'Is the Home Secretary coming to speak for you?' I asked Jerry Hayes. 'He would be welcome.' (Endorsement by Mr Howard is believed to be worth 500 votes to Labour)

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Prospective parliamentary candidates cannot wait for elections. Citizens disenchanted with government want elections. The Referendum Party, until they learnt of the shallowness of their support, demanded an election without delay, while the odd sleaze-free MP with an impregnable majority does not mind one way or the other.

From other right honourable and honourable ladies and gentlemen, demand for a month on the hustings is muted: no one who has a decent job is overly keen to put it on the line.

Between dissolution of Parliament on 8 April and 2 May, when the losers receive a letter from British Airports Authority requesting return of the free car park pass, they think back with pride and look forward with anxiety. Take Jerry Hayes:

He will start tomorrow going around his constituency banging on doors, shaking the flesh.

His constituents at Harlow are overspill from London's East End; like all MPs, he thinks he knows his people pretty well. "They call me Jel."


"You know, as in Tel for Terry; Jel for Jerry.

The late Reggie Maudling once told me he thought it a mistake to go too often to your constituency lest they take you for granted. Hayes would disagree; he is a "constituency MP". He won the seat against the odds, beating Stan Newens in 1983; kept it unexpectedly in 1987 and 1992, and is once more odds against to retain it. "I've been written off before every election, so what else is new? I quite like elections; after knocking on the first door of my campaign and meeting a friendly face, I enjoy them."

Favourite to win the seat is the same Labour opponent he beat last time - by just under 3,000 votes; he describes him as Old Labour, a Clause Four man. Other runners are a Lib Dem with modest hopes, a Scargillite, a British National Party candidate and one each from Independence and Referendum. He thinks they will cancel out each other's insignificant votes.

To Hayes' advantage is the fact that people recognise him, especially after the trouble ... "Hey, you're not going to write about the trouble? I got 400 letters of support from all over the country after the story broke."

How many letters against?

"Three; all from outside Essex. I think if the transgression is sexual rather than financial, constituents forgive and forget."

His other advantage, he maintains, is that "Harlow council is a left- wing incompetent authority which imposes the second highest council tax in the land, is twinned with somewhere in the eastern bloc and, until recently, declared itself a nuclear-free zone. They are so bad I am beginning to wonder whether they were created by Conservative Central Office."

I ask whether his family helps on the campaign. His wife and children go out on leaflet drops on Sundays (never do hard canvassing on Sundays), after which they all go to lunch at a Chinese restaurant. There are no public meetings - a bit old hat are meetings in the computer age - but he is expecting visits from the great and the good: the PM, the Chancellor, Heseltine.

Hayes was a prominent Heseltiney, he and leg-over Colonel Mates and Keith Hampson, who also suffered and overcame a public assault on his private life. During his 14 years, Hayes rose to a term as PPS to Robert Atkins in Northern Ireland, now sits on the Heritage Committee and greatly admires Chairman Kaufman.

Is the Home Secretary coming to speak for you?

For the first time, Hayes assumes the face of a politician: "Mr Howard would be welcome." (Endorsement by Mr Howard is currently believed to be worth 500 votes to Labour.)

The campaign will consist of letting people know "that we are here", identifying the vote and mounting a massive polling day operation to get the voters out. By 8pm on election day Hayes reckons he will know his fate; he looks at the NCR (no carbon required) cards, which tell him how many who have pledged votes were checked through the polling stations. When they start ringing round, he recognises the non runners: "I am going to wash my hair" and "I'm waiting for my husband to come home" are election- speak for "I've changed my mind".

And if he loses his seat?

He was a barrister for six years and might go back; he has written the odd piece for newspapers and magazines - which could have been because he is an MP. "I would miss my friends both in the House and in the Lobby [he spent 13 years chasing lobby correspondents before the situation was reversed last January]. There is nothing as ex as an ex-MP."

When he leaves to go back to his Westminster office, he says: "You may think I am mad but I still believe the Tories will win the Election."

I consider advising him to "buy" Conservative seats at 248 with City Index - but decide against it: to lose your unblemished reputation, your seat and your money, all in a six months, is a consummation devoutly not to be wished.

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