Election '97: THE CANDIDATE

'He stood and prayed. Not for victory, but for wisdom '
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The Independent Online
While most of Britain slept or made love - their quotidian dreams and sighs floating up to heaven - our characters were keeping the watches of the night.

Nipper - exhausted - had listened to the midnight bulletin, set his pager to "vibrate" and put it under his pillow. Apart from a vague, unlocated randiness, he was now hardly a corporeal being at all. Each step of his shining career had been accompanied by such a moment of pure intellectual calm. From school to university, from university to leader's office - and now - from leader's office to Number 10. He turned twice on his futon, and was asleep.

Queen Mum lay half awake in the hotel room, her sub-conscious tyrannised - like the mother of a boy to be bar-mitzvahed the next day - with arrangements. Timetables, microphones, stewards, piranhas, secret service agents, airplanes and crash barriers floated around her poor head. As well as that odd sense of loss, which - had she been fully awake, she might have realised - stemmed from the fact that, in victory, she was probably losing the Candidate forever. For on Friday morning and ever after, others - smoother and more practised - would have the charge of him.

London E5. Whizz was alone in the large bed, his other half far off in the North, from where she would shortly be sent as the youngest MP in the House of Commons. They had spoken at midnight on the telephone, a strangely tender and wistful conversation, both aware that their lives would never be the same after tomorrow, and that the change - which they had sought so earnestly - might not all be good. As soon as her voice was gone, Whizz - out of habit - had called Mr Brown in Scotland. But there was little more for them to say. Now Whizz was trying to capture sleep by conjuring up images of his new desk at the Treasury, the meetings of eggheads who would put the world to rights, and the seminars he would address at Harvard. Sleep thus invited, duly arrived.

Three hundred miles away a sleepless Mr Brown sat in an armchair, a glass of whisky on the table beside him, and - by the light of a standard lamp - jotted down yet more notes (to add to the tomes he had already written) for his first Budget speech. It would be a belter.

Aunty, in the room next to Queen Mum's, climbed into her nighty, cleaned her teeth, plumped up her pillow and - after a brief reflection that she had done all she could, and that it all felt far better than five years ago - fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

Bobby's sleep, however, was far from dreamless. His night mind was peopled by feather-hatted governors-general and sashed ambassadors, furnished with spacious offices and beautiful paintings. History books fell open to reveal his photograph and to tell of great administrations and reforms.

Mrs Candidate called the nanny at 11pm, to make sure that all was well at home. The kids were fast asleep, and she had pictured them as they must have been, breathing gently - their eyelids trembling as they sailed the high seas with pirates or got into trouble with surreal headmasters. To her tired irritation her last waking thoughts had strayed again to curtains and carpets. Then she was asleep. As dawn rose in the small village, and the first light leaked into the room, she laid an arm over her husband's side of the bed - where it flopped onto the empty sheet.

The Candidate looked out onto the dewy lawn, over whose wet length a few wisps of mist were drifting. By the light he judged that it was shortly after 4am, the first birds began calling from the trees at the end of the garden. He had woken half an hour earlier, not with a start, but simply as though it was now time - early as it was - for his day to begin. Taking care not to wake his wife, he had slipped downstairs in his blue pyjamas, poured himself a glass of Badoit from the fridge, and come to stand at this window to watch this day begin.

He was not, he knew, a particularly humble man. People had usually thought well of him, and he had always supposed that they must have a point. But today really was his date with destiny. From leading a party - a tricky thing to be sure - he would be going to running a nation. So he stood there by the window, as the sun rose, and prayed. Not for victory, but for wisdom.