Election '97: THE CANDIDATE

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The Independent Online
The young businesswoman in the lemon suit was fabulous. Actually, "lemon" did little justice to the violent green-tinged, luminous yellowness of her; and "fabulous" was similarly too mild a word to describe the psychological impact of her conversion. "In 1979 I voted for Mrs Thatcher because I thought Britain needed a change", she told the press conference. "Now Britain needs to take a new step forward." And she turned her small, bird- like head to look straight at the Candidate.

He nodded gravely, fighting the temptation to give his widest grin, and wondered why he had not - in 1979 - seen in Thatcher what women like this had seen. Just who had been right all those elections ago - 19-year-old thrusting Lemonwoman, or his caring 26-year-old self? Would there have been a fair way to cure the union bosses of their Seventies megalomania; or a decent method to lighten the burden of subsidising useless, rusty old state industries? Perhaps there would, but Labour - split, fractious, Trot-entered Labour - had been in no position to make it happen. Which made the terrifying, fluorescent entreprenix (hobbies given as "playing the saxophone and riding a 500cc motorbike") a better man than he had been.

Whatever. Now - at any rate - they were together. As with the Oslo Middle East peace accords, or with any settlement in Northern Ireland, you could only make progress by obliterating the past - including your own favourite bits. No more King Billy, Derry sieges, Hebron massacres, 1926 General Strikes or Grunwick pickets; just him and Lemonwoman building a New Britain today. And just an election to go before they could start.

With which thought he refocused on the people in the room. In the middle sat the friendly businessmen in charcoal suits, though punctuated here and there by a tweed, advertising the presence of a chief executive priding himself on his quirkiness - a miraculous ensemble, like a deputation of rabbis in a mosque. Flanking them were two great wodges of journalists, from the perspiring political editors to the weasel-faced lobby boys. These guys would decide whether the Wednesday wobble was over, and the Grey Man's party was in trouble. The Candidate himself needed some positive coverage from them, but could not determine whether he'd get it.

To increase his chances, Friend Bobby and Big Al were working the aisles - here sidling up to a flabby hack with a word of encouragement, or there smiling at a teenage weasel. Al, he knew, would do his stuff using the sabre and bludgeon ("what absolute f...g rubbish! How can you write such crap!") while dispensing genuinely useful bits of information. Bobby's weapons were the epee and the derringer, suggesting with what contempt and astonishment stories that said X rather than Y would be treated. It was astonishing, he thought, what a shower journalists were; though when he had first become leader, he had not always thought so.

To complicate things he could see Mr Brown's staffers also briefing the pack: there was Goodtime Charlie - all laddish bluster and football talk; and over there, chatting to the financial specialists, was Young Einstein - a bespectacled economics expert.

What he hated most were the bloody TV crews, their cameramen always falling over, their mobile phones always ringing mid-speech (usually with the first bars to "Hi-ho, hi-ho" or something similarly ghastly. "Ghastly" was a good word, too), their producers, assistants and reporters in constant confabulation, and their sodding white lights always in your eyes. It aged him, he knew it did.

Enough! He tried to see beyond the lights and search out friends and enemies among the audience, extending his neck as far from his collar as it would go, and scanning from side to side. Not, of course (he reflected), that your friends turned out to be so very friendly. Just yesterday the superannuated DJ on Radio Pensioner, who normally invited his guests to say something important to the nation, had decided to impress his bosses by glugging a draught of HRT and digging his false teeth into the Candidate's ankle. Sure, you could anticipate the funny little man from the Express, with his chipmunk face and yellow tie. But if the ITN Zeus gave you both barrels over privatisation or taxes, then you were in difficulty.

Concentrate! Sure, he was tired and the campaign felt interminable but this was the moment they had waited for. Concentrate! And try to stop thinking (he thought) of how much he would like to get on Lemonwoman's bike and ride pillion across the Mojave. "Questions?"