First Among Equals

First Among Equals

by Jeffrey Archer

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Overview

Charles Seymour, second-born son, will never be the earl like his father, but he did inherit his mother's strength-and the will to realize his destiny...Simon Kerslake's father sacrificed everything to make sure his son's dreams come true. Now it is Simon's chance to rise as high as those dreams allow...Ray Gould was born to the back streets but raised with pride-a quality matched by a sharp intellect and the desire to attain the impossible...Andrew Fraser was raised by a soccer hero turned politician. Now it's his turn for heroics, whatever the cost.

From strangers to rivals, four men embark on a journey for the highest stakes of all-the keys to No. 10 Downing Street. Unfolding over three decades, their honor will be tested, their loyalties betrayed, and their love of family and country challenged. But in a game where there is a first among equals, only one can triumph.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250101990
Publisher: St. Martins Press-3PL
Publication date: 05/01/2004
Pages: 498
Sales rank: 628,982
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.99(h) x 1.11(d)

About the Author

Jeffrey Archer was educated at Oxford University. He has served five years in Britain’s House of Commons and twenty-two years in the House of Lords. All of his novels and short story collections—including Best Kept Secret, The Sins of the Father, Only Time Will Tell, and Kane and Abel—have been international bestselling books. Archer is married with two sons and lives in London and Cambridge.

Hometown:

London and the Old Vicarage, Grantchester

Date of Birth:

April 15, 1940

Education:

Attended Brasenose College, Oxford, 1963-66. Received a diploma in sports education from Oxford Institute

Read an Excerpt

 

BOOK ONE

1964-1966 THE BACK BENCHES

CHAPTER ONE

THURSDAY 10 DECEMBER 1964

MR. SPEAKER ROSE and surveyed the Commons. He tugged at his long black silk gown, then nervously tweaked the full-bottomed wig that covered his balding head. The House had almost got out of control during a particularly rowdy session of Prime Minister’s questions, and he was delighted to see the clock reach three-thirty. Time to pass on to the next business of the day.

He stood shifting from foot to foot waiting for the 500-odd members present to settle down before he intoned solemnly, “Members desiring to take the oath.” The packed assembly switched its gaze from the Speaker to the far end of the Chamber, like a crowd watching a tennis match. There, standing at the bar of the Commons, was the victor of the first by-election since the Labour party had taken office some two months before.

The new member, flanked by his proposer and seconder, took four paces forward. Like well-drilled guardsmen, they stopped and bowed. The stranger stood at six-foot-four. He looked like a man born with the Tory party in mind, his patrician head set on an aristocratic frame, a mane of fair hair combed meticulously into place. Dressed in a dark gray, double-breasted suit and wearing a Guards’ tie of maroon and blue, he advanced once again toward the long table that stood in front of the Speakers chair between the two front benches which faced each other a mere sword’s length apart.

Leaving his sponsors in his wake, he passed down the Government side, stepping over the legs of the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary before being handed the oath by the Clerk of the House.

He held the little card in his right hand and pronounced the words as firmly as if they had been his marriage vows.

“1, Charles Seymour, do swear that I will be faithful, and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors according to law, so help me God.”

“Hear, hear,” rose from his colleagues on the benches opposite as the new MP leaned over to subscribe the Test Roll, a parchment folded into book-shape. Charles was introduced to the Speaker by the Clerk. The new member then proceeded toward the chair where he stopped and bowed.

“Welcome to the House, Mr. Seymour,” said the Speaker, shaking his hand. “I hope you will serve this place for many years to come.”

“Thank you, Mr. Speaker,” said Charles, and bowed for a final time before continuing on behind the Speaker’s chair. He had carried out the little ceremony exactly as the Tory Chief Whip had rehearsed it with him in the long corridor outside his office.

Waiting for him behind the Speaker’s chair and out of sight of the other members was the leader of the Opposition, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who also shook him warmly by the hand.

“Congratulations on your splendid victory, Charles. I know you have a great deal to offer to our party and indeed your country.”

“Thank you,” replied the new MP, who after waiting for Sir Alec to return to take his place on the Opposition front bench made his way up the steps of the side gangway to find a place in the back row of the long green benches.

For the next two hours Charles Seymour followed the proceedings of the House with a mixture of awe and excitement. For the first time in his life he had found something that wasn’t his by right or by effortless conquest. Glancing up at the Strangers’ Gallery he saw his wife Fiona, his father the fourteenth Earl of Bridgwater and his brother, the Viscount Seymour, peering down at him with pride. Charles settled back on the first rung of the ladder. He smiled to himself: only six weeks ago he had feared it would be many more years before he could hope to take a seat in the House of Commons.

At the general election a mere two months before, Charles had contested a South Wales mining seat with an impregnable Labour majority. “Good for the experience, not to mention the soul,” the vice-chairman in charge of candidates at Conservative Central Office had assured him. He had proved to be right on both counts, for Charles had relished the contest and brought the Labour majority down from 22,300 to 20,100. His wife had aptly described it as a “dent,” but it had turned out to be enough of a dent for the party to put Charles’s name forward for the Sussex Downs seat when Sir Eric Koops had died of a heart attack only a few days after Parliament had assembled. Six weeks later Charles Seymour sat in the Commons with a 20,000 majority of his own.

Charles listened to one more speech before leaving the Chamber. He stood alone in the Members’ Lobby not quite certain where to begin. Another young member strode purposefully toward him. “Allow me to introduce myself,” the stranger said, sounding to Charles every bit like a fellow Conservative. “My name is Andrew Fraser. I’m the Labour member for Edinburgh Carlton and I was hoping you hadn’t yet found yourself a pair.” Charles admitted that so far he hadn’t found much more than the Chamber. The Tory Chief Whip had already explained to him that most members paired with someone from the opposite party for voting purposes, and that it would be wise for him to select someone of his own age. When there was a debate on less crucial issues a two-line whip came into operation: pairing made it possible for members to miss the vote and return home to their wife and family before midnight. However, no member was allowed to miss the vote when there was a three-line whip.

“I’d be delighted to pair with you,” continued Charles. “Am I expected to do anything official?”

“No,” said Andrew, looking up at him. “I’ll just drop you a line confirming the arrangement. If you’d be kind enough to reply letting me have all the phone numbers where you can be contacted we’ll just take it from there. Any time you need to miss a vote just let me know.”

“Sounds a sensible arrangement to me,” said Charles as a rotund figure wearing a light gray three-piece suit, blue shirt, and a pink-spotted bow tie trundled over toward them.

“Welcome to the club, Charles,” said Alec Pimkin. “Care to join me for a drink in the smoking room and I’ll brief you on how this bloody place works.”

“Thank you,” said Charles, relieved to see someone he knew. Andrew smiled when he heard Pimkin add, “It’s just like being back at school, old chum,” as the two Tories retreated in the direction of the smoking room. Andrew suspected that it wouldn’t be long before Charles Seymour was showing his “old school chum” just how the bloody place really worked.

Andrew also left the Members’ Lobby but not in search of a drink. He had to attend a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour party at which the following week’s business was due to be discussed. He hurried away.

Andrew had been duly selected as the Labour candidate for Edinburgh Carlton and had gone on to capture the seat from I the Conservatives by a majority of 3,419 votes. Sir Duncan, having completed his term as Lord Provost, continued to represent the same seat on the City Council. In six weeks Andrew—the baby of the House—had quickly made a name for himself and many of the older members found it hard to believe that it was his first Parliament.

When Andrew arrived at the party meeting on the second floor of the Commons he found an empty seat near the back of the large committee room and settled down to listen to the Government Chief Whip go over the business for the following week. Once again it seemed to consist of nothing but three-line whips. He glanced down at the piece of paper in front of him. The debates scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday all had three thick lines drawn under them: only Monday and Friday had two-liners which at least after his agreement with Charles Seymour he could arrange to miss. The Labour party might have returned to power after thirteen years but, with a majority of only four and a full legislative program, it was proving almost impossible for members to get to bed much before midnight during the week.

As the Chief Whip sat down the first person to jump to his feet was Tom Carson, the new member for Liverpool Dockside. He launched into a tirade of abuse against the Government, complaining that they were looking more like Tories every day. The under-the-breath remarks and coughing that continued during his speech showed how little support there was for his views. Tom Carson had also made a name for himself in a very short time, for he had openly attacked his own party from the first day he had arrived.

“Enfant terrible,” muttered the man sitting on the right of Andrew.

“Those aren’t the words I’d use to describe him,” muttered Andrew. “Altogether too many letters.” The man with wavy red hair smiled as they listened to Carson ranting on.

If Raymond Gould had acquired any reputation during those first six weeks it was as one of the party’s intellectuals, and for that reason older members were immediately suspicious of him, although few doubted he would be among the first from the new intake to be promoted to the front bench. Not many of them had really gotten to know Raymond as the north-countryman appeared remarkably reserved for someone who had chosen a career in public life. But with a majority of over 10,000 in his Leeds constituency he looked destined for a long career.

Leeds North had chosen Raymond to be their candidate from a field of thirty-seven, when he showed himself to be so much better informed than a local trade-union official whom the press had tipped as favorite for the seat. Yorkshire folk like people who stay at home and Raymond had been quick to point out to the selection committee—in an exaggerated Yorkshire accent—that he had been educated at Roundhay School on the fringes of the constituency. But what really tipped the vote in his favor had been Raymond’s refusal of an open scholarship to Cambridge. He had preferred to continue his education at Leeds University, he explained.

Raymond took a first-class honors degree in Law at Leeds before moving to London to complete his studies for the bar at Lincoln’s Inn. At the end of his two-year course Raymond joined a fashionable London chambers to become a much sought-after junior counsel. From that moment he rarely mentioned his family background to his carefully cultivated circle of Home Counties friends, and those comrades who addressed him as Ray received a sharp “Raymond” for their familiarity.

When the last question had been asked, the party meeting broke up, and Raymond and Andrew made their way out of the committee room—Andrew for his tiny office on the second floor to finish off the day’s mail, Raymond to return to the Chamber as he hoped to deliver his maiden speech that day. He had waited patiently for the right moment to express his views to the House on the subject of widows’ pensions and the redemption of war bonds, and the debate in progress on the economy was an obvious opportunity. The Speaker had dropped Raymond a note earlier in the day saying he expected to call him some time that evening.

Raymond had spent many hours in the Chamber, carefully studying the techniques demanded by the House and noting how they differed from those of the law courts. F. E. Smith had been right in his assessment of his colleagues when he had described the Commons as nothing more than a noisy courtroom with over 600 jurors and absolutely no sign of a judge. Raymond was dreading the ordeal of his maiden speech; the dispassionate logic of his arguments had always proved more appealing to judges than to juries.

As he approached the Chamber an attendant handed him a note from his wife Joyce, She had just arrived at the Commons and had been found a seat in the Strangers’ Gallery so that she could be present for his speech. After only a cursory glance Raymond scrunched up the note, dropped it into the nearest wastepaper basket, and hurried on toward the Chamber.

The door was held open for him by a Conservative member who was on his way out.

“Thank you,” said Raymond. Simon Kerslake smiled back, trying in vain to recall the man’s name. Once Simon was in the Members’ Lobby he checked the message board to see if the light under his name was lit up. It wasn’t, so he continued on through the swing doors to the right of the lobby on his way down past the cloisters to the Members’ Car Park. Once he had found his car he headed off in the direction of St. Mary’s, Paddington, to pick up his wife. They had seen little of each other during Simon’s first six weeks in Parliament which made the thought of tonight even more enjoyable. Simon couldn’t see any easing of the pressure until there was another general election and one party had gained a sensible working majority. But what he feared most—having won his seat by the slimmest of margins-was that such a working majority would not include him and he might end up with one of the shortest political careers on record. After such a prolonged stretch of Tory rule the new Labour Government was looking fresh, idealistic, and certain to increase their numbers whenever the Prime Minister chose to go to the country.

Once Simon had reached Hyde Park Corner he headed on up toward Marble Arch thinking back over how he had become a member. On leaving Oxford he had completed two years’ national service with the Sussex Yeomanry, finishing his military days as a second lieutenant. After a short holiday he had joined the BBC as a general trainee. He spent five years moving from drama, to sport, to current affairs before being appointed a producer on “Panorama.” During those early days in London he had rented a small flat in Earl’s Court and continued his interest in politics by becoming a member of the Tory Bow Group. When he became the Group’s secretary he helped to organize meetings, and had then progressed to writing pamphlets and speaking at weekend conferences before being invited to work at Central Office as personal assistant to the chairman during the 1959 election campaign.

Two years later Simon met Elizabeth Drummond when “Panorama” carried out an investigation into the National Health Service and she had been invited to be a participant. Over drinks before the program Elizabeth made it perfectly clear to Simon that she distrusted media men and detested politicians. They were married a year later. Elizabeth had since given birth to two sons, and with only a small break on each occasion she had continued her career as a doctor.

Simon had left the BBC somewhat abruptly when, in the summer of 1964, he had been offered the chance to defend the marginal constituency of Coventry Central. He held on to the seat at the general election by a majority of 918.

Simon drove up to the gates of St. Mary’s and checked his watch. He was a few minutes early. He pushed back the mop of brown hair from his forehead and thought about the evening ahead. He was taking Elizabeth out to celebrate their fourth wedding anniversary, and had prepared one or two surprises for her. Dinner at Mario & Franco, followed by dancing at the Establishment Club, and then home together for the first time in weeks.

“Um,” he said, savoring the thought.

“Hi, stranger,” said the lady who jumped in beside him and gave him a kiss. Simon stared at the woman with a perfect smile and long fair hair that turned up at the shoulder. He had stared at her when she had first arrived at the “Panorama” studio that night nearly five years before and he had hardly stopped staring since.

He switched on the ignition. “Want to hear some good news?” he asked, and answered his own question before she could reply. “I’m paired for tonight. That means dinner at Mario & Franco, dancing at the Establishment, home and …”

“Do you want to hear the bad news?” asked Elizabeth, also not waiting for a reply. “There’s a shortage of staff because of the flu epidemic. I have to be back on duty by ten o’clock.”

Simon switched off the ignition. “Well, which would you prefer?” he asked. “Dinner, dancing, or straight home?”

Elizabeth laughed. “We’ve got three hours,” she said. “So we might even find time for dinner.”

Copyright © 1984 by Jeffrey Archer.

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First Among Equals 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
CherryBlossom More than 1 year ago
The story is about three men who have invested their lives to become the Prime Minister of England. The author, Jeffrey Archer, became the youngest member of the House of Commons in 1969. His knowledge of the English system gives the reader a true incite into the workings of the Parliament. It was quite a study of history as well as a compelling tale. The men each have their women who help them confront their fears, obsessions, loves, hates, and political ambitions. Each of the three men possess their own strengths and weaknesses in their quest to become England's Prime Minister. The twists and turns of their lives comes to a complete turn around of events at the end. The plot was interesting but a little too detailed in the political arena for my taste. I skipped over some of this part. Otherwise the story line was good. I believe a reader interested in political systems would really enjoy this book. Cherry Blossom
Guest More than 1 year ago
Larry King has said of Jeffrey Archer, 'There isn't a better storyteller alive.' One would be hard pressed to find a better reader alive for this story of a fight for power. Martin Jarvis easily inhabits the personas of four men as they parry and jab for the right to live at No. 10 Downing Street. Listeners are introduced to this quartet gradually as the story unfolds over some thirty years. Charles, a man born to title and privilege; Simon, whose father imbues him with ambition; Ray, not of patrician birth but born with an iron will; and Andrew, a politician cum sports hero. Archer, a member of the House of Lords, well knows the terrain in which he sets his story, and Martin Jarvis well knows how to deliver it. - Gail Cooke
djbchoctaw More than 1 year ago
I was very disappointed in the quality control (proofing) of the NOOK version. For example, the surname Gould was frequently and confusingly referred as Could. The expletive "My God" was also less impressive as "My Cod". Definitely a book for those interested in the UK political scene and its machinations, but less interesting as a "good read". This is the least appealing of the Jeffrey Archer books I have read.
HistoryBuffMI More than 1 year ago
I've read most of Archer's novels, and enjoy his style, et al. However, in this case, I was mildly disappointed. It seemed he stretched the plot too much, thus losing the flow of the narrative. Also, his surprise ending was, to me, beyond credible. Sorry, Mr. Archer!
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this a completely absorbing read from the beginning. I'm not sure what a British reader would make of it, but as an American and admitted anglophile, I found it fascinating to get a look inside Britain's parliamentary system and politics by following four characters who aspire to be the "first among equals"--the Prime Minister. Archer himself was a member of parliament, so there's an authority and sympathy to his depiction of the wheeling and dealing and temptations of the office. The prologue gives us the background of the four men we'll be following. Blue blood Charles Seymour is the son of an Earl and a Tory, as is self-made man Simon Kerslake. The Scottish Andrew Fraser was born to politics--into a conservative family, but he winds up in the Labour Party. Raymond Gould from Yorkshire, another Labour Party MP, comes from a humble background--but has brilliance and ambition to burn. I definitely had my favorites from the beginning--I certainly found both Simon Kerslake on the Tory side and Andrew Fraser on the Labour side more likable than their rivals. Fraser's story at one point even came close to moving me to tears. Although Gould had his moments and gradually grew on me. And even Seymour turns out to have a redeeming quality and Kerslake and Fraser their flaws and temptations. Several lines in the book were really witty and striking, and I was amused by the political cartoons included in the edition I read. I found watching the four men's tightrope act at the heights of power as suspenseful as any action-laden thriller. I didn't much like Archer's Kane and Abel, but this book I enjoyed a lot. One thing some readers may find jarring. Though the book follows events until 1991, it was published in 1984, which makes for some goofs when Archer's crystal ball showed cracks. (For one, American President Gary Hart.) I have to admit though--I'm not just an anglophile but a political junkie--one who worked as a campaign staffer and political science was my college major. So I can imagine those less interested in politics might be less entranced.
jayne_charles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I rather liked this slightly soapy tale of political life. Because Archer has been there and done it, the story has a certain authenticity, though I'm sure it has been greatly simplified. I thought the characters were well drawn, avoiding too much stereotyping. The only thing I didn't particularly like was the ending, and the convenient personality transplant of one of the main characters
vanamala on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very accurate novel about English Prime Ministerial elections. The life journey of 4 candidates vying to become the Prime Minister. The election travails, accusations, hidden truths and the final run-up makes it a quality read.
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One of the slowest books I've ever read! You would have to know English Government to understand most of the book.
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I enjoyed learning about how British politics work. I was confused but still managed to understand most of the details.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the book well enough. It gave you some good insight into the workings of Parlement.
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