Election of Hope: Part 2 – The Campaign Launch

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 bright November sun may have been beating down hard on Carn Harbour, but it was doing little to increase the temperature for the crowd of Liberal Democrat activists gathered around their candidate, listening intently to his rallying cry. 

“We might be a small borough tucked away along the coast,” Matt yelled through a borrowed megaphone as he balanced tentatively on a box of leaflets in an embarrassing attempt to gain some height over the gathered faithful, “but for the next five weeks South West Carn will be a crucial battlefield in ensuring we elect a significant number of Liberal Democrat MPs to continue the fight against the political and economic disaster that is Brexit!” 

The roar of the tide lashing against the rocks just a few meters away was proving a difficult distraction for Matt to overcome, and he stumbled over his lines more than once as his focus seemed to ebb and flow in time with the sea. However, he was determined to give a good impression to the people who would be pounding the streets on his behalf and instil in them confidence in his suitability to be a member of parliament. He was acutely aware that confidence in the candidate translated into confidence on the doorstep, and, knowing that for many of those assembled this was their first time meeting him, was determined to get his campaign off to the best possible start. 

“I’m sure you’re already aware that it won’t be easy. In 2016, 57% of voters here voted to leave the European Union. But thanks to your hard work we won back overall control of the council in May and battled the Brexit party valiantly in the European elections, coming several thousand votes behind them, admittedly, but a strong second ahead of the Conservatives nonetheless. 

“Through Unite to Remain, the Green party have graciously stood down their candidate here, so we are the only pro-remain party on the ballot paper, and I firmly believe we can win over enough pro-remain Labour and Tory voters to win South West Carn back for the Liberal Democrats!” 

A loud cheer erupted from the gathered crowd. Matt was not sure whether it was fuelled by belief, optimism, an attempt to keep warm, or a mixture of all three, but whatever the reason, he was delighted to have been met with a positive reaction. 

“You can probably tell from my voice that I am not local,” he continued when the noise from the crowd had died down. He had been brought up to believe in the importance of speaking clearly and ‘properly’, but he had scorned numerous suggestions of formal elocution lessons, preferring instead to stay true to the Kentish working-class background which was currently being betrayed by his accent. “But we are all Liberal Democrats, we are all Remainers and we are all here to win! With your hard work and support, that is exactly what we will do. And whatever the result, we have exclusive use of the Jolly Sailor on 14 December to say thank you to each and every single one of you for being part of this campaign.” 

Yet another loud cheer erupted from the crowd as Matt stepped down from the box of leaflets, thankful he was now stood on steady ground. Before he had an opportunity to take a swig from the bottle of water Alex had tried to pass to him, he was mobbed by the assembled activists, each wanting to introduce themselves to him and wish him luck. He politely thanked them one-by-one for attending his campaign launch and offering to help, whilst trying in vain to remember each of the names being thrown at him. 

Soon he was greeted by a middle-aged brunette caked in more makeup than he assumed was strictly necessary. He looked her up and down as he waited patiently for her to acknowledge his outstretched hand. Unlike everyone else, she seemed not to have noticed how cold the coast was as she sported a gold silk blouse, black knee-length skirt and matching blazer. The yellow bird-shaped brooch above her right breast suggested she should be friendly, but until she spoke there was no way of telling who she was nor why she had come to his campaign launch dressed for a day in an office. 

“Hello?” he repeated as he waved his hand around in a not-so-subtle hint that he was expecting her to shake it. 

“Nice speech, Matthew,” she said eventually as she weakly gripped Matt’s hand, frowning slightly, “but your performance with the floating voters here is much more important than general platitudes to the converted.” 

“Thanks, I think,” Matt said, tilting his head slightly to the right and looking back at her, his usual cool look slowly being replaced by one of puzzlement. 

“I am Anastasia Lowery,” she announced, grabbing a business card out of her handbag and handing it to Alex. “I have been sent here to babysit you.” 

Matt glanced at the card as Alex hastily entered the contact details into his mobile phone. The distinctive yellow bird in the upper-right corner clearly gave away that she held a position within the party, while the card proudly announced her position as a “regional campaign manager”. Matt smiled. 

“Well, it’s nice to know that I’ve earned the party’s trust after thirteen years of loyal service,” he said sarcastically. Anastasia stared back at him coldly. 

“You would be trusted in one of the many unwinnable Tory backwaters you have previously stood in,” she barked, slightly startling him, “but this is the only target seat in the county, and we are rather keen for a Liberal Democrat victory here.” 

A wicked smile beat Matt’s feeble attempt to remain professional with his new minder. “At least we have the same goal, I suppose.” Anastasia was not impressed. 

“This is not a joke, Matthew,” she said firmly. “We have not negotiated with the Green party to withdraw their candidate here only for you to piss this opportunity away.” Matt nodded sheepishly, biting his tongue before he made any further unhelpful contributions to the conversation. “We will provide you with as much support and resources as you and your team need, including an agent,” she added looking disapprovingly at Alex. 

“Alex has been my agent in every election I have stood in,” Matt protested, but his appeal fell on death ears. 

“What you need to understand is that, for at least the next four weeks and hopefully for the next five years, we own you. I am sure Alex was perfectly suitable when you were playing playground politics, but this is a serious campaign and we will be running it. You will simply be doing and saying what we tell you to. Is that clear?” 

Matt nodded dejectedly. He was aware that Anastasia was continuing to reel off instructions to him, but he had switched off, safely assuming Alex was taking careful notes for both of them to refer back to later. Instead, Matt was frantically looking around the crowd for an excuse to leave the conversation. 

His heart stopped as he spied someone clutching a red clipboard and trying to hide themselves inconspicuously at the back of the crowd of activists. A young woman, likely in her early twenties and with a well-toned figure, was playing absent-mindedly with her long, blonde hair, clearly waiting for an appropriate moment to introduce herself. As she looked up and her deep blue eyes met with Matt’s, he felt bound by social convention to make his excuses with Anastasia and approach the mystery woman, which he did with a curious mixture of excitement and apprehension. 

“H-hello,” he stuttered nervously as he drew level, briefly forgetting how to speak in words of more than one syllable, “have you come here to join my team?” 

“Hardly,” the mystery woman replied laughing. Her thick Cornish accent was evident even from this one short word, and Matt allowed it to echo around in his head for slightly too long before he realised she was still talking. “I’m Hayley, Hayley-Ann Reid-” she extended her right hand and Matt duly shook it “-and I’m the Labour candidate here.” 

Matt raised his eyebrow and attempted to offer a witty response, but whilst his lips were moving pathetically, no sound emerged. Hayley laughed again, brushing her windswept hair behind her ear. 

“I heard you guys had decided to invade our harbour today,” she continued, waiting patiently for Matt to act like a human being again, “so I thought I’d come down and introduce myself.” 

Whilst his heart rate was slowly beginning to return to normal, Matt’s brain function still had not caught up, such that he was aware he was now technically staring inappropriately at his opponent, but was powerless to stop himself. Fortunately, Alex had spotted the intruder, and reached Matt just in time to save him from further embarrassment. 

“Councillor Reid!” he bellowed, smiling and shaking her hand enthusiastically. “I’ve heard so much about you!” 

“C-councillor?” Matt stuttered again. “You didn’t tell me you were a councillor.” 

“Ah, nice to have you back with us,” Hayley replied with a playful wink. “Well, I hate to be ‘that gal’, but you didn’t ask.” 

Alex leaned in close to Matt and whispered into his ear. “Young Hayley, here, is Labour’s only member of the council. She is something of a local celebrity, politically-speaking, as she was the youngest person elected to the council when she won a by-election at the age of 18.” 

Matt nodded, impressed, his eyes fixed on Hayley’s clipboard as though it were a visual lifebelt. He had finally noticed the white rose and the word “Labour” printed in bold letters, giving away its owner’s allegiance. “So, how old would that make you?” Alex kicked him in the back of the leg and he immediately realised what he had just asked. “I’m terribly sorry,” he said pitifully, instinctively bringing his hand up to his mouth, “what I meant to say was ‘how long have you been a councillor?’” 

Hayley smiled, but decided to ignore his first question. “Long enough to know this constituency inside out,” she replied, “and if you’re lucky I might even show you around it one day.” 

“That’s very kind of you,” Alex said before Matt had a chance to process Hayley’s offer, “but Matthew is going to be a little bit busy over the next few weeks. Some other time maybe.” 

He swivelled one hundred and eighty degrees and beckoned Matt to follow. His candidate dutifully copied his movement like an obedient puppy, although his head took a fraction of a second longer to turn than the rest of his body. 

As they started to make their way back towards their gathered activists, Hayley yelled after them. “I’m 24, by the way!” Matt looked behind him to see his opponent giving him a playful salute before turning and walking away. He smiled and bowed his head as Alex led him forward. 

“Shit!” Alex exclaimed, stopping dead in his tracks and snapping Matt back to reality. 

“What’s happened?” he asked anxiously. Alex had his head in his phone, apparently reading a news item. Alex took a deep breath. 

“Nigel Farage has just announced the Brexit party won’t be standing in any seats the Conservatives won in 2017.” 

Matt’s jaw dropped as he processed this latest bombshell. They had been counting on the Brexit party to split the leave vote and take enough votes away from the Conservatives to help him win. Now that Farage’s party were not going to be standing in South West Carn, his hopes of victory had been dealt a serious blow. 

“Fuck,” he muttered, trying to keep his frustration hidden from the party activists currently staring in his direction. “Well, that’s our victory down the shitter before we’ve spoken to a single voter!” 

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