Election '97: THE CANDIDATE

by Aanonymous
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The Independent Online
So - tonight was to be another night of passion, thought the Candidate; his third of the campaign. And to be honest, he wasn't sure how much he was looking forward to it - there seemed to him to be as much danger involved as excitement. Not to mention the ever-present risk of looking ridiculous.

The whole idea had arisen from one of those meetings involving Friend Bobby and the Brothers. Brother One - the ad man - had been doing some "focus-grouping" and had brought the results to the attention of his younger sibling - Brother Two, who in turn had consulted Bobby. And this was how Bobby had explained it all.

"The voters," he said, speaking with that intimacy which most people reserve for descriptions of their spouses or children, "have got the responsible bit. No one questions that we're as tight and prudent as the sphincter on an eel. They believe all that. They have absorbed Mr Brown's message, have assessed his personality, and decided that his dying granny would have to put up a bloody good case on 100 sheets of A4 before being allowed to borrow an aspirin.

"But, there is some evidence that we're losing it with sections of the core vote and even - strangely one might think - with some of those guilt- ridden professionals who voted Tory last time, and who are now tempted to atone for their sins by paying 45p a week extra for education, health, unemployment and anything else that the Marine fancies allocating it to this week.

"Ned ...", he nodded in the direction of Brother One, "thinks that we need to do something to show that we're still a party of conviction, they feel to need we really care. There is ground to be made up in the areas of commitment and passion."

This, the Candidate had known once, meant him. At the very beginning of the campaign it had been decided that he was both the key asset and biggest potential liability for his party. He had to be leaderly, he had to suggest wisdom, exude vision and to reassure. And now he had to be passionate, a quality that did not come easily to him. But why not? Looks, partly. He will always find it hard to smoulder, like the dark, wavy-locked Mr Brown. The Candidate was more (as his wife had once told him) of an English Rose type - attractive, but not dripping with sex appeal.

Another problem was that he was saddled with the need to make a whole lot of very carefully prepared speeches; speeches full of lists enumerating the seven pillars, the 10 commitments, the five pledges. He had tried to put inflections and mild arm-waving into his reading of the written texts, but within a paragraph or two he would feel it going flat again. In television reports he came over as immensely competent, but lacking in colour.

Finally, they'd sussed it. The Candidate needed to go off text altogether. He had to leave the claustrophobic comfort of the podium and his notes, and become a free-range leader, prowling the stage in sans texte. Left alone with his emotions and his notes he could communicate directly from his heart to the hearts of his listeners. And he would wear shirtsleeves.

There were still problems, however. Expectations had been formed by Hollywood's notions of passion: all those tears, hugs, wails and pummelled walls. What should he do with his body? With his arms? His legs? And what was he actually going to say? It was all very well speaking from the heart, but when you consulted your heart on a stuffy evening in Stevenage, what would you find there, other than an earnest desire to go home?

In Edinburgh, it had nearly not worked. He had stepped forward from the lectern with the words "I'll tell you what I believe," and the bastards in charge of the lights had made such an obvious change, that the whole thing had been in danger of looking totally rigged. He had been saved by the failure of the sound system, forcing him to reach the nether regions of the large hall with his boy's voice. It had been a triumph.

At the end, Mrs Candidate had grabbed him and kissed him. "You know," she said, "there was one moment when you put a hand on your hip and pointed to the balcony - and you looked just like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever!"

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