Election of Hope: Part 5 – The Moonlit Horizon

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 Moonlit Horizon was an upmarket restaurant overlooking Carn Harbour. Opened in 1956, it was still being run by the same family and had the honour of being the only restaurant in the constituency to be awarded a Michelin Star. It was also the most expensive restaurant in the constituency, and Matt winced when Hayley suggested meeting here.

By the time he arrived, Hayley was already seated at a table away from the window, and the maître d’ led him silently to her. She stood and allowed him to peck her on either cheek before they sat opposite each other. 

“Well, this looks expensive,” he said trying to mask the concern in his voice as he looked around the near-deserted room. Hayley nodded. 

“It’s the most expensive restaurant in Carn,” she replied. “Consequently, it is one of the quietest. I thought this would be the best place to come and talk without being noticed.” 

“Sound reasoning. Well, I’m sure the food here is amazing.” He paused, trying to word his next sentence in the most diplomatic way possible. “I would offer to pay for you, but…” 

“You can’t afford it?” Hayley interjected. Although it was technically true, given how much of his own money had had put into his election campaign, under normal circumstances a one-off dinner for two here would be well within Matt’s budget, and he was visibly hurt by the suggestion. 

“That’s not what I was going to say,” he retorted, taming his anger. “I was actually thinking about treating.” 

Under section 114 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, it is a criminal offence for candidates or their agents to offer food, drink or other kinds of payment in an attempt to influence someone’s vote, in a practice known as “treating”. Although prosecutions for the offence were rare, and the Crown Prosecution Service set a high bar for persuing cases of treating, Matt was already fighting a tight campaign, and did not want to hand any ammunition to the opposition. Or at least to the opposition he was not currently sat dining with. 

Hayley laughed. “I’m only messing with you,” she said with a playful wink. “I suppose I could offer to pay for you, seeing as you don’t live in the constituency and I could never be accused of trying to influence your vote,” she added, “but I’m guessing you’re too much of a gentleman to accept that.” 

Matt nodded. “I’m all about equality,” he said, “so why don’t we just agree to split the bill.” Hayley nodded her approval as she reached for the wine list. 

“Shall we go for a Cava from the finest vineyards on the continent?” Matt started nodding in approval before finding the selection of Catalan sparkling wines on the list and almost falling off his chair. The cheapest bottle was £65, and he had a sinking feeling Hayley was eyeing up something yet more valuable. “I’ve been recommended the 2000 Gramona Enoteca,” she added. 

“Oh,” Matt responded, trying his best not to react when he realised the bottle was £125. “What are we celebrating?” 

Hayley summoned a waiter to place the order. “All in good time,” she said once the waiter had scuttled off to collect the bottle. “First, we order food. Everything is prepared fresh here, so there can be a little bit of a wait.” 

She passed a menu to Matt and he immediately set about finding the cheapest palatable items for a starter and main course. Once he had settled on a Dorset crab lasagne starter and Scottish beef sirloin main, setting him back a further £60, he waited patiently for Hayley to decide before they placed their order. 

“Cheers,” Matt said holding his glass of Cava in front of him. Hayley politely mirrored his movement. 

“Now,” she said taking a sip from her glass and placing it back on the table, “I’m sure you’re wondering why I suggested meeting up?” Matt nodded. “I take it you’ve seen the YouGov projection?” 

Matt was not sure how much he should give away to Hayley about how worried he was by the YouGov model, so he simply nodded again. 

“Fucking depressing, isn’t it?” Hayley asked. 

“Not if you’re a Tory,” Matt replied stoically. 

“True, which kind of vindicates the argument I’ve been having in my party for months that we should stand candidates down in seats where we are not the main challengers to the Tories to avoid splitting the vote.” 

Matt laughed out loud. “I don’t mean to be disrespectful – honestly – but you are literally standing in a seat where Labour are not the main challengers to the Tories, and could very well end up letting the Tories win by default.” 

“That’s a fair comment,” Hayley said taking another sip of Cava. “But the way I see it, Labour would have stood a candidate here regardless, and I am much happier knowing it’s a candidate who is grounded in reality.” 

“What do you mean?” 

“I mean we’re not going to fucking win here, and I accept that. I only have one goal, which is to keep my party’s deposit. Beyond that, I will not be disappointed if the rest of my potential voters put their cross next to your name if it meant kicking that bitch out!” 

Matt raised his eyebrow. “Bitch?” 

“Ultimately, you and I both want the same thing. For the Tories to lose. But for me it goes beyond simply disagreeing with everything they stand for. With Dr Fuller, it’s personal.” 

“What happened?”

Hayley sighed. “When I fought the by-election, no one knew me and no one expected me to win. But the Tories were incensed that I took the seat off them. Dr Fuller led their efforts to oust me when my re-election came around and made it her personal mission to dig into my past and find anything that may be even slightly embarrassing for me.” 

“Did she find anything?” Matt asked tentatively. 

“I was a teenager when I was first elected, and we’ve all done silly things when we were teenagers.” Matt nodded knowingly, but did not say anything, instead allowing Hayley to continue. “I may have held onto my seat, but the effect that campaign, and her actions in particular, had on my mental health is indescribable. It took a course of counselling to get me back on track, and I swore from then onwards that I would do whatever it took to beat her.” 

As Matt was about to respond, the waiter re-appeared with their starters and set them on the table. They both quietly thanked him. “But you’ve already acknowledged you can’t win here,” Matt said once the waiter had retreated a safe distance away. 

“That’s where you come in,” Hayley replied with a smile. Matt raised his eyebrow, his eyes pleading for an explanation. “I said I wanted to beat her, I never said I was going to win. As far as I am concerned, her losing her seat is victory enough. But I am relying on you for that, and I needed to be sure you were up to the task.” 

“My party certainly thinks I am,” Matt said with a nervous laugh. 

“Well, I am not your party,” Hayley responded sternly, “and with the greatest of respect, until you came here a couple of months ago, I didn’t know you. I still don’t, not really.” She shook her head for emphasis. “But I have done my research and I have been watching you over the past couple of weeks, and I have come to the conclusion that you will make an excellent MP for my town. One who I can work with as a councillor, not constantly battle against.” 

Matt blushed. He wanted to pay her a reciprocal compliment, but found he had lost the ability to speak again. Hayley laughed as she watched Matt struggle, before becoming serious once more. 

“Any member of the Labour party found to be actively encouraging people to vote for anyone who is standing against a Labour candidate will automatically be expelled from the party,” she said sedately, “which is why I regret our standing a candidate here at all. But I do have a small army of supporters who are not members who will be willing to push the tactical voting line online and in the community, trying to persuade my voters to lend you their vote for this election.” 

“I’m flattered,” Matt replied hesitantly. He knew the election was going to be tight, and would gratefully welcome any assistance from any quarters, but he had never heard of a Labour candidate being so candid in offering support to an opponent, and he had reservations. “I understand that you don’t want the Tories to win,” he added, “and I understand you want Dr Fuller to lose, but nobody would set out to actively sabotage their own campaign. There must be something else you want in return.” Hayley nodded slowly. “Ok then. What’s your price?” 

Hayley took a deep breath. “Two things, really,” she said nervously. “The first has, I think, already been achieved simply by the fact we are able to have this conversation.” Matt looked at her blankly. “As I said, I want someone in parliament I can work with, someone who will talk to, and stand by, the council and the community. Dr Fuller has been virtually absent over the past four years or so, and our little corner of England has been forgotten about. From what I’ve seen of you so far, I’d like to think that you will be in parliament for the community first and your party second.” 

“That’s certainly the plan,” Matt reassured her, nodding. 

“The second is a little more delicate,” Hayley continued. “I have a cousin living in your neck of the woods, in Tonbridge. She’s very bright, graduated from university a few months ago with a first in politics. She’s very ambitious politically and has her heart set on working in parliament. The only trouble is, for God only knows what reason, she has decided the join the Lib Dems. As you know, there aren’t many Lib Dem MPs to work for and living in Kent, few opportunities to make connections, either. So, if you’re elected, I’d like to think there might be a place for her on your parliamentary staff.” 

Matt froze. For the first time since he sat down with Hayley, a voice in the back of his head started warning him that it might be a trap, that Hayley might, in fact, have come here not to offer her support, but to see whether he was corruptible. But her face was angelic, the rest of his body was telling him, the very picture of innocence. What did he have to lose? 

He cleared his throat. “As you may know, there is a process to be followed when employing staff for MPs,” she said slowly, “and even if I did want to promise your cousin a job, I’ve got to win this election first. That said,” he added hesitantly, “if I am elected and your cousin put in an application, I’m sure it will be looked at favourably.” 

Hayley smiled. “That’s all I can ask for,” she said. “And I’m not saying I can win you this election,” she added, “I can’t even promise you I’ll make a meaningful difference. All I can do is try. And hopefully we’ll be standing on that stage on Friday morning celebrating Dr Fuller losing her seat to you.” 

Matt raised his glass of Cava and held it out in front of him. Hayley followed his lead, clinking her glass against his before taking another sip. 

“I’ll drink to that!” Matt said with a grin, before moving the conversation away from the election. 

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