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by The Senatorial Province of Vulpinas.
69 days ago.
RP Nation Name: Province Britannia
Government Type: Federal Constitutional Monarchy
Head of Government: Emperor Volusian III
Head of State: Governor Cicero Vulpinas
Capital: Londinium (London)
“...in summary, it is my firm opinion that Imperial Preference must be strangled in its cradle before it is permitted to wreak havoc upon the world economy. It is the antithesis of everything Britain has committed herself to for the past centuries, and will no doubt result in…” Arthur Balfour’s voice droned on and on like a mosquito’s hum, on and on and on. Joseph Chamberlain, sitting in the first row of the Commons, eyed the Leader of the Opposition with pure venom. His eye twitching behind his trademark monocle, Chamberlain clenched and unclenched his hands, as if imagining they were wrapped around Balfour’s throat.
“Father,” his son Austen said nervously. The animated young man was filled with energy, tapping his fingers nervously along the side of the bench, running them over the elaborate patterns carved in the wood. His intense stare was magnified by his own monocle, twin to his father’s. “What are the chances, you think, that Bonar Law and his cronies will swing to us?”
Joseph frowned. “As likely as Devonshire’s group is to swing away.” The Imperial Preference issue had violently split both parties, with many Liberals and Conservatives flipping their allegiances to the other side over the issue. The Chamberlains had talked to almost every single one of the 660 Members of Parliament over the last few months. “We must be prepared to object to the voice vote.”
Austen looked troubled. “I must go see if Keir Hardie is still open for talks.” Scurrying off to where the scruffy Labour leader sat with his cohorts, ever-so-subtly segregated from the rest of the MPs, Austen made his way along the aisles, muttering “pardon me”s and “excuse me”s along the way.
“Your standard-bearer is off to war again,” remarked the Marquess of Ripon dryly from beside him. Chamberlain smiled at the droll image, and made as if to say something, but a burst of applause cut them off as Balfour finished his hour-long speech. Chamberlain grimaced. “Thank god, I thought he’d never stop.” His fingers drummed nervously. “Let us cast the die.”
As Balfour took his seat, he fixed Chamberlain with a smug look. The Speaker of the House rose, rapping his gavel against the table to quell the applause. “The Question is whether to pass Joseph Chamberlain’s legislation, the Imperial Preference Act 1906. As many as are of that opinion say Aye.”
A chorus of “Ayes” rang out across the room. Chamberlain squeezed the bench so hard his knuckles turned white, and gave a sharp intake of breath. There were not enough voices. The Speaker continued. “Of the contrary, No.” This time, there was a much louder chorus of “NO!” coming from all sides. The Speaker rapped his gavel against the table. “I think the Nos have it, the Nos have it. The bill cannot pass.”
“Objection!” Chamberlain rose to his feet. “I object.” Balfour was smirking at him across the floor; he could not abide it.
The Speaker looked at him. “Very well then, Mr. Chamberlain. We shall proceed to a roll call vote. Pierie, Duncan!”
“Bryce, Rt. Hon. James!”
Furious, Chamberlain made his way onto the floor. “Members of Parliament, I implore you, do not forsake Imperial Preference just yet! When we became a great imperial Power in the eighteenth century, during the greater part of that time, the Colonies were valued and maintained because it was thought that they would be a source of profit—of direct profit—to the mother country.” His ringing voice carried across a rapt audience.
Chamberlain continued. “When we were rudely awakened by the War of Independence in America, public opinion seems then to have drifted to the opposite extreme. Because the colonies were no longer of value to us, we saw it as merely natural that they would become independent; we in fact encouraged it.”
“Yet where will we be left if all of our colonies continue to become independent? If all of the colonies become self-governing, what should be left of Britain? If every colony becomes self-governing, what will be the end result? If every colony is essentially sovereign, how will British interests be maintained?”
Chamberlain continued to speak at great length, variously imploring, threatening, and inspiring for ten minutes. All the while, the votes continued to count away, loudly at first and increasingly quieter as Chamberlain spoke. As he spoke, the words “Aye” and “No” lost meaning for Chamberlain. He stopped trying to keep track. The only thing that mattered was the speech.
Hoarse-throated, head throbbing, and exhausted, Chamberlain entered final remarks. “The mother country is still vigorous and fruitful, is still able to send forth troops of stalwart sons. But yet it may well be that some of these sister nations whose love and affection we eagerly desire may in the future equal and even surpass our greatness. A transoceanic capital may arise across the seas, which will throw into shade the glories of London itself. In the years between, let us keep alight the torch of imperial patriotism, to hold fast the affection and the confidence of our kinsmen across the seas; so that the British Empire may present an unbroken front to all her foes, and may carry on even to distant ages the glorious traditions of the British flag.”
The round of applause for Chamberlain’s magnificent speech drowned out the last MP’s vote. It wasn’t even necessary. The Speaker rapped his gavel against his table. “One of the finest oratories we have ever been privileged to hear in the Commons, I think. The final vote stands at 345 Ayes and 304 Nos! The Ayes have it, the Ayes have it!”
Chamberlain’s side of the room erupted into even louder cheers. Shrieks and whistles filled every corner of the high-ceilinged room. Winston Churchill clutched Austen Chamberlain and shook him so hard that he seemed to be vibrating. David Lloyd George dabbed at the corners of his eyes and threw his hat into the air. Balfour looked thunderstruck, Bonar Law grudgingly admiring. The Duke of Devonshire was clapping merrily, while the Marquess of Ripon stroked his bushy beard thoughtfully.
Only Chamberlain himself looked unaffected. Standing in a curious island of calm surrounded by waves of euphoria, the Chancellor of the Exechequer stayed perfectly still, poised, calm. He had just pulled off perhaps one of the biggest legislative upsets in the history of the United Kingdom. Yet somehow, something was wrong.
The right side of his face drooped; his monocle, normally immaculately in place, tumbled from his eye, a winking circle of gold and glass. His arm fell to his side—a gargled cry came from his throat—and then he fell, all six feet six inches of him, falling, falling, falling. With a thud that shook the floor of the Common, Joseph Chamberlain hit the ground.
Cries of joy turned to fear in an instant. Chaos engulfed the House of Commons. Austen Chamberlain wrenched free of Churchill’s grasp and bowled over dozens of MPs in his haste to reach his father. “Father!” Others were shouting too— “Lord Chamberlain!” “Joseph!” “Chancellor!” “JOSEPH! JOSEPH!”
Around Joseph Chamberlain’s body, Austen and Balfour knelt side by side, desperately trying to revive him. Balfour’s face was contorted as he clutched his old friend’s hand. “Joseph, Joseph, my friend,” he was sobbing. “Forgive me, forgive me. How could I have hated you so, over so petty an issue? How? How?”
With enormous effort, Joseph raised his trembling head and gave a jerk that might have been a nod. Then, with an almighty shudder, he went still.
“Did he forgive me?” Balfour asked with an anguished cry.
Austen nodded gravely, blinking through the film of tears over his eyes. “I’m sure he did.”
In the wake of Joseph Chamberlain’s shocking death on the floor of the House of Commons, the United Kingdom has been in an uproar. The entire city of Birmingham has been in anarchy, rioting for almost two days. Joseph Chamberlain’s stronghold and seat of power had always been Birmingham, first as mayor, then as MP, and the city demanded its beloved champion back. Throughout the city, Chamberlain loyalists marched through the streets, calling for Arthur Balfour’s head.
Home Secretary Winston Churchill acted swiftly to quell the riot. With Asquith, Grey, and Haldane in Berlin, he was the highest-ranking member of the Cabinet after Chamberlain’s death. He immediately arranged a funeral procession for Chamberlain’s body to return home to Birmingham despite the protests of many that he should be buried in Westminster Abbey. Led by a grieving Austen, the procession snaked its way from London to Birmingham. When Chamberlain’s casket arrived in Birmingham, the riots dissipated as the city mourned its greatest son.
Upon hearing the news, Asquith immediately left Berlin for London, apologizing to the Kaiser for his hasty departure before the end of the conference. Haldane and Grey were left to wrap up proceedings as Asquith flew home. Arriving in London too late to see the casket, Asquith nonetheless led the tributes in the House of Commons, saying “...in that striking personality, vivid, masterful, resolute, tenacious, there were no blurred or nebulous outlines, there were no relaxed fibres, there were no moods of doubt and hesitation, there were no pauses of lethargy or fear.” Telegrams of condolences arrived from across the world.
Chamberlain’s swan song on the floor of the Commons scored an enormous legislative victory. With Chamberlain martyred for the cause, the Imperial Preference Act 1906 has become almost spiritual in nature. Leader of the Opposition Arthur Balfour completely reversed his opinion on free trade and threw his full support behind the bill. With the Conservative Party’s opposition dissolved, the bill passed the House of Lords easily, becoming law on August 3 1906. The bitter and vengeful Henry Campbell-Bannerman complained loudly to anyone who would listen that Chamberlain’s death made opposing the bill taboo, and that the passage of the bill was a grave mistake, but no one paid him much heed.
Asquith promptly appointed David Lloyd George to succeed Chamberlain as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The energetic and forceful Welsh politician had long made a name for himself in the House of Commons by his audacity, charm, wit, and mastery of the art of debate. With Imperial Preference passing the gauntlet of the United Kingdom Parliament, it must now be approved by the independent Parliaments of Canada and Australia, a much more daunting prospect. If it succeeds, however, it could drastically change the international economic stage.
The Senatorial Province of Vulpinas