The ups and downs, 1964-1991, of three English M.P.'s--one of whom will eventually become Prime Minister. Charles Hamilton is an earl's younger (non-inheriting) son, an Oxford grad who easily moves into a sure seat in Parliament. (Says his Machiavellian wife Fiona: ""They don't count the Conservative vote in Sussex Downs, darling, they weigh it."") In future decades, however, Charles' rather slimy ascent among the Tories will be far from steady: he gets bad PR from a drunk-driving charge; he gets high marks as the ""whip"" who racks up the Aye votes for Britain's Common Market entry; in the 1970s he misses the Maggie Thatcher boat, loses Fiona (an ugly scandal), marries an embarrassing hussy/thief. . . and does his best to sabotage the career of Conservative rival Simon Kerslake. Simon, meanwhile, is having about the same mix of bad and good fortune: son of a solicitor and husband of a liberated doctor, decent Simon will always be having money problems; he's nearly sunk by the stigma of bankruptcy (thanks in part to scheming banker Charles); redistricting forces him to spend years in search of a new seat; but he backs Thatcher from the start, becoming her Minister for Northern Ireland (his son is killed by terrorists). And the third potential PM is Labour's Ray Gould, low-born genius of economics. Ray's rise is stalled when he resigns from the Wilson government on a matter of principle; he retreats into a legal career as Q.C.; but, despite extramarital affairs, he returns to prominence in the late 1970s--with help from doggedly loyal wife Joyce up in Yorkshire. In the late 1980s, then, all three politicians are at the top--with Charles as Foreign Secretary and Simon as Defense Minister for Mrs. Thatcher, who's about to retire. (Archer invents a rather feeble crisis--Libyan terrorists seize a UK ship--to put the two Tories in opposition.) Then Labour comes back into power, with Ray as Chancellor of the Exchequer. And finally, in 1991, there's a tie-vote in the General Election--so the new King Charles III must choose between Ray Gould and Simon Kerslake as the new PM. (Charles has lost out to Simon for Tory leadership--thanks in part to one of Archer's notorious coincidences: Simon's doctor-wife just happens to be the gynecologist for Charles' trollopy wife. . . and thus the holder of blackmail-secrets.) Archer, an M.P. himself from '69 to '74, oversimplifies British political history with almost comic insouciance here--especially when it comes to the Labour Party. His characters are thin, his plotting both strained and unimaginative. Nonetheless, for readers with a breezy interest in Parliamentary doings, this is easy, occasionally shrewd, mildly engaging formula fare: a palatable mixture of back-room tidbits, recycled headlines, and cozily familiar melodrama.