Election '97: THE CANDIDATE

by Aanonymous
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The Independent Online
It was Wednesday, the polls had been bad - but Friend Bobby was not wobbling. Not that much ever wobbled with Bobby. His lean frame and bony features were not suited to it. Anything wobbly was kept well out of sight.

"A rogue," he told any passing piranha who asked about the survey showing a sudden drop in his party's lead, "full of technical deficiencies." And in a way it was good that this poll was quite so bad. When, by the end of the week, the others came out showing a better picture, the story would be all about the Candidate's recovery and the Grey Man's gloom.

Meanwhile, momentum was vital. The party must show no signs of flagging, no let-up in its assault on the eyes and ears of the nation's commentators. They'd made that mistake in 1992, and were not going to make it again - not on his watch.

So today he had had no less than three events to attend to, and it was still only four in the afternoon. The most exciting - held in a London television studio in front of a live audience of piranhas and tame punters - had launched a populist inititiative involving giving lottery money to things that folk liked. Politically it was the perfect deal, no-one lost and everybody gained. It was a win-win deal, with guaranteed publicity.

As usual the Prodigies had done a celebrity trawl and uncovered a former Olympic athlete to endorse the proposals on education, and yet another hugely successful middle-aged woman - this time to back the plans for health clubs for all. Bobby was getting rather fond of these confident matrons, whose capacity to sell jojoba oil and sex advice to the women of Britain had emboldened them to go on to public platforms and speak earnestly about the politics/spirituality interface. One had fallen for the Candidate because of the way in which he "dialogued" with people.

But the fairy on the Christmas tree was a special guest appearance from the world-famous Oscar-winning film director, whose last speech had been the one in which he had accepted all those awards on that vast stage in California. When the director had come to the rostrum, Bobby had half expected to be mentioned in a long list of those to be thanked for this wonderful success - "and, finally, to my friend Bobby, without whom none of this would have been possible".

Event two was his own show, unveiling the movie about the Candidate, shot by the award-winning woman documentary director. After this campaign, he thought, he might have difficulty in mixing with people who had not actually won awards. What were you if you had no BAFTAs, Oscars, or Olympic Golds on your sideboard?

The tankful of piranhas was surprisingly receptive to what he had described as "the Candidate, almost raw." Especially since "almost raw" had actually meant "in the kitchen". But Bobby liked the word "raw". Only the yellow- tied former Trotskyist had been hostile, determined to discover whether the documentary woman had been prevented from filming in other places ("like where?" he thought, "the loo?").

It was even calmer half an hour later when Mr Brown and Red Dawn gave a little press conference about VAT. Bobby stood at the back in characteristic pose, his left hand resting in the crook of his right arm, his right hand swivelling at the wrist to pull at his nose, be waved dismissively at questions from the Daily Telegraph, or to shield his mouth when making pertinent observations to Big Al, who was looming just behind him.

The most exhausting thing was never quite knowing what the media flock would do next. He knew that a considerable part of his reputation rested on an almost superstitious belief on the part of the Candidate's office in his capacity to affect the sudden starling-like wheeling and changes of direction that these gregarious animals exhibited from time to time. But it was never as simple as that. Sudden moods would arise, unforeseen mistakes would be made. Only last night, in middle of his moment of passion, the untexted Candidate (usually a model of precision) had got his lines mixed up, and had inadvertently watered down one of the few commitments the party actually had. It had taken 10 hours to sort things out.

But he was relatively happy now, and able at leisure to reflect on two things he had never before noticed. The first was that Mr Brown's arms were rather short. The second was that the campaign was rather long. Then his bleep went off.