The Woes of June
Lord Richard Haldane sat very still in his chair, a china teacup paused halfway to his mouth as his eyes took in the headlines in that morning's Daily Mail. Now he understood why his manservant had said nothing on bringing in the morning's newspapers. What was there to be said ?
That the words leaping out at him were lies almost went without saying. Northcliffe's papers had never ceased their anti-German vitriole. True, The Times had appeared more civilised in its tone but the message was there alright. The Mail had always been the worst, though. Poor Prince Louis had been hounded from office despite having been instrumental to the British cause in the August crisis. Now, it was his turn. Pro-German ? He almost growled aloud at that. He, who had done more than anyone to ensure that the British Expeditionary Force was ready for the war. And now to be pilloried almost as a traitor.
It was too much. For a moment he allowed his bitterness to get the better of him. With shaking hand he set the cup back upon its saucer, not trusting that its contents wouold make it safely to his mouth. Again his eyes snapped to the headlines in the Mail; insidisously side-by-side they trumpeted 'Haldane Must Go!' and 'Was Treason To Blame For Naval Defeat?'. The implication was clear, yet the separation sufficient that even a judge such as himself could not pursue the case.
All censorship appeared to have fallen away in the wake of the disaster that had befallen the Grand Fleet. The more sober Times spoke of a 'Shell Crisis' affecting the army on the Western Front and boasted an editorial clearly aimed at War Minister Kitchener. The knives were out for all of them, Haldane reflected. Other newspapers were unanimous in agreeing that Churchill and Fisher had to go. Catching the general feeling of hysteria whipped up by the Daily Mail there were demands for the resignation of the Home Secretary, McKenna, on the grounds that he had not done enough to prevent the communication to the enemy of 'vital' information by enemy aliens still resident in the country. Even Grey, stalwart of the Liberal government, was coming in for criticism. Recent events in Greece and Italy were being weighed against his stewardship of the Foreign Office. The Prime Minister would have a fight on his hands to keep his close friend and ally in the cabinet.
In fact, the only people not to come in for universal denunciation were Asquith himself and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, for very different reasons. As far as Asquith was concerned he benefitted from the fact that his method of governance was one of deciding between alternatives offered to him ; as originator of none he escaped full responsibility for their failure. As national leader he still commanded the respect of the Opposition. Indeed, Bonar Law was being quoted as having said that he would be willing to serve in a coalition under Asquith. How true that was, Haldane did not kow, but the sober Scot was known above all for his sense of duty and it was not beyond the bounds of possibility. And Lloyd George ? Haldane had heard disquieting rumours that the Chancellor was involved somehow with Northcliffe and Curzon (of all people !). He suspected that the 'explosion' of the Shell Crisis in the middle of unparalleled naval disaster was not in any way coincidental . . .
He sighed and rose to his feet. Did it matter, these political machinations ? The military situation was quite clear, and there had been for the last few days a sense of impending doom in the Palace of Westminster. He had been present in the Strangers' Gallery when Churchill had made his statement to the House of Commons, had heard the catcalls and jeers, and witnessed the disgraceful incident when MacDonald, firebrand leader of the anti-war Labour members, had breached all rules of the House and charged the First Lord with the veritable murder of the thousands of missing sailors. Churchill had stood there stony-faced as the marshals had removed the Labour member ; his legendary composure shattered he had hurried to the end of his speech and sat down.
Pausing by the door to tighten his overcoat against the chill he felt upon him, and to check his hat in the mirror, Haldane hesitated only briefly before stepping out into the early morning. There was business to attend to as Lord Chancellor, but the Prime Minister had called an early cabinet meeting. Haldane fancied that he knew why but would not let himself dwell on it. What would be would be, no matter how undeserving he felt it to be.
He set off on the short distance to No. 10 Downing Street .