Baron High Ridge's fate
There's been a lively debate over what happened to High Ridge, what the Conservative Association's political future might be, and -- for that matter -- exactly how big it was when High Ridge formed his coalition government. Specifically, someone told me that there's been some discussion about whether or not the Conservative Association was the largest of the coalition partners, how he came to be Prime Minister if the CA wasn't the largest partner, and exactly where the CA stood on defense issues.
At the moment, the Conservative Association's political prospects don't look very good (he said conservatively). They've dumped High Ridge as the party leader and most of them have been busy denouncing him even more vituperatively than the Centrists in an effort to make it clear that they -- noble and patriotic Manticorans that they are -- had nothing to do with his criminal activities. A special prosecutor has been appointed by the House of Lords to determine whether High Ridge can be tried for the obvious criminal activities which occurred during his time as Prime Minister. Quite a few of his lackeys have already been tried and sentenced, but none of them were officially members of Parliament. Under the Constitution of the Star Kingdom, a member of Parliament is protected against prosecution for any actions undertaken as a member of Parliament, short of the famous "high crimes and misdemeanors." The evidence that High Ridge knew what was going on is pretty conclusive, but there's not any indication that he attempted to obstruct justice in the course of any investigations (since there weren't any investigations), nor is there any indication that he diverted funds from the purposes for which we had been specifically legislated. Porkbarrel legislation, "earmarks," blatant partisanship in awarding contracts, etc., yes, but in every case (so far investigated, at any rate) any actions he personally undertook were covered by the authorized legislation's language. There's also the little problem that bribery is usually a case of someone outside the government attempting to suborn someone inside the government, which was actually the reverse of what was going on in this instance. There's no question that little things like lowest-bidder provisos were flouted and that members of his administration and the bureaucracy serving it were guilty of rampant cronyism, or that what happened amounted to criminal activity. The only real question is whether or not the severity of the crimes involved reach the level at which a peer of the realm, who was acting at the time as the Queen's Prime Minister, can be prosecuted for them.
It seems likely that, ultimately, he will be prosecuted. How long his lawyers will be able to continue to string things out is another matter. In the meantime, he's been expelled from the House of Lords and is living very quietly in seclusion. There have recently been reports in the Manticoran media that some of the nonaligned peers have been coming forward and engaging in discreet conversations with the Queen's Bench about High Ridge's personal role in the use of certain files to obtain their cooperation. A certain gentlemen by the last name of Young is already under indictment for blackmail and extortion, and the likelihood of Stefan not making some kind of deal with the prosecution is minimal, shall we say?
As far as the size of the Conservative Association is concerned, I don't really want to give specific seat numbers. At the moment, you can be fairly certain that it's a much smaller than it used to be. Bear in mind that the members of the Conservative Association were exclusively peers. That means they don't have to stand for election, and it also means that the "political parties" in the House of Lords tend to be less rigorously structured than in the Commons, where the support of the party is often critical to winning election. That means that the House of Lords has always "mixed and matched" much more freely than was the case in the Commons, and that it is by no means unusual for a peer to "cross the aisle" over a matter of principle (or expediency). At the moment, most of the erstwhile members of the Conservative Association are busy looking for an aisle -- any aisle -- they can cross in order to escape the consequences of their association with the High Ridge policies. Having said that, however, the CA was not the largest "party" in the coalition. The Liberals were larger, the Progressives were smaller, and the "nonaligned peers" were scattered across the political spectrum on most issues.
High Ridge wound up with the premiership for several reasons.
First, although it's been rare, the Star Kingdom has had previous governments in which the aristocratic representation of one of the coalition members was smaller than that of its partners but still won the premiership. Usually that was because the other coalition partners didn't trust the largest single party and insisted on someone from one of the smaller parties (or factions) receiving the Prime Minister's post as a check on the dominance of the larger party in question. That meant there was a precedent under which High Ridge as the leader of the second-largest aristocratic faction could be tapped as Prime Minister.
Second, there was the problem that the government was initially formed while Haven and the Star Kingdom were still shooting at one another and White Haven and Eighth Fleet were continuing to advance deeper and deeper into Peep territory. In other words, as initially formed, this was a wartime coalition, and the Liberals were hopelessly tainted as the party which had continued to resist military preparations right up to the very last moment, which, historically, had never made any particular secret of its basic contempt for the armed forces, and whose political focus had been on isolationist domestic social issues for decades. A wartime Prime Minister simply could not come from the ranks of New Kiev's Liberal Party. One could come from Catherine Montaigne's Liberal Party, but that party wasn't in existence at the time.
The fact that the Liberal Party was the only coalition partner with a significant membership in the House of Commons also played its part. Since the Prime Minister couldn't come from that party, then he had to come from either the Conservative Association (which had no representation in the Commons) or from the Progressives (who had been so hammered in wartime elections that they had virtually no representation in the Commons). The fact that the CA had Janacek, with his previous experience at the Admiralty, and that the Association had traditionally supported military appropriations (although primarily as a means of protecting the Star Kingdom's isolationism), gave High Ridge the inside track as a wartime Prime Minister. The fact that he was very much hands-on with the extortion using the secret files (whether the courts have been able to prove it yet or not) also meant that he had a lot of pull with individual members of the House of Lords, which meant, in turn, that when it came to handing out the various governmental posts in the formation of the new coalition, he was able to count upon the "spontaneous support" of enough nonaligned peers (and, for that matter, some Liberals and Progressives, as well) to give him effective control of the largest single pool of votes in the House of Lords, however the formal "party" labels might have broken down.
In the wake of the resumption of hostilities, the destruction of the Young files, and the general airing of dirty political linen -- and the number of indictments which have already been handed down and acted upon -- the Conservative Association, as such, is DOA. In time, no doubt, another aristocratic faction with similar views is going to formed, but no one is going to want to be associated with the "infamous" High Ridge Government or the totally discredited Conservative Association.
Another point which needs to be borne in mind when looking at the Cabinet arrangements within the High Ridge Government is that even though the coalition was initially formed as a wartime government, it was never perceived as a wartime government by its members. Even though there was still shooting going on when Cromarty was assassinated, it was obvious to everyone that the Star Kingdom's technological edge was so great that victory was effectively inevitable. The only real question was how severely the People's Republic was going to be defeated, not whether or not it was going to be defeated. As such, even though the peers who supported the coalition's formation had to find someone with military credentials (in his own right or through his party affiliations) as Prime Minister, that wasn't really what they were thinking about. They were already looking beyond the end of the war and for all intents and purposes concentrating on circling the wagons against the assault they knew Cromarty and Elizabeth were planning to launch against the Lords' control of the power of the purse, and whatever else might be said about High Ridge, there was absolutely no question about where he stood on the issue of protecting aristocratic privilege and power. Indeed, on that particular issue he was trusted far more deeply by most of his coalition partners than New Kiev was. That, too, played a significant role in deciding who got which seats at the table in the Cabinet Room.