the style, and variations on a modest theme had dominated the catwalks of the London, Paris and Milan fashion weeks. Projections suggested that, over the life of the first CDA parliament, level one Church membership would rise from that base of four hundred to a fully compliant membership of fifty thousand, a staggering rise but still a drop in the ocean. That was why Winstanley talked of a renaissance not a revolution, as some had dubbed it, because he always knew that the snowball would start small, and that rolling down the hill, picking up momentum, would take time. But the underlying principles of Reformism, decency, modesty, piety and obedience, were already becoming engrained in society by both law and behaviour. They were setting the scene for a revolution, preparing the ground for it, and the first five years had to be taken slowly so as not to panic the natives.

“Our opposition colleagues are starting to regroup.” Philip Henderson said as soon as Charles was settled in front of him, in his Downing Street office. “Cartwright had a good Labour conference for a new leader, and now that they have had time to catch their breath after losing the mood of the people, we have to expect some effective opposition, I suppose.”

“Good, we are democrats…I shall be interested to see what he proposes as a workable alternative.”

“So will I…but there is also a feminist march, a challenge from the Human rights court and some union unrest…shutting women out of public office may well be illegal under European law Charles.”

“We are not shutting them out, we are just enforcing a dress code and removing females from front line police and paramedic work…it always was equality gone mad and the people understand that…according to the polls.”

“I agree, in principle…but our opponents are not the silent majority…they are the vocal activists, and having caught them on the back foot we have to expect some meaningful reactions now.”

“Yes, the same people who let the world go mad…did you deliver our message to Brussels?”

“Oh yes, I told them that Europe could not interfere in our policies when we have such a large mandate from the electorate. It has them rattled, because they are used to dealing with weakness from us. And of course the Americans love us…if they don’t support us their own bible belt will strangle them…did you hear that there is likely to be a Christian Democrat standing for President next year? Either as a third candidate or as a Republican…Washington is scared shitless, as the secretary of state put it at the G20 conference.”

“Good…here is the finished draft of my little article by the way…it is being published tomorrow in every daily newspaper and on the BBC website. It should take the wind out of Mr Cartwright’s sails.”

Article written by Charles Buckingham for the British Press (Extract)

How did we get here?

It is a question I am often asked, and one I often ask myself, because the answers explain a lot of the things that affect us today and underline my party’s manifesto and subsequent policies. Everything changed in 2008. The mountain of debt left to almost every country demanded change, because we could not keep on doing what we had done before. Underlying economic issues such as an ageing population and future pension costs could no longer be ignored, and the cost of the welfare state and the benefit system had to be addressed, because it was clearly out of control, and ultimately unaffordable. Politicians the world over tried to deny it, and fudge it, introducing austerity plans but always attempting to win votes on the sly, making a proper recovery impossible. We limped through one coalition here…but the man in the street was sick of it…sick of everyone blaming everyone else and no one telling them the truth, or coming up with a coherent, costed plan to put things right.

However, the problems facing society were much older and much more fundamental than that, and everyone in the Westminster bubble ignored that as well, failing to address the issues with our foundations. I am, or was, a historian, and as such I think we must all accept that the roots of today’s problems stem from the rapid sociological changes of the twentieth century, all around the two world wars. Rapid social change was essential after the First World War, when the politicians managed to cause a conflict that wiped out a generation of young men right across Europe. For the first time in the industrial age, female workers were essential to the workforce. Yes, working class women had always worked in factories and mills, but this was something new and different, because there were serious gaps to fill, and the balance of our communities shifted out of shape. Some of the changes were very fundamental, supported by the suffragette movement and the rise of ‘feminism’, because if you are going to do a man’s job you more or less have to dress like a man, I suppose. Dress like a man, behave like a man, it is hard to say how the mindset of people changed, but it was a runaway train by the time the second world war started, because, once again, we had no choice if we wanted to produce the goods we so desperately needed.

My argument is this was not natural change. It was forced change. Nothing was planned, and no one stopped to think of the consequences of social change. In the fifties and sixties, backed by technological advances, and the inexorable rise of rampant commercialism, everyone wanted to work, to buy that new television, that new washing machine, that new record…or to pay for a fancy foreign holiday perhaps. Every advertisement told our parents and grandparents what they could have if they had the money to pay for it, and with a thousand ways to have fun if you had money in your pocket the world was your oyster. In terms of social change, I think we lost a lot during the latter half of the twentieth century…a lot more than anyone ever cares to admit. Little things, some people reading this will say I am sure, but put together, little things can cause an avalanche. In the twenty five years running up to 2008 corporate greed and irresponsibility ran roughshod over generations of tradition, and we now have to admit that those traditions were the glue that held us together.

So what little things am I talking about? Little things like giving up your seat on the bus to a lady or an older person, treating others as you would be treated, respecting people like teachers and doctors and being able to talk to a person about a problem rather than a machine. I could go on forever. I have thousands of little examples of what we lost in those dark years, but it left us with a world many people had started to dislike. My political opponents accuse me of exploiting the public mood, but what we really did is finally give people a choice. At the last election, we said you can carry on voting for two established parties that got us where we are today and care more about survival than addressing the serious issues we all face, or you can put your trust in people like you, who think like you, and are quite prepared to make the hard choices to put things right. The mandate the Christian Democratic Alliance received from the people of this country was clear. People voted for change. My reason for writing this article is that we rarely get the chance to put details behind our philosophies. Five minutes arguing with John Humphries on Radio Four, or Jeremy Paxman on BBC Two, does not give people the full picture, and I have no desire to hide anything from the people the CDA represent.

My political opponents like to tell you that I want to turn back the clock, as if we could magically return to an Edwardian world of order, respect and an old-fashioned order that kept people firmly in their place. That is not true. But I do believe that the accelerating factors of two wars, and the desperate depression in the middle of them, did as much harm as good to our lives. I do want to redress some of that imbalance. The latest accusation is that we are a sexist organisation who do not value sexual equality and would rather return to a time when brave women like Emmaline Pankhurst had to fight for the right to vote. Nonsense of course. I am a huge proponent of women’s rights, but also a mortal enemy of sexual equality. My opponents see that as an impossible stance. Equal rights have been the rallying cry for forty years, and I have to tell you it was always a lie. Man and woman are different, and that is something to be celebrated, not denied. I do not want any girl in this country to be limited because of her sex, but I am also not going to tell her that she can do anything a man can do, because that is not true. I do not want to send a woman into battle. I do not want a man delivering babies. Facile examples, but it makes my point. We went from a society where women were unfairly held back to a society where to stop women doing something impractical was a crime. There is no sense in that for the individual, and there is great harm for society. Because, in driving our wives and mothers away from the kitchen sink we have shattered the strength of our families.

Most people in this country have to work, not necessarily to make ends meet but to pay for all the things we are constantly told we must have. Our lives are so complicated, so demanding of us, that we are never satisfied, and many wives have been forced to work, whether they want to or not. Everything has turned full circle. In nineteen fourteen, a mother going out to work and leaving her children with a stranger was almost unthinkable, but today if a mother does not juggle her baby and a career she is judged to be some sort of failure. Being a housewife and mother is not a failure. In many ways, as it involves the formative years of future generations, it is the most important job anyone can ever have. How many of our problems have their root cause in working mothers? Let me suggest several just for starters. Obesity in children is a crime against nature. Busy working Mum’s do not have time to cook, so they rely on convenience food, and the diets of children are a disgrace. Fruit and vegetables are something we learn to eat at home with mother, when we are too young to pester her for chips or chocolate. It is also when we learn to eat as a family, around a table, talking to each other, not eating off our laps in front of the television or the computer. Then, when we are older, we learn that chips and chocolate are a treat. Every child should leave home after a good breakfast, have a balanced lunch at school and return home to a proper tea with their family, but instead they arrive at school having had a packet of crisps on the way in, buy unsuitable snacks from the school ‘cafeteria’ and then get a bag of chips on the way home.

But it is more than about diet and obesity to me. Because a mother who stays at home with her children is part of her community. She is there. She socialises. She interacts; she gets and gives advice and assistance. And yes, the church used to play a big role in this. Mothers would attend mother and toddler groups in the church hall, and take their youngsters to Sunday school and services. There was time for coffee mornings and having people over to play. A mother cannot do that if she is dropping her little ones off at the nursery on her way to the office. So the same issue has ramifications over our whole lives. How we bring up our children matters. Little things again, but a child born to a teenage mother is 100% more likely to repeat the mistake. A fat mother will almost certainly have a fat child. But that is all right in the end, because they can go on benefits, because anything goes, and no one cares. Well I do care. Partly because we cannot afford the cost of the benefits system anymore, and partly because these issues add up to a broken society where our children are not taught the right way to live.

No one wants to force any mother to stay home. But we argue that it would be better if they did, and not only for their children, of course. With two million people unemployed, every mother with a job is stopping someone else from working and that cannot be right. I want every man to earn enough to support his family so that his wife can fulfil the crucial role of motherhood, and I will not let any of my critics denigrate that role. So instead of paying the terminally unemployed to drink, smoke and have babies we end up paying for, I am introducing tax credits to encourage mother’s to stay at home. That is not sexist, it is commonsense. I do want to turn back time. I want to turn it back to a time when we had communities, where neighbours knew each other and the local bobby could give a young tearaway a clip around the ear when necessary. I want our children to have and show respect for their elders. I want to see communities tackle unsociable behaviour together, and make it clear what is and what is not acceptable.

My own personal beliefs go much further, of course. My colleagues in the CDA have made no secret of that, unlike previous Prime Ministers. But I am not here to impose my beliefs on anyone. His majesty is both head of state and head of the Church of England, and all I want to do is bring the two strands of British life back together again, in the name of the people. I am not going to lie to anyone. I will not sex up any dossiers to fool anyone. Every law we introduce to parliament will have been in our manifesto before any election, and we will follow the will of the people. I am not frightened of democracy. I just want to put it into practise.

Oiling the Wheels of Change

Ben Cartwright shook hands with Philip Henderson and accepted a coffee. He would have preferred a beer, but the Prime Minister was more of a wine man, and they were both due to vote in half an hour. He had accepted the invitation, but he had no idea why he was there.

“Good conference…I liked your speech, you are finally shaking off the shadows of Blair and Brown from the look of things Ben…even the TUC seem to like you.” Henderson grinned, enjoying the joke. The Trade Unions funded Cartwright and his party and it was a famously uneasy relationship.

“Well, thanks to you, popular alternative policies are fairly easy to find…but thank you all the same.”

“Yes, I see the polls too, your traditional support is back on side from the look of things…but we have attracted the floaters to our cause.”

“Only until you run out of popularity policies, or the cost of them comes home to roost, Prime Minister.” Cartwright smiled back, enjoying the cut and thrust as always. He was not a new Labour man, straight out of some provincial college to work for an MP before standing himself. He had been a bus driver and a local councillor before hitting the big time, with the sponsorship of his union of course.

“I am surprised you oppose the ‘jobs for the boys’ campaign…after all, most of the female jobs are part time, retail, and not many of them are members of a union, whilst the men we are getting off the dole will no doubt be fodder for your friends. It will do us both good, I believe.”

“Some things are not about the policy but about the ideology behind it, don’t you think?”

“So you are an idealist?”

“Oh I was…the longer I spend in this madhouse the more pragmatic I become.”

“Good, because I need your help.”

“You do?”

“Cartwright, we have a common enemy here. I find myself in an uncomfortable coalition just as my predecessor did with the Liberal Democrats. This groundswell of angst from the silent majority has hurt us as much as it has hurt you, and sooner or later we will both have to deal with the extremist elements before things get totally out of hand.”

“Prime Minister, your wife and daughter appear in veils…I had assumed that you were at least sympathetic to the extremist elements within your coalition.”

“Oh I am, as a fellow pragmatist…and I am also a survivor. But in four years time, or sooner if they think they can win, the Christian Democrats will force an election and stand alone. I am working hard to water down their policies, to keep things sensible. But the Europeans are apoplectic about human rights and equality laws, and the Americans are terrified that their own religious fanatics will politicise themselves. Democracy is all well and good as long as no one rocks the boat, but things have gone far enough.”

“Oh we can certainly agree on that, but how do you expect me to help you, and why for that matter?”

“Because if we don’t strangle the Christians at birth, they will change the political landscape. Not just this once, but forever. I am suggesting a little clandestine cooperation…some of my people chewing the fat with some of your people. I think we can agree the differences between us, so we need to develop a plan for how we can work together to attack them from both sides in the future. We were all caught unawares last time. Buckingham played a brilliant game. But if we work together, we can smother them and get things back to normal around here. What do you say?”

A Tragic Turn of Events

Brogan looked up as Mr Craig entered the room, and then bowed her head, out of respect, as a maiden should, her months of training making her basic reactions natural, and automatic. Mr Craig smiled, and patted her cheek, before moving around his big desk and taking his seat opposite her. Miss Ellis had put her there. Her gown was arranged neatly around her, and her muzzle and mittens were in place, leaving her helpless, as always.

“Brogan dear, my apologies for interrupting your studies, but I have some news for you…bad news, I am afraid, concerning your father.” Paul Craig said, his tone serious, hiding his amusement, but enjoying it all immensely. “He had a heart attack…a bad one. His doctors contacted me last night, and we managed a short conversation concerning your future…but then, earlier this morning I had another call…and there is no easy way to say this my dear, I am afraid he is dead…a sad loss. He has provided for you, financially at least, although I am sure that is no immediate consolation, but he asked me to look after you. I want you to know that I intend to honour that promise, and from this moment on you are a part of my family. It is unusual for someone of your age, but it was your father’s dying wish, so I am going to formally adopt you, dear. You and Alice are as close as sisters, and I know Madeleine…Mrs Buckingham…is very fond of you, so it is only right that you should take our name. So although you are quite naturally upset, I do not want you to worry about a thing my dear…I will never turn you away until I find you a husband to keep you exactly as you are now in God’s love. He sent you here to us, and it is not only my duty but my pleasure to make sure that you stay here for the rest of your life. Do not distress yourself Brogan dear, it is all for the best…I will call Miss Ellis and she will comfort you…we will all pray for your loss, and of course for your future happiness.”

Weaving the Wicked Web

Much to her surprise, Catherine Henderson was not married, although she was technically still engaged, or at least no one had told her otherwise. Her father had not mentioned her fiancé, a rather uninspiring young Conservative who had pinned his coat tails to the Alliance during the election, for several weeks, and his mother had not visited with the Henderson’s since the state opening of parliament. Indeed, since moving to live in Downing Street again, with her mother and a young guardian, her life had got considerably easier. She still had to play the good maiden in front of visitors, or in public, but at home she was rarely muzzled and hardly ever wore her mittens. She could not do as she pleased, as her mother and the guardian kept a very close eye on her, so she could not use a computer or the telephone, but she could relax to a certain extent. Her father was busy of course, and her mother would not discuss anything with her without him, but when she did see him he hardly mentioned saving her in God’s love.

She was not surprised, of course. Her father was not religious, and the idea of him having any kind of epiphany was always quite ludicrous. He was a political chameleon in her opinion, a born survivor who could bend with the wind if he had to, and stab his enemies in the back when they least expected it. But she had let him down, and whenever they met she could see that he was still bruised by her betrayal, even if he understood that she had been used by the Chinese. He had managed to ride that little storm, thanks partly to the smokescreen of the modern renaissance, but if she had paid a great price for her own stupidity she got the distinct impression that it had cost him more to save her. Her mother certainly hinted in that direction, and it was made quite clear that she was expected to toe the line. Not that she had been given much choice. So the three of them settled into an uneasy truce in the flat above the office. In public, their faith was a signal to the electorate, and more importantly to the press, that Philip Henderson was at the forefront of the new political elite, a committed Christian, and not just an unwilling pawn of the Reformist Church, but in private it was as if they were paying scant lip service to the cause. Freed from the constant bible studies of her months with Miss Scott, Catherine started to think, and read, and she started to suspect that all was not what it seemed to be within the Christian Democratic Alliance.

The Season of Goodwill to all Men

“Storm, reform, perform…a business analogy but one can apply it to a government, I believe.” Pastor Winstanley said, leaning in close to Charles Buckingham as the string quartet made it difficult to hear. It was Christmas at Broomwaters, a party to celebrate a successful year for the Alliance. Everyone who was anyone was there.

“So far so good…but we need more leverage.” Buckingham replied, and David Harrington and Paul Craig both nodded in agreement, as if it was something they had discussed before.

“On whom?” Winstanley asked, clearly surprised by the comment.

“Henderson for one, but in general, I suppose. Meadvale is still our shining star, a truly Reformist community centred on the Church, but elsewhere…things have improved, but not enough. Henderson is a disciple of convenience, and having saved his own skin by taking his daughter out of the firing line we bought a certain level of cooperation, but I get the distinct impression that he thinks we are even now. He is not loyal to the cause. Rather, he is addicted to power. He would legalise heroin if it would win him a marginal seat, and if we don’t watch him he will shaft us if he can, before the next election.”

“Certainly he will be planning to do so, but can he do it?” Craig asked, sipping his champagne.

“Oh it is always possible.” Harrington responded with a sigh, and a frustrated smile. “Essentially twenty five percent of the electorate always vote Labour and twenty five percent always vote Conservative. Another twenty five percent float around, on the Liberal Democrats, or UKIP, or…last time…on us. The remaining twenty five percent don’t vote at all, although there was a higher than usual turnout this year. Our success was in claiming the vast majority of the floaters and biting into the core vote of the others. By siding with us at the end, Henderson saved his skin and most of his marginal seats. But since then, we have got on with the job and done everything we promised…but for us, that was always the easy part. Reinstating the death penalty and such like was always going to go down well with the voters. But everything we do from here on in will be more controversial and that makes us vulnerable. In the next election campaign Henderson can claim he diluted our madcap schemes and turned them into palatable, successful policies, and he will argue that we want to go much further. At the same time Labour will play the extremist card yet again, meeting him in the middle, and squeezing us. Charles is right, we need something on Henderson to make him play nicely and we need something spectacular to bring people over to us from other churches. It is all very well getting more women to stay at home, but that does not make them good Reformists.”

“Well, finding something to control Henderson is more your sort of thing than mine, Charles.” Pastor Winstanley grinned as he took a canapé off a tray proffered by a passing waiter. “But leave the recruitment drive to me. You have rightly kept the Church out of politics as far as possible, but I have been working on a little surprise. Luckily the Church of England is one of the pawns in our little game that is yet to change its ways.”

Brogan Craig, as she now was, sucked a little water through her feeding tube as she listened to the music. Like all the women present, she was muzzled and hidden behind a mantle, in mittens, dressed in a colourful costume to decorate the proceedings. It was her rightful place. So they said, so the voice in her head said, over and over again, and they kept reminding her that she had chosen to come. No one had made her turn herself into Brogan Hardcastle. And whilst cursing her own stupidity for the thousandth time she also recognised that no one would really miss her. She worked alone. She barely exchanged Christmas cards with her parents. Mr Craig had shown her all the documentation concerning her adoption, and it was faultless. Brogan Craig had a passport, and correspondence with her father leaving her in the care of the Craig’s. She had made Brogan Hardcastle nineteen, so legally she was still a minor since the new laws had come into effect, and everything had been duly legalised to turn her cover into a reality. No one else would believe her, even if she could talk to anyone else. She had only come to Meadvale to expose the Reformists, and they were punishing her for that, and saving her soul at the same time. She kept telling herself that almost despite herself. She could not stop the voices.

Elizabeth Munroe circulated with her husband, curtseying politely to the great and the good, listening to the party chatter and smiling with her eyes, as Miss Ford always urged her to do. She was a good wife. Her husband was a kind and considerate man, and he seemed to appreciate the efforts she made with her daughter, who was making excellent progress. Elizabeth put her hand on Claire’s arm occasionally to encourage her, never leaving her side, and the girl performed well, respectful and dutiful to a fault, her own eyes shining as many of the gentlemen they met complimented her demeanour. Elizabeth no longer found her mute state strange. She enjoyed listening to her husband working the room, and she hoped she was helping him and her father. As she always told Claire, things were changing around them, and they were at the forefront of God’s crusade. She liked to hear details of the policies her husband was introducing and most seemed successful. Unemployment figures were still coming down, but more importantly more men were finding full time employment, whilst a lot of women were giving up part time work, bolstered by tax credits to maintain family income. It had to be a good thing to have more mothers at home, she told herself. She remembered her own mother playing with her as a child, before her untimely demise.

“Can we do that?” Bishop Snell asked Pastor Winstanley in surprise.

“As a diocese, yes…if your clerical council votes for it and it is ratified by a vote of the parishioners. Church buildings, land and educational trusts are administered on a diocesan basis, so if you chose to…er…change your allegiance, as it were, those would be legally transferred to the new entity as long as the government approved it, which of course it would, immediately.” Pastor Winstanley responded with obvious confidence. “Sidney the Church of England is a toothless organisation hamstrung by the socialists in charge of Lambeth Palace. They have been arguing over women priests and bishops for years, but this is a way to follow your faith and return to the word of God…it is the obvious answer, and I would be proud to have you at my side. Just think what we could achieve together…more towns could be like Meadvale.”

For the women, Christmas at Broomwaters was a rather pleasant interlude. With the house full of guests, their guardians all tended to relax the usual routines, allowing more time to chat, and there were dinner parties or social functions most days to stimulate and entertain. Elizabeth Munroe enjoyed it all, but she was worried about her husband, who did not really seem at all relaxed after arriving in Meadvale. He was always on his phone or in private meetings with her father, and there were some fairly serious discussions, even in front of the ladies, over dinner. She did not understand it all, of course. She was not exactly politically aware. But as far as she could make out, there was a rebellion of sorts within the Church of England. The appointment of women priests nearly split the Church, but for years the subject of appointing women bishops had caused huge ructions, and it seemed to be finally coming to a head.

Brogan Craig also picked up on the furore, although her routine was rather less relaxed than Mrs Munroe. Miss Ellis made sure that she and Alice, now her sister, continued with their lessons, even if the other maidens were given the day off, and they spent a lot more time muzzled than the others. She was twenty six in reality, but in Meadvale she was an inexperienced maiden of nineteen, still technically in mourning for her father. But the developments within the Church of England distracted her from the misery of her daily existence. One morning, several days after the big party but before Christmas Day itself, she was in the drawing room, covered by a blanket, but her lesson had finished some minutes before. She did not know which morning it was, except that it was not a Sunday. Maidens had no need to know such things. It was always blissful to sit there in the sudden silence, but that was part of her training too. She had to sit still, and concentrate. Miss Ellis would ask her questions and she needed to think about what she had learned, and she could not let go. However, as she considered her duty of obedience to her ‘parents’, she realised that there were other people in the room, talking to each other. She knew that she was not alone. For a start, Alice had been placed beside her, and it would not have been unusual for some of the other maidens in residence to join them, although she had been covered before anyone else had arrived so could not be sure. Feeling slightly guilty, knowing that she should not pay any attention, she found herself straining her ears.

“Snell is certain, the diocese is one hundred percent united in our favour.” She could not be sure who it was, but it was a man so bearing in mind the guest list at Broomwaters it would be someone important, and she had heard the name Snell before. She tried to remember where.

“So he plans to announce it this morning?” That was Charles Buckingham, Brogan told herself. She would have recognised his voice anywhere.

“At midday and our announcement will be released to the press as soon as it does…Henderson will not be able to interfere without publicly overruling us, and he is not ready to take us on yet…not even close.”

“No, that’s true. We are seen as the force of change at the moment…but the breaking up of the Church of England will be huge news. How many other bishops are with us?”

“Six…but we are not sure all will win their respective votes. Pastor Michael is bending ears and twisting arms as we speak but we cannot avoid the council’s vote.”

“Of course not, but this is still the start of phase two. Peter, we have to mobilise. Today’s story has to be the transfer of the diocese of Winchester to Reformist control, but tomorrow it must be detailed plans for church schools in the area, and we must have a special service in Winchester Cathedral this Sunday…I want as many female members of the congregation as possible to be in traditional dress. Pay them if necessary. Twist arms…break fucking arms…this has to be a full court press. Meadvale was seen as easy ground, but this is the real thing…cancel the holidays, we have to move.”

Brogan almost forgot to breathe. The conversation stopped, or moved out of her earshot, but she reckoned the other man had to be Peter Munroe, home secretary and nominally a Conservative. But like many of his colleagues, he seemed to have been assimilated into the Alliance. Phase two, she thought, shuddering involuntarily. It was what she had always feared. It was what had prompted her to try and infiltrate the Reformists, to expose their activities. Pastor Winstanley and Charles Buckingham claimed to be democrats, motivated to rebuild the country as a better place to live, and she knew that was true. But only as long as better was defined as a Reformist tenet, and she had long suspected that they would do anything to impose the Reformist doctrine on everyone.

Natalie Snell had no idea what was going on at first, of course. Her grandfather was a monumental pain in the arse. If he said jump, her father always asked how high, and the summons to the whole family to gather early for Christmas, regardless of their other plans, had to be obeyed or else. She had finished school early, for the last day of term, and had been expecting to hit the shops with her friends before going home. But her mother, tense and anxious, was sitting in the car outside the school gates, and Natalie was not given a choice. Her brother was already in the front passenger seat, so she climbed in the back, tossing her stupid school hat onto the seat beside her. Everyone had to wear them, thanks to the government interfering in everyone’s lives, but Natalie only complied when forced to do so. She had managed twelve uniform infringements during that term, and she was rowing about that with her parents on a fairly constant basis, as she was about most things.

“Sweetheart, put the hat back on…please…it is a school rule and we are going straight over to the Bishop’s house. You know what he thinks…”

“Mum, I am in the car…and what the hell are we going there for?” Natalie demanded. Her brother, looking unusually smart in his blazer and cap, just smiled, before turning his head and giving her his best sneer.

No one answered her. Her mother just pulled out into the traffic and asked her son to pass Natalie a snack, so Natalie took a piece of cake and left her hat stubbornly where it was. She had no idea the cake was laced with a mild sedative. Bishop Snell was already reasonably famous, but all of a sudden he was front page news, and having taken a stand on religious grounds and taken his diocese under the protective arm of the Christian Reformist Church, where he would assume a seat on the new all-powerful council of Bishops, he needed his family to get into line. He could not have his daughters and grandchildren undermining his theological position, and with the help of Pastor Winstanley he had taken sound steps to make sure that they did not have any problems. He had rightly decided that Natalie would be the hardest to control, and had taken decisive steps to tie up the last of his loose ends.

“Good morning and welcome to this special BBC outside broadcast from Winchester Cathedral, in sleepy Hampshire. This is not a place that regularly makes the headlines, but today, as we all try to get used to the biggest religious schism since Henry VIII broke away from Rome, this town is in the eye of the hurricane. After years of bitter infighting over the issue of women priests and bishops, Bishop Sidney Snell is leading a mass defection to the Christian Reformist Church, whose doctrine is based closely on the bible, and prohibits women speaking in church, let alone leading services. Normally some two hundred people attend the main Sunday service here, growing to almost five hundred for special occasions, but today it is standing room only and the loyal members of the congregation seem to be showing their support for Bishop Snell’s astonishing move. Unless you have been living at the North Pole for the last eighteen months, you will know that church attendance has recently been boosted by rules concerning continued attendance at church schools, but this is something much more than that. Just scanning the crowds queuing to get inside, I would estimate about half the women worshippers are wearing traditional Reformist garb, whilst the remainder have certainly taken the modesty requirements of the Reformist movement to heart…my first impression is that this stunning transfer of allegiance is popular with the people of Winchester.”

Natalie Snell did not know where she was, for sure. She had a pretty good idea about where they were going and why they were going there, but since she was blinded and could hardly hear she did not know. It was really only a short walk from her grandfather’s official residence to the Cathedral, but it seemed to take a long time. Her new guardian, a cruel, remorseless woman called Miss Clarke, held her arm, guiding her along at a steady pace. Natalie could certainly not hurry, encased in layers of thick velvet, with a tightly laced corset making every step a torture. She shouted uselessly into her muzzle, swearing at them all, but no one could hear. Miss Clarke had told her several times already that no one cared what Natalie thought or wanted because she was being converted for her own good, surrounded by God’s love. The guardian clearly had experience of dealing with reluctant charges, because she did not hesitate to punish, reacting to even the slightest hint of resistance. Natalie had been paddled five times in two days. Her muzzle had not been removed for over twenty four hours. She had only been uncovered for about three hours in the same amount of time. Bishop Snell could not afford any embarrassments, and in any case, her dear parents had suffered more than enough of her teenage angst. Natalie, like a lot of other girls in the diocese of Winchester, and indeed Salisbury, Lincoln, Surrey, Liverpool and York, were quickly discovering that their new Church would not tolerate disobedience.

“Hitler had it right…purely with reference to women, of course.” David Harrington chuckled, stopping his golf trolley next to his ball and considering which club to take. “He thought that women, by and large, should be confined to ‘kinder, kuche and kirche’…children, kitchen and church, of course.”

“Not exactly a reference I want to make in public.” Charles Buckingham laughed, putting his hands in his pockets to keep them warm in the freezing temperature. He did not have much time to relax, but he was enjoying the fresh air, and a chance to talk to his friend and advisor in private.

“Probably not, but it is their traditional role…and a damned important one. I like the advertising campaigns…we need to stop people thinking that this is a retrograde step. Returning to full time motherhood must be seen as a good thing…no, a great thing to encourage people.”

“Sidney and Michael employed as many sticks as carrots, I think…but in general you are right…it is about spin, as always. If it becomes fashionable to stay at home, and more people have to attend a Reformist church…well the numbers should start to look a lot more promising in the near future.”

“Of course they will…have the department of education got their arses into gear?”

“Oh yes…they are following the Meadvale blueprint, so they just needed to cut and paste. Uniforms will be amended as of the start of the new term, with a few weeks to comply before it becomes compulsory, and we have managed to find fifty guardians for the good people of Winchester. More are being trained…it seems to be a rather popular way for a girl to leave home and get a level of independence, if they do not have the money in the family to do things properly. Meadvale girls are particular popular I believe. Mrs Walker and the heads of other local schools are turning them out like sausages.”

“Is Henderson speaking to you again yet?” Harrington asked, after his seven iron left the ball a few feet short of the green ahead of them.

“Grudgingly. Naturally he would have vetoed Snell if we had given him the chance, but our coalition agreement is quite clear that anything to do with the church is our call, not his. He ranted a bit, until I asked him how his regular discussions with Ben Cartwright were going…he should know better, there are few secrets in Westminster. The truth is everyone should be planning for the next election, it is the most crucial vote. If one party grabs the balance of power, and takes the initiative, this country will be changed forever, and Henderson sees that. If we win, Reformism wins. If he wins, secular conservatism will grab back a little power, but he can see that the people like our policies, so he will claim a lot of it as his own…but if Cartwright wins, everything will be dismantled, slowly but surely. But those options are still unlikely…another coalition is the best bet, so Henderson is bound to try and sleep with all the possible candidates in good time. He is a political whore.”

“Christianity is a broad and forgiving faith…as we greet the New Year, it is time to stop arguing amongst ourselves and focus on the future. On reflection, the collapse of the Church of England was inevitable. Not only was it founded on the whims of a dictator to suit his own purposes, it had, in modern guise, lost touch with its fundamental purpose…to spread the word of God. I am pleased to welcome our new members, because the Christian Reformist Church acts only on the word of God, and lives only for His glory.” Pastor Michael Winstanley talked confidently into the microphone. His New Year address was being broadcast live. He was no longer the head of an influential but rather small branch of Christianity. He was the head of a large and growing flock of faithful Christian’s delivering God’s lore to the people. His time in the background was over. “This has been an exciting year. We have reclaimed this country for ordinary people. We have introduced radical, meaningful change to the way we all live our lives, and we do so safe in the knowledge that we are doing God’s will. I believe that, throughout this tumultuous time, we have taken strength from that…this is not a selfish campaign; we are not trying to earn money or impose a political ideology on anyone. This is not about left and right, it is not about rich and poor. It is about the ordinary people, the people who do not protest or march or chain themselves to railings to get their views across, it is about ordinary people saying ‘I have had enough of this’. Our recent additions to the Reformist family were driven out of their Church by the politically correct who think that they know better than God himself. The idea of women priests goes against God’s words. Remember 1 Corinthians 14:35…And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. Is this not clear enough for the Archbishop of Canterbury? Does his membership of Greenpeace and the Labour party give him the right to overrule the bible? Does he believe that just because he appears on television and gets invited to lots of nice openings that he knows best? I do not know better than God…I trust in God…like all of you, I want to live in a country that tries to help all our fellow citizens to follow the path of righteousness. I cannot make them all believe, but I can set them the right example and encourage them to do the right things. Recent debate has concerned the role of the women in the home, and in life. But this is not a matter for debate; the bible makes it perfectly clear. Let me remind you, my friends. Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. Ephesians 5:24 Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. And perhaps most importantly 1 Timothy 2:11-2:15…Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she will be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. This is the passage I always recite when our attitude to women is criticised or misunderstood…it is right here, in your hands, for all to see…it is the will of God. Ladies, I do not tell you what to do…God does…and your husbands should…and every woman here today and in our churches across the country who covers herself, as God requested, and silences herself, as God demands, and obeys her husband as God wills, is not some oppressed creature whose human rights are being violated…each and everyone is a pious and dutiful Christian, and I will protect your rights to follow the will of God until my dying day, so help me God. Forget all the political dogma…forget the BBC wringing their hands in disapproval…forget the bleatings of European politicians saying that we are not following their corrupt and undemocratic rules, because we owe our allegiance and our obedience to something much more important. We start this year together in God’s love. God bless you all, God bless everyone.”

Happy New Year

Emma Stone hardly mourned Miss Clarke’s abrupt departure. But her mother instantly appointed another guardian, fresh out of the local church school, and Emma did not expect her general lot to improve. She was about two thirds of the way up the social scale, she reckoned, and it was a difficult place to be. Her father was a middle manager, eager to impress, and in Meadvale aspirations were best served through the Church, where anyone who was anyone could be impressed. The family had enough money and her mother had never worked, but since the dawn of the modern renaissance she had become a passionate and enthusiastic follower of Reformist fashions, always ensuring that Emma did the same. Employing a guardian at full rates of pay would have been a stretch, but they had got Miss Clarke straight out of school, and paid her a pittance so that she could gain some experience and move onto better things. They were now doing the same with Miss Morris. Girls like Miss Clarke and Miss Morris represented the new working class. Their parents could not afford to support them in the hope of attracting a good husband, so they had to work, but their family piety and pride made normal jobs unpalatable. Reformist girls, however poor, only ended up in a shop or an office as a last resort, and most were being encouraged by their schools to train for a guardianship to satisfy the rapid growth plans. Emma was caught between a rock and a hard place. Her parents could afford to keep her at home and train her, but it would be difficult to catch a good husband, so therefore she had to be a paragon of virtue. Many of her friends believed that a middle class girl like herself had it harder than anyone.

Brogan Craig was glad to return to London, even if it made precious little difference to her daily routine. She felt closer to what she thought of as the real world there. Her life as a maiden, and a very eligible maiden at that, considering who her adopted parents were, was totally controlled, but she heard more and saw more when they were there. Mr Craig was a business man and politically active, and most Reformists found it impossible to hide away in Devon anymore. Not if they were to play their part in the ongoing renaissance. Marriage was a regular topic of conversation all around her, as Henrietta and Georgina Harrington were both about to marry. Mrs Craig began to receive many visitors, the mother’s of eligible bachelors, and Brogan and Alice were paraded before them on a regular basis. If a potential suitor had a sister, with a guardian, a sleepover was usually arranged so that the boy’s mother could have a closer look. And it was on one of those unpleasant trips that she came across an old friend, or rather the younger sister of an old friend, much to her delight and surprise.

Olivia Trevor recognised her as soon as Miss Howard, her guardian, removed Brogan’s mantle and sat her down beside Olivia to settle. Both were muzzled, and under close supervision, but their eyes met and spoke volumes to each other. Brogan had met Harry Trevor at University and kept in touch when they both started to work in London, once in a while. Months ago, in another life, Harry had invited Brogan to lunch, as company for his little sister who was seventeen, and still at boarding school at the time. Brogan had tried to get out of it, but did it as a favour to Harry, only to be pleasantly surprised by Olivia. They had got on well, and just a week before Brogan turned herself into Brogan Hardcastle she had even visited Olivia at school, taking her out for tea.

It was an agonising afternoon, because even when Miss Howard eventually removed their muzzles, Mrs Trevor remained with them to interrogate Brogan. It was absurd, she was being offered in marriage to an old friend, and neither the Trevor’s or the Craig’s knew of the connection. Brogan started to hope again for the first time in months, and put on a bravura performance of piety and obedience for Mrs Trevor.

“My father’s death was a shock of course, Ma’am, but I think of the Craig’s as my parents now.” She said demurely as her background was delved into. “I live only for God’s love and to please my adopted family…and I am really honoured to be here Ma’am, truly honoured.”

She never got a private word with Olivia, as was often the case on such visits, but they shared many meaningful glances and she was sure that they understood each other. If Mrs Trevor was impressed and recommended her to her husband, and he made a suitable offer to Mr Craig, she might, she just might, be able to escape. So, she made a point of saying how nice Mrs Trevor was when she got back to the Craig’s London house, and said how much she liked Olivia, hoping that her positivity might encourage Mr Craig to make enquiries. She had always liked Harry. Their friendship never quite developed into a proper relationship because he seemed a bit slow on the uptake, and she never made a move. He had been a practising Christian then but he seemed nice, and he knew who she really was. Olivia had to tell him, and they had to understand what she wanted, she kept telling herself. She could not believe that she was excited about the possibility of an arranged marriage, or how she was happily acting to achieve it, but Miss Ellis told Mr Craig that her behaviour and attitude had definitely improved.

Elizabeth Munroe cradled her little half sister in her arms and congratulated her stepmother. She also confided her own good news, although it was still too early to be sure. She got on rather better with Madeleine now that they lived apart, and she was married, and they both discussed Claire’s progress. Elizabeth was rather concerned about her, although Miss Ford thought that she was developing well enough, and Madeleine suggested that she might be missing company of her own age. Neither stopped to consider that they were all the same age, because Claire was still a maiden and they were wives. But Madeleine did come up with a reasonably good idea. She reminded Elizabeth about Emma Stone. Madeleine said that she was struggling with a rather inexperienced guardian, and that her parents would probably welcome getting her some free time with Miss Ford, although Madeleine could not have thought of anything worse. She was extremely glad to see the back of her, but she had to admit that Miss Ford had a knack with maidens. She could probably teach young Emma’s new guardian a thing or two at the same time, if the Mason’s agreed to let Emma go.

Samantha and Rebecca Fitzgerald watched the evening news in silence. Both were still muzzled, waiting patiently for dinner to be served, so that they could ease the tension in their muscles, but their lessons were finished and seeing a bit of television was a bit of a treat. Not that the subject was anything remotely relaxing or reassuring. Over two thousand church schools across the country had just come under Reformist control, and the report covered parental reactions. Some were moaning that they had just bought new uniforms at the start of the term and now the schools were changing again, but others welcomed the move. It was all about improved discipline, one parent said, because she believed the example set in Meadvale showed exactly what the church was trying to achieve. Samantha nodded at that, because she thought that she was a perfect example of what the church was trying to achieve. She would soon be sixteen, and then she would no longer need to do normal lessons. She would start remaining in her muzzle and mittens all day.

Miss Ford, Miss Ellis and Miss Morris ended up with six maidens staying over at the Munroe house. Their parents were all attending a speech being given by the Prime Minister in the city and Miss Ford and Miss Ellis decided it would be nice if they got the girls out of the way and gave them a bit of an afternoon off. As Miss Ford told Miss Morris, a good guardian had to know when her charges deserved a little indulgence, to recharge their batteries and reward their efforts, and she was certainly pleased with the efforts made by Claire Munroe and her guest, Emma Mason. Miss Ellis felt the same about Alice and Brogan, who was transformed since the turn of the year, and Catherine Henderson was a welcome guest too. Miss Ford actually added Olivia Trevor to the party, since she had the assistance of Miss Morris to cope with the numbers, because Miss Howard, Olivia’s own guardian, had to take a day or two off to visit her ailing parents.

Reformism was definitely claiming more people, but the community in London was still comparatively small, and everyone tended to know everyone else. Brogan and Alice were visitors, as of course was Emma, but Claire, Catherine and Olivia lived in London, so it was a nice mixture of old and new friends. Lunch was eaten without muzzles for once, and then the girls were all settled in the large conservatory at the back of the Munroe house and left with their needlepoint to chatter. Miss Ford took Miss Ellis and Miss Morris off to the kitchen where they could prepare the evening meal and talk freely themselves. Miss Ford knew that the girls would have a wonderful time.

“Oh it is so nice to be back in London, I do so enjoy my visits here.” Brogan said after a little stilted chatter. It always took a little while to relax after the guardians left, and she was frustrated that she still could not speak privately to Olivia, but she still wanted to get her points across. She could not let such an opportunity pass. “Olivia, I so enjoyed my visit with you the other week…I do hope we can do it again sometime?”

“I think Mummy would like that, Brogan…she did ask me to pass on her regards to your mother.” Olivia replied, pausing just a little before the word ‘mother’. Brogan got the message. Her heart leapt with delight, full of new hope. Harry could marry her and she would be free. Everyone noticed her good mood, and Miss Ellis confided to Miss Ford that she thought the child had finally started to settle. Brogan did not get a second alone with Olivia, but she was perfect for the guardians. By the time she returned home with Alice and Miss Ellis everyone agreed that she was ready for marriage.

Any Questions

“Good evening and welcome to another episode of Any Questions here on BBC Radio 4. In a star-studded line up tonight we have the Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party, the right honourable Philip Henderson, Ben Cartwright leader of the Labour party, Charles Buckingham, deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Christian Democratic Party, and last but not least Greg Hitchen, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Our first question comes from Gladys Richards in Bristol…”

“Does the panel think that the breaking up of the Church of England is a good thing?”

“Charles Buckingham?”

“Oh well, a difficult question really. As a historian, I have to remind everyone that this has happened before. It is not a Church that goes back to early Christianity like the Catholic Church, or Islam, and as such its foundations were always weaker and it’s links with government always too strong. But in modern times, you have to ask what the point of the Church of England is? It has tiny congregations, most of its employee’s seem to doubt the existence of God, and they are quite prepared to go against the teachings of the bible. So yes, I think it is. Whatever Church an individual chooses to attend, it should be one that sticks to its doctrine and spreads the word of God…not one that is basically a property developer and socialist propaganda machine.”

“Ben Cartwright?”

“Crap, complete crap…a socialist propaganda machine? This so-called split is a take over…I would like to know what incentives the Reformist extremists have offered the bishops who led the defection. It’s a disgrace, and this government should be stopping it, not aiding and abetting it.”

“So inspiring to debate serious topics with you, comrade. Socialist extremism almost bankrupted this great country and yet you sling unsubstantiated insults around like stones in a greenhouse. The simple fact is that the Church of England has chosen a path contrary to the word of God, and many good Christians find it impossible to remain within such a corrupt organisation a moment longer.” Buckingham snapped back, maintaining his usual icy calm. “Government policy is not to interfere in the affairs of the Church…there is a democratic process and it has been followed…there is no cause for us to intervene.”

“Philip Henderson?”

“Charles is basically correct, but it is something I deeply regret…”

“Even though you are a pseudo Reformist yourself…or is that just a flag of convenience?” Cartwright interjected.

“My own personal beliefs are irrelevant to my public life.” Henderson almost shouted, but Charles Buckingham was not fooled for a minute. “Christians of whatever persuasion should follow their own conscience. My faith is tested on many different occasions, but my job is to guide this country through a difficult economic climate and protect our great institutions, of which the Church of England is one. My coalition partners are funded by the Reformist movement, as the Labour party is funded by the trade unions.”

“So are you a Reformist or not?” Cartwright demanded.

“Not of the aggressive, evangelical persuasion, no…I think the rapid rise of the movement to political power is happening too fast…no one is taking time to think and plan for the future. Charles and I work together as partners, but we do not agree on everything by any means. The truth is I am concerned by the speed and tone of the so-called modern renaissance. I am afraid too many people are jumping on a bandwagon, and I would prefer to set up a commission to look at the Church of England and how it can be modernised…letting the Reformists just walk off with the spoils is a mistake.”

“The fact is,” Cartwright jumped in, talking above the others. “The fact is that we are spending far too much time talking about meaningless laws of decency and not enough time talking about jobs. You cannot improve the quality of life if no one has a job. You cannot encourage working mothers to chain themselves to the kitchen sink if their husbands can’t get a job. We are being high jacked by fanatics and too many people…the BBC included…and falling for it, hook, line and sinker.”

“Greg Hitchen?”

“The truth is…if my colleagues will stop fighting each other…is that the coalition is at each other’s throats. It was always a marriage of convenience, allowing the Tories to cling onto power, and the CDA got its chance to put in place a few populist ideas that won it the votes in the first place. But behind that is a desire to bring their brand of Christianity to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. It is not for me to label their beliefs extreme, but what we have all seen in Meadvale is now happening all over the country, and whilst some people like it, others are appalled at this blatant attack on human rights and sexual equality. I do not want to live in a country where women are silenced and expected to obey their husbands. It is not about decency and modesty at all…it is about repression, and whilst people have a right to choose, no one has the right to impose their beliefs onto others. This is what we must prevent, and I would recommend my colleagues seek another, clearer mandate from the people at their earliest opportunity.”

Pre-Match Nerves

Brogan and Alice returned to Meadvale from London, with Mr Craig intending for the family to stay in the country for some weeks. Brogan cursed her bad luck, because that meant she would not be able to see Olivia or her family for some time, but she took some heart from some comments made to both girls at dinner when they got home. Her ‘father’, who she now called Papa whenever she was allowed to call him anything at all, repeated his intentions to marry both girls off that summer, and urged them to concentrate hard on their lessons, and look to impress in company to enhance their chances of making an advantageous match. He reminded them both that their reputations were important to his efforts, and Brogan knew it to be true. Mothers and even the girls themselves talked about potential matches socially, and the candidates were always judged, so she could imagine Mrs Trevor and Olivia visiting their friends in the London Reformist community and discussing her. She had no doubt that Olivia would promote her cause. She was sure that they understood each other, but she was terrified that Mrs Trevor might take against her. Both Harry and Olivia had told her, as Brogan Lawrence, of their rather difficult relationship with their parents, and especially their mother. Harry, although in his late twenties at the time, had said she never stopped trying to interfere, always moaning that his very rich parents strangled his monthly allowance if he did not toe the line. Olivia, who after Harry failed to ask Brogan out and sort of drifted away from her circle of friends, she saw more of in the last few months before she headed off to Meadvale, was in her last few terms at boarding school, but she too bemoaned her mother’s total control over her life.

Brogan had thought about the Trevor’s a lot, of course. She decided that the parents must have been somehow radicalised and drawn to the Reformist cause. Harry and Olivia had been committed Christians. Not so unusual for a seventeen year old girl but quite rare in a twenty seven year old man, so she had always assumed that it came from their family. Harry had worked as a lawyer, but for a charity, mostly giving his time for free. He needed his parent’s money to live. So she could see how he might be in a position where he was doing as he was told, and she supposed that for his monthly allowance he might let his parents find him a ‘suitable’ wife. Men in the Reformist community had it so easy, as far as she could see. Harry would not have had to change that much, and all he really cared about was his work, helping the poor fight crime and injustice. He was very passionate about that, in fact talking so much about it that Brogan did not think he had enough time to talk about her, and about his strong Christian beliefs, and his parents dragging him into the Reformist movement would not really inconvenience him, as long as he could still work and collect his monthly allowance. But she was also sure that he would not approve of what was happening to his sister, and when he found out about her she was certain he would want to help. Brogan had seen the Reformist’s from inside and out, and she could understand how any Christian could be inspired by a doctrine so closely aligned to the words of God, but Harry loved Olivia, and she was sure he could love her, so seeing them so unhappy would ensure his help. She did not look beyond that at all. She did not think about what being married meant to a Reformist, because to her it was just an escape. She would be free.

But before he could help, Brogan still had to win over Mrs Trevor. She understood that the father negotiated the deal, but the boy’s mother, in this case Mrs Trevor, always had a huge influence. Brogan decided to take no chances. Mr Craig wanted her to concentrate on her lessons, and she did, even exceeding Alice in her eagerness to please Miss Ellis. A well-trained maiden makes life easy for her guardian in dozens of little ways. Everything is done for her, but the best maidens can assist in their care by getting into the right positions so that she did not have to be lifted or turned by her guardian, working with her rather than just lying there, as it were. Most converts took a long time to learn that, but Miss Ellis was delighted to see Brogan responding to her and so obviously trying her best. Bathing and changing Brogan became a pleasure. Fitting her muzzle, always awkward unless the maiden fully cooperated, took seconds, and she found it impossible to find fault with her, to the point where she had to work hard to find things which the dutiful maiden could improve. In social situations, Brogan shone. Moving effortlessly in the upper echelons of Reformist society, she was unfailingly polite, respectful and demure.

BBC News Report, live from Downing Street

“Behind that door, war is breaking out. Reports of disagreements between leading members of the coalition are becoming ever more regular, as they try to agree the way forward for the remainder of this parliament. Undoubtedly the Reformist takeover of large parts of the Church of England has spooked the Conservatives. Before, the church influence on the party was relatively insignificant, providing the theory behind Christian Democrat policies but not big enough to do much more than put things on the agenda. I think there was a general view amongst the political classes that once the CDA policies on Education and social interaction were passed, probably watered down by coalition debate, their power would wane. Henderson certainly believed that the rise of the CDA was based around a relatively small number of populist policies, and that the electorate would start to see that there was not much beyond it, apart from the rather severe branch of Christianity followed by the leading members of the Christian Democratic Party. Henderson’s own beliefs, still a matter of debate, rather blurred the situation, but in the end he is the leader of the Conservatives, and he wants to win the next election on his own, not with his CDA partners. But the defection of large swathes of the Church of England to the Reformist camp has caused fractures in the relationship far earlier than anyone expected, and there are now serious doubts about whether this coalition can last a full five year term. To complicate matters still further, the first by-election of this parliament is only two weeks away. A strong Labour seat, the traditional majority was slashed at the last election by a CDA candidate. With the sad passing of Ted Prendergast, his Birmingham constituency is set to become a battleground for the minds of the people. We will be watching the vote in Birmingham East very closely, to see whether the people think the CDA has run its course, or whether the old parties really are the dinosaurs Charles Buckingham accuses them of becoming. The word in the bars and corridors of Westminster is that this will be a very dirty fight.”

Candidate Training

“So Harry, are you ready to hit the streets?” Charles Buckingham asked, shaking hands with Harry Trevor and showing him to a seat in his Westminster office.

“Yes sir, short notice of course, but if we can build on what we achieved last year, I think we have a good chance.”

“It’s going to be carnage. Henderson and Cartwright both intend to visit twice, and the press are building it up like a popularity contest. I am sending David Harrington to hold your hand…I want to cover all the bases and make sure that even when you fart you are on message. Is that ok with you?”

“Of course sir, I do appreciate the help, and I want you to know that I won’t let you down.” Harry Trevor smiled, so proud to be chosen for such an important task, well aware that older, more experienced people would have killed for the chance.

“Good man…oh and I have asked Paul Craig to announce your betrothal to his daughter. You are young, being unmarried is not really an issue, but it stops them accusing you of being gay at the very least, and could give us a stick to beat Henderson with if he goes too far. Brogan Craig and his daughter are regular companions, he won’t be keen for the press to be reminded of his personal faith choices I suspect, but it is a loose end that we can easily close.”

“No problem sir, my mother has been dealing with all that anyway, I can quite honestly say I haven’t given my engagement a second thought.”

The Reformist Saga is continued in part seven The Gathering Storm.

Back to the index page of The Reformist Saga …

 

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3 thoughts on “The Reformist Saga – Part Six

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