Election '97: THE CANDIDATE

by Aanonymous
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The Independent Online
D minus 7. Nipper was explaining the Mawhinney Bounce to Auntie; about how you take a low grade story (in this case an ancient leak) and use it to bounce your opponent's good news stories off the evening bulletins. To do it successfully, he told her, you needed total shamelessness; a shamelessness that he didn't entirely despise.

Actually Auntie understood it all perfectly well, but she indulged the boy, sensing that he needed to talk. Waiting for the big event of the day to start - and with the moment of decision so close - all of them lived from minute to minute, poll to poll. By this hour, seven days from now, several million voters from Stirling to the Scillies would already have made their decisions.

Out of habit she took yet another look at the gathering piranhas. Placing themselves in a fleshy wodge at the side and centre of the hall were the TV bigwigs; the guys whose reputations within their industries rested upon their performance in these few weeks.

The largest and most influential of them she had dubbed "Uncle Herbert", after her mother's brother. That Herbert - when attending family get-togethers - had cultivated the habit of taking up the whole of a very large sofa, his padded thighs wide apart, jovially rebuking his relatives in very loud voice.

Yesterday this Uncle Herbert had taken up an extra minute of everyone's time by correcting the second page of a party press release, (one that had been written by a harassed Prodigy very late at night).

"I was under the impression," he had said, his voice redolent with ponderous humour, "that 'Achilles' was spelled with a capital 'A', and - the last time I looked - 'heel' had two 'e's."

"So does 'arsehole'", Big Al had whispered in her ear.

And there was the frizzy-haired assistant editor of the major establishment newspaper, a woman used - since earliest childhood - to being told (correctly) how brilliant she was. In press conferences this confidence exhibited itself in publicly pointing out interesting things that she had noticed to her colleagues, and to the politicians.

Auntie turned away from Nipper. A jovial Mr Brown was introducing a list of eminent switchers (some of whom she had actually heard of) who were now enthusiastically endorsing the Candidate.

Then there was the filmed message from the rough diamond entrepreneur, whose videoed lips told the assembly that he liked the Candidate because "he was really up for it, aggressive, longing for it."

He certainly was. When he entered and walked through the middle of the room she realised she was witnessing the transformation of the man that she had known from politician to celebrity; a celebrity who - once the campaign was over - she might never know again.

Once in government qualities other than loyalty and friendship would be needed. This she knew.

Auntie watched him shun the microphone, and stand as close as possible to his audience - speaking fluently without notes about his vision of Britain. She loathed adulation, but he was now a complete star; young, handsome, keen and honest.

Had Lord Lloyd Webber defected, she could easily imagine specially composed music swelling, and the Candidate advancing down the aisle, pausing, and then breaking into song - his tuneful baritone telling the world of his love of country and his wishes for future generations. At the appropriate point she, Big Al, Nipper, Queen Mum, Blind Lemon Blunkett, Mr Brown and Friend Bobby would all add their voices, until even Uncle Herbert and the piranhas had to join in the chorus. Like that scene out of that movie starring Liza Minelli. If only the voters could see what she saw.

But they couldn't. Fifty minutes later they drove out of London in one of the big battlebuses, its sides covered in cheerful and highly coloured slogans. But as they went no-one waved, no-one cheered, no-one jeered or shouted.

On the posterless streets of mile after mile of sullen suburbs there was nothing but the billboards. Behind these blank doors and windows were the millions who would soon decide whether the Candidate would be able to offer his country anything other than his resignation. What the hell were they thinking?

At seven she was back at HQ to collect her coat and bag before escorting the Candidate to the TV studios for his latest big performance. On her way out she passed by a TV screen showing the familiar bars of an opinion poll graphic. This one gave her party 63%, the Grey Man's lot 27% and the Marine 2% - a lead of 36%! Was she dreaming?

"Take no notice," said a small voice, "it's only Sky's 'just a bit of fun' phone-in poll. It's funny, but we still don't really know what's going on out there."