Election '97: THE CANDIDATE

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The Independent Online
D minus three. The big cheese interviewer was interrupting too much. These things had a delicate ecology and the Candidate - while mildly irritated at the constant heckling - knew that it was his interrogator and not him who was likely to get the blame from the listeners for yet another sterile confrontation.

Even now the duty log at Broadcasting House would be gradually filling up with the complaints of Mrs Enid Bunce of Bromsgrove and Dr Roger Rott of Rochester.

His best strategy was to check his own desire to snap back, and to stay polite. One of the things that he most admired about Sarky was the way that the small Scot would rip the occasional questioner to shreds, turning the tables in a manner that was both shocking and complelling.

One budding jock had probably had his career foreshortened by a careless accusation levelled at Sarky's comrades. Legend had it that the young man in question had left the studio white and quivering, his bloody testicles still on the floor. Regrettably, it was not the Candidate's style. "May I just be allowed a moment to answer your question, John?" he asked politely.

What the piranhas in the upper part of the pool (the warmer water, closer to the sun) wanted was new answers. These broadsheets and up-market radio johnnies were desperate for something - anything - which would turn into a running story. Failing that, they had to fall back on the curled lip, the ironic line and the exasperated tone, indicating to those who needed to know it - their bosses, peers and families - that they were no easy touches.

He understood their needs, but it did not much matter, the replies were always the same however cleverly the questions were couched. They lodged in various cerebral cubby holes and recesses, close enough to his mouth to be instantly available when needed. Soon enough, God willing, there would be stories for all as his new government was formed, and the Grey Man's party imploded. From now - for the next 72 hours - it was stamina that counted; the sheer bloody physical and mental toughness to keep going.

It took real effort to grind out the grins and "nice to meet yers" in every single place he went. To keep on eye on whether the snappers were trying to line him up with a U-turn sign or something like that. Will power was needed not to be seduced by thoughts of what Whizz and Brother Two were doing back in London, busily making contacts and feeling their way into government. Focus! Keep going! From the interview to the press conference in the brightly coloured regional TV studio. It seemed to be a media rule of thumb that the more primary colours a building or a newspaper was daubed in, the more essentially trivial it would be. Here, before an audience of his travelling piranhas, he engaged in a bizarre long-distance link to Mr Brown and big fish down in the capital. The disembodied voice of Uncle Herbert - for once separated from his substance - floated down the ether to accuse him jovially of complacency. Never mind. Keep going!

Thence to a midlands university to give a quick speech to 100 friendly students; keep going. Now off to the sports field, there to ask otiose royal family type questions of sceptical rugger players, most of whom seemed friendly enough (though he could hear the inevitable nervous half- shouts of "wanker" from some of those on the fringes). Keep going.

And he was unnerved momentarily by the strange experience of hearing his own comments - made to handshakers lining his route - being amplified by the radio microphone on his tie, all for the use of the copy starved journalists in the pen. What can I usefully ask these guys about rugby? Dunno. Keep going.

On the bus and into the midlands city, a sudden pain in his guts, an appalling attack of wind. Ridiculously painful, but not an excuse to disappoint the faithful (or to create a "candidate in fatigue shock" story). Keep going!

Under the town hall and as he made his open-air address for the umpteenth time to an unusually enthusiastic crowd he looked up and spotted - on the town hall balcony - Jeremy from the BBC (who looks nothing like Jeremy from Sky TV) combing his air before performing his piece de camera. "Hell, I'm just the backdrop," thought the candidate. And kept going.

Into the helicopter and down to the London TV studios, there to be eaten by a live audience, anxious to make their minor mark on posterity or - possessed by that infuriating self righteousness with which the powerless sometimes like to get even - make a major mark on him. Never mind. Keep going.