Election of Hope is a short story based around a Liberal Democrat candidate in a marginal constituency in the 2019 general election. All of the main protagonists are entirely fictional, although there is some reaction to developments during the real election campaign. Election of Hope is presented for entertainment purposes only and is not written in an attempt to influence anyone’s vote in the general election.
“The ayes to the right: 438. The noes the left: 20.”
The House of Commons roared with approval as the whip read the results of the division on the third reading of the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill. With noise ringing from both sides of the chamber, he passed a slip of paper to a clerk, who dutifully handed it to the speaker to confirm the results.
“Well that’s my Christmas fucked, then!” Matt said, turning to Alex and sighing.
“Oh, give over!” Alex replied, half-standing and leaning forward to pick up a glass of white wine from the coffee table. “It’s not as though you’ve got anything better to do.”
Matthew Tyler was the Liberal Democrat candidate for South West Carn, a marginal constituency which his predecessor had lost to the Conservatives by 276 votes in 2017. A seasoned campaigner and party loyalist, he had stood at every opportunity since joining the party at the age of 19. At the somewhat less tender age of 32, however, he still had not yet experienced the taste of victory.
Alex Cook, his long-suffering friend and erstwhile election agent, had been by his side at every local and general election count he had lost over the past thirteen years, and had started planning his latest election campaign when he was selected for the constituency three months previously.
Following weeks of dithering and rejection from the opposition parties, including his own, it now looked as though there would be a majority in parliament for a general election in December, so he had invited Alex to watch the debate from the comfort of his living room. Knowing the result of this bill was a forgone conclusion, he thought it would be the perfect opportunity to start mapping out the election campaign in earnest.
“Fuck you, Alex!” Matt said smiling as he reached for a notepad. Alex did not return the smile.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Alex asked, his concern evident in his voice.
“Of course,” Matt lied. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Alex took a deep breath as he set his wine glass back down on the coffee table. Over the past few months he had watched Matt fall off the waggon with a heavy thud, and he was not convinced that he was back in the driver’s seat. He was not sure Matt was ready to tackle an election campaign, particularly one where the eyes of the nation’s media would be trained on him as the candidate in one of the party’s top target seats.
“You’ve been through a lot this year, Matt,” Alex said slowly, treating the subject matter with care. “I’m sure the party would understand if you felt the need to stand aside for someone else.”
“Fuck off!” The anger in Matt’s voice was unmistakeable. “I’ve waited a long fucking time to get a shot in a winnable seat. Thirteen years of hard graft for this party could be about to pay off. Whatever I’ve been through this year, the last thing I want to think about doing is throwing all of that away!”
Alex gently squeezed Matt’s shoulder. “As long as you know what you’re letting yourself in for.” He paused, before grabbing the bottle of wine from the coffee table and waving it purposefully in front of Matt. “This will need to stop for a start.”
Matt rolled his eyes. “The next few weeks are going to be hard enough,” he said pitifully, “are you seriously suggesting I’m not allowed to chill out after a hard day’s campaigning?”
“Of course not,” Alex replied, refilling his glass and placing the now empty bottle on the floor beside the sofa. “All I’m saying is you need to take this campaign seriously. HQ will be expecting you to take this campaign seriously. There will be a lot riding on your result, and any goodwill you’ve built up within the party will be gone in a flash if you fuck it up because you’re too pissed to focus!”
“Honestly, Alex, it didn’t do Charlie any harm!” Matt retorted with a playful smile, but he was met with a silent, warning glare, and he slunk dejectedly into the corner of the sofa.
Alex sighed. “Alcohol aside, I need to know that you are emotionally ready for this.” He took a sip from his wine glass and placed it back on the coffee table before continuing. “This is going to be six weeks of unimaginable stress, on top of everything else you’ve been going through. There’s still time to back out.”
“Look,” Matt said after a long pause as he gathered his thoughts, “I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had a shit year, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not completely over it yet, but I’m through the worst of it and I’m ready to go out there, work my arse off and win.”
Alex nodded approvingly. “Now that’s my next question: do you honestly believe you can win?” Alex stuttered over his words, nervous as to how Matt would respond to his persistent line of negative inquisition. Matt simply raised his eyebrow.
“How could I not?”
Alex cleared his throat. “The Liberal Democrats, Matt, have one clear, unambiguous policy, to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU. Now you may believe in that cause and the party may believe in that cause, but here in South West Carn, a majority voted to leave and-”
Matt raised his hand, cutting Alex dead in his prime. “The people voted to leave in 2016. In 2017, the Liberal Democrats came a few hundred votes short of winning. Since then, much has changed, and I am in no doubt that I can persuade people here to place their trust in me.”
“The Lib Dems did, indeed, put in a good showing here in 2017, but I would suggest that the party had two advantages then which they lack now.” Alex paused, affording Matt an opportunity to interject again, but he simply waved his arm, prompting Alex to continue. “In 2017, the Lib Dems were advocating a vote on the final deal, now they want to tear the deal up and disregard the will of the people altogether.”
“The will of an uninformed minority,” Matt protested, but Alex curtly batted his protestation away.
“Informed or otherwise, we rarely offer the people of this country a referendum on anything, instead allowing people to elect a local representative to make important decisions on their behalf. To blatantly disregard the result of such a referendum would be gravely damaging for democracy.”
“Not if such a reversal were itself made democratically. And the Lib Dems could only revoke Article 50 if they had the power to do so, meaning they had a majority in parliament and a mandate from the electorate. Otherwise, we would simply carry on campaigning for a people’s vote.”
Alex stared blankly at Matt for what seemed like an eternity. Sure, he knew that Matt was correct legally and, perhaps, constitutionally, but politically the policy was, he felt, little more than electoral suicide in leave-voting areas such as this. On the one hand, voters were in no doubt as to where the party stood on Brexit, a rarity for any modern political party, but on the other, he did not fancy Matt’s chances with an anti-EU electorate. What bothered him most, however, was that Matt did not seem to understand his concerns. He was normally the more astute of the two of them and to appear to have missed such a blindingly obvious electoral hurdle was completely out of character.
“And the second?” Matt asked, breaking the silence and snapping Alex back into the room. His head jolted, as though he had been awoken from a daydream.
“The second?” Matt repeated impatiently. “The second reason why I will struggle more than Graham did in 2017?”
“Oh, right, yes,” Alex said, desperately trying to collect and rationalise his thoughts. “Well, don’t forget that until 2015, Graham was the incumbent MP. He would have built up a personal vote which would have inflated support for the party here last time. You’ve been in the area for just three months. You won’t have that luxury.”
Matt rolled his eyes, sighing heavily. Graham Jones had indeed been a popular member of parliament for many years, until he lost his seat in the electoral massacre following the Liberal Democrats’ decision to enter into a five-year coalition government with the Conservatives. He always found it ironic that Graham had lost his seat to the very party they had entered coalition with, and was disappointed that he had come so close to returning to parliament in 2017, only to miss out by such a small margin. Matt knew that he would have to work extra hard just to match Graham’s share of the vote, let alone think about winning.
“I’m under no illusions, Alex,” he said eventually. “I know it’s going to be a hard slog, but with you and the local party activists behind me, I know we can do it.”
Alex paused for a moment, carefully weighing the pros and cons of asking his next question in his mind. He decided to bite the bullet, but spoke slowly and cautiously.
“I can’t believe I’m asking this, but what would Ellie say?”
“I’m sorry?” Matt barked, trying, and failing, to disguise his incredulity at the mention of his ex-wife’s name.
Alex cleared his throat nervously. “If there was one person you would always listen to, it was Ellie,” he said slowly. “If she were stood in my place today, what would she say?”
Silence once again built its eerie barricade between candidate and campaign manager as visions of distant memories danced through Matt’s mind: the first time he met Ellie, their first date, their wedding day, the countless lectures she had given him, and the coldness in her eyes when she told him it was over.
“Fuck Ellie!” he growled eventually, startling Alex. “Maybe if I hadn’t listened to her for so long, I’d be an MP by now. Or, you know, happy!”
Alex placed a comforting hand on Matt’s shoulder, but said nothing. He knew how much Matt had loved Ellie, and had watched him self-destruct into a cycle of despair when she walked out on him eighteen months before. He had tried to stand by Matt through his very worst, but had often become exasperated when Matt repeatedly tried to push him away, preferring solitude over support. He knew that at his best nothing could stop Matt winning this election, but he also knew that he was not at his best, and likely would not be for some time to come. He was worried that a hard campaign and one more loss could push Matt over the edge, and wanted to protect him from the media, the electorate and, most importantly, himself. But, if Matt was determined to stand, he could not stop him. He just needed to be sure he was up to it.
“Look into my eyes,” Alex said after a long silence, taking to his feet and running the palm of his right hand across the top of his short, black hair, “and tell me you are ready for six weeks of shitty weather, never-ending attention from the media and near-constant abuse from voters, in an almost impossible bid to lead a pro-remain party to victory in a leave-voting constituency.”
Matt stood and faced Alex, staring intently into his dark brown eyes. “I’m fucking ready for this, Alex!” he said sharply. Alex smiled.
“Yes, I can see that,” he replied confidently, his posture instantly relaxing in relief. “Now we just need to persuade everyone else that you are the only choice to be the next MP for South West Carn!”
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