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.
Some politicians argue that the most difficult part of an election campaign are the hustings. Debating with all of your opponents while questions are fired at you seemingly at random by members of the public interested enough in the political process to bother to turn up is always a nerve-wracking experience.
Other politicians, however, point to canvassing as being the tougher challenge. More intimate than hustings, going door-to-door in the constituency can be an eye-opening experience, for you can never be sure who you are likely to be greeted by. And when you are one-on-one with a constituent who disagrees with your party, or even a single policy, they seem to be more inclined to express their opinion in the relative privacy of their own doorstep than a public debate.
For Matt there was no contest. He would happily take six weeks of non-stop hustings over even five minutes of canvassing. Sure, he was very sociable and he enjoyed meeting new people, but when you turn up at a stranger’s house with a clipboard and a party rosette, it is not your own personality you are being judged on, but the party you are representing. No, he could handle debating other politicians with relative ease. What he could not handle was the unapologetic abuse had had experienced over thirteen years of campaigning. And yet, he kept coming back for more.
So it was on a wet November morning he and Alex paired up to meet the residents of South West Carn, armed with little more than a handful of leaflets, a clipboard and an abundance of baseless self-confidence.
The first house the pair came to on Harbour Rise looked almost like a mansion. Stood on its own, surrounded by a ten foot high perimeter fence and with a driveway long enough to fit at least three cars, their entry into the property was blocked by a tall metal gate. An intercom sat to the left, which Alex buzzed while Matt consulted the canvassing app on his phone to see that the occupiers were a Mr and Mr Willis.
They were greeted by a female voice which was clearly not local, although Matt could not quite place it. “I’ve already told you people several times over the last few months I’m not interested,” she said sternly. Her tone was harsh and authoritative, and Matt was in no mood to argue.
“Ok,” he replied calmly, “but can I leave you with a leaflet?”
“No!” the lady barked back. “What I want is for you to leave me alone!”
“I understand that, ma’am,” Matt insisted, “but I think you’d be happier if I left you with a leaflet.”
“What on Earth makes you think that?”
There was silence for a few seconds, and Matt began to think that Mrs Willis might have already left them. Eventually, however, her voice crackled through the intercom a final time. “Very well,” she said, her voice slightly more relaxed, “there’s a letterbox to the right of the gate. Put a leaflet in there and then clear off!”
Matt did not wait to be told a second time. He marked on his app that the household should not be visited again while Alex picked a leaflet out of the bundle he was holding in his arm and carefully placed it in the letterbox. They exchanged a look as if to say “that could have been worse” before heading to the next property.
Further up the road, as the few standalone mansions turned into semi-detached suburban houses, they were met on the doorstep by a softly-spoken gentleman who appeared to be in his seventies or eighties, with thin greying hair, deep wrinkles and thick black glasses.
“Mr Lucas?” Matt asked, consulting his phone. Mr Lucas simply nodded, turning his nose up at the sight of Alex’s rosette. “I’m Matt Tyler and I’m your Liberal Democrat candidate for the general election. I was wondering whether I could count on your support?”
“That depends,” Mr Lucas replied slowly. “Are you going to respect the result of the referendum?”
“The Liberal Democrats’ believe that Britain’s future is as a member of the European Union,” Matt said as he began dutifully reeling off party policy, “so if we had a majority in parliament, we would have a clear mandate from the electorate to revoke Article 50. If we don’t have a majority, we would continue to press for a people’s vote, so that the British public can have their say on the final deal, with an option to remain.”
Mr Lucas carefully looked him up and down. “17.4 million people voted to leave in 2016. Why do you think they would vote any differently today?”
“Well, we know a lot more now than we did back in 2016. People are changing their minds as the economic outlook becomes bleaker.”
“The so-called ‘experts’ predicted Armageddon from the day after a leave vote,” Mr Lucas said, glaring at Matt, “and yet it didn’t materialise, so why should we believe they’re right now?”
“Well… because…” Matt stumbled over his words as he became exasperated with a resident who was clearly never going to vote for him.
“Well, fuck off then!” Mr Lucas barked, slamming the door in their faces.
“What a charming man,” Matt sighed as they headed for the next house.
Over the next few hours, the reception for Matt and Alex began to thaw, and they received several favourable responses. Even from their small sample, however, it was clear the race was going to be a tight one. By the time they reached the last property, Matt was beginning to flag and felt that they should perhaps call it a day. Alex was insistent they at least finish the road before heading home.
By now they were in St George Street, with a row of identical terraced houses on either side and a general environment suggesting that this could be a more lucrative area for them.
Matt consulted the app on his phone as Alex knocked at a dark wooden door. After a few seconds, a middle-aged gentleman with short black hair appeared sporting a checked shirt and maroon jumper.
“Hello there, are you Mr Fraser?” Matt asked eagerly.
“Depends who’s asking,” Mr Fraser replied coarsely.
“I’m Matt Tyler and I’m your Liberal Democrat candidate for the general election. I was wondering whether I could count on your support?”
The gentleman smiled, although Matt could not tell whether it was sincere or not. “I’ll be honest with you, Mr Tyler,” he said, “I used to be a lifelong Liberal Democrat voter, but I simply cannot vote for yellow Tories.”
“Yellow Tories?” Alex repeated, raising his eyebrow.
“You lot were so desperate for power you jumped into bed with the Tories and in the process you screwed over the students and the poor.”
“I’m not sure that’s entirely fair,” Matt protested. “We’ve already apologised in this campaign for some of the policies of the coalition government, but it was the right thing to do in the national interest. We restrained the Tories from some of their harshest policies and we did a lot of good in government, too.”
Mr Fraser scoffed. “Such as?”
“Lifting three million people out of paying income tax,” Matt replied.
“The pension triple lock,” Alex added, “ensuring fair rises every year for people who have spent their lives working hard and paying into the system.”
“Equal marriage for same-sex couples.”
“The pupil premium, giving extra funding to the most disadvantaged students.”
Matt and Alex were enjoying playing off each other, but Mr Fraser was clearly not impressed. “The trebling of tuition fees?” he interjected unhelpfully. “The bedroom tax, which your leader voted for nine times? And I note that mixed-sex couples had to go to court to win the right to equal civil partnerships.”
Matt realised this was an argument they were not going to win. He took a couple of paces back, preparing to make his exit, before Alex chimed in again. “Surely you can think of something nice to say about the Liberal Democrats?” he asked optimistically.
Mr Fraser appeared to think for a few seconds, before replying. “Well, your leader does have nice boobs,” he said, somehow keeping a straight face, “but I’m afraid I don’t vote for boobs!”
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Matt muttered under his breath. He was not sure whether the Mr Fraser had heard him, and he was not entirely concerned if he had. He just wanted to move on as quickly as possible. “Well, thank you for your time, sir,” he said feigning politeness as he turned to walk away.
“‘She has nice tits’?!” Matt exclaimed incredulously once they had reached a safe distance from the property. “Is this really the level politics in this country has degraded to?”
“Well, I suppose it gives new meaning to the phrase ‘body politic’,” Alex replied with a wry smile.
Matt was not impressed. He stopped dead in his tracks and looked coldly back at Alex. “Are you fucking kidding me?” he said angrily.
“What?” Alex replied, oblivious to the harm he had apparently caused. “It was just a joke.”
“No, Alex, what it was was an outdated, misogynistic comment from a constituent, and whilst I accept we cannot police every remark uttered by the electorate-at-large, what we can do is not justify their comments with inappropriate or ill-conceived attempts at humour.”
Before Alex had time to defend himself further, his mobile phone began buzzing in his pocket. “That’s convenient,” Matt said sarcastically as Alex took his phone out and read the message. His face fell. “What’s wrong?”
Alex took a deep breath. “YouGov have released their MRP model,” he said slowly, trying to absorb the data. “They’re predicting a 68-seat majority for the Tories, giving them 43% of the votes and 359 seats. And they’ve got the Lib Dems on 14% but with just 13 seats.”
Matt stared back at him, stunned. He was expecting the polls to move away from them and towards Labour and the Conservatives as polling day drew closer, but he was not expecting such a large swing towards the Conservatives. He was also struggling to understand how his party could double their vote share and yet only gain one additional seat compared to the previous election in 2017. It did not bode well for him in South West Carn.
“What about here?” he asked nervously. He knew that YouGov published seat-by-seat predictions as part of their MRP model, and was anxious to know how far behind they thought he would be.
Alex frantically searched for the constituency on the website, muttering under his breath as he read the figures over in his mind.
“Well?” Matt barked impatiently.
“They’re saying the constituency is leaning Conservative. The headline figures have the Tories on 46% and us on 40%.” Matt stood watching him in silence as he continued to delve into the figures. “That said, the Tories are ranging between 39% and 53%, while we’re between 33% and 48%, so we’re not out of it yet.”
Matt remained pensive as he allowed the figures to process in his mind. While there was still a glimmer of hope, the projection did not make for comfortable reading.
“And Labour?” he asked.
Alex hovered over the Labour line on the chart. “Between 5% and 15%.”
“Right, let me try and work this out.” Matt motioned to Alex to walk back towards the car as he quickly worked through the electoral arithmetic in his head. “The turnout here last time was about 50,000 or so-” Alex nodded “-which means Labour are sitting on between 2,500 and 7,500 voters. Meanwhile, on the headline polling the Tories have an advantage of about 3,000 votes.”
Alex nodded again as they pulled level with his car, but did not dare to interrupt Matt while he was in his stride.
“That’s an awful lot of Labour voters we’ve got to win over and a hurdle a damn sight bigger to overcome than the 300 votes we were short two years ago.”
Matt leaned forward against the car resting his weight on the palms of his hands, his head bowed. Alex had listened intently, but was not quite as dejected as Matt.
“It’s only 6%,” he said helpfully. “You could still win.”
“You know, I ‘could’ also win the lottery this weekend,” Matt replied, laughing sarcastically, “it doesn’t mean it’s going to bloody happen!”
“It’s only a poll, Matt. And there’s only one poll that matters.”
“Oh, behave!” Matt scoffed, opening the car door. “You know full well that’s what we tell the media and the party faithful when an opinion poll isn’t in our favour. And nobody believes it!”
Alex wanted to rant about the unreliability of opinion polls and their methodology, but with Matt still in a fragile mood, he thought better of it. There was still time to convince him that they were not out of the race yet, but it could wait. Instead, he got into the driver’s seat of his blue SEAT Ibiza and turned over the ignition without saying a word.
As he carefully lowered himself into the passenger’s seat, Matt felt his watch vibrate. He flicked his wrist up to see a single-word text message from Hayley.
His heart pounded. Maybe things are starting to look up after all, he thought to himself, smiling.
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