Election of Hope: Part 6 – Fake News

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. 

“All’s fair in love and politics.” 

Alex stood in Matt’s living room reading the headline from the local newspaper, as Matt listened intently, his head bowed. 

“Could there be a romance brewing between opponents in the race to become the next member of parliament for South West Carn? 

“Liberal Democrat candidate Matthew Tyler was spotted dining with Labour’s Hayley-Ann Reid at the Moonlit Horizon, the most expensive restaurant in Carn.” 

The tone of his voice became more sarcastic with every word, as he struggled to disguise his anger with Matt. 

“A local resident, who did not wish to be named, said that recently-divorced Tyler, 32, and Cllr Reid, 24, had shared a three-course meal at the town’s only Michelin-starred restaurant yesterday. During their two-hour dinner, the resident added, the pair shared a bottle of Gramona Enoteca Brut Cava, which is listed on the exclusive eatery’s wine list at a price of £125.” 

Alex raised his eyebrow at Matt’s apparent extravagance, before continuing. 

“The resident said they were surprised to see the political opponents in such an intimate setting, but added that they seemed to be ‘quite close’ and enjoying each other’s company. ‘At the end of the meal they appeared to split the bill, before leaving the restaurant in different directions,’ the resident said. 

“Tyler and Cllr Reid are both on the ballot paper for the general election on 12 December, together with Dr Linda Fuller, the Conservative candidate who is standing for re-election. 

“A spokesman for Cllr Reid denied that the dinner was romantic, but refused to comment further. A spokesman for Tyler could not be reached for comment.” 

Alex looked down at Matt, swivelling the newspaper round so that he could see it clearly. “There’s even a lovely photo of the two of you appearing to hold hands,” he said, tapping his index finger on the photograph for emphasis. 

Matt looked up at the photo and winced. From the angle it was taken, he assumed it had come from another diner, although he accepted it could also have been a member of staff at the restaurant. Either way, it was taken at just the right moment for the image to be taken out of context, as the newspaper had done, with both of them appearing to share a joke while Hayley’s hand was rested on his. Whatever he told Alex, or anyone else for that matter, he doubted he would be believed. 

“It’s not what it looks like,” Matt said weakly. 

“Do me a favour, Matt,” Alex grumbled in reply, “next time you try to get inside the pants of someone you’re trying to beat in an election, give me some warning first!” 

“That’s not what was happening at all!” Matt protested, but Alex waved his attempt to defend himself away. 

“Matt, I’m going to level with you.” He sat down beside Matt and lowered the tone of his voice. “Whether you were trying to get into her pants or the dinner was entirely innocent is irrelevant. All anyone is going to care about is how it looks. And it looks like you were trying to get into her pants! Now, I’ve already had Anastasia on the phone giving me shit over this and I imagine it’ll be your turn when she sees you later, so for fuck’s sake take my advice. If you must fraternise with the enemy, at least do it in private where no one can take compromising photos!” 

Matt shot up angrily. “You really don’t have a fucking clue, do you?” he yelled at Alex, moving towards the door. “It doesn’t matter what I say, you never fucking listen!” 

“Where are you going? We’re meant to be meeting Anastasia in an hour.” 

“Fuck Anastasia!” Matt growled as he threw a coat over his shoulders. “And fuck you! I’m not in the mood for this shit!” 

Alex darted towards the front door as Matt began to head out. “But where are you going?” 

“For a walk,” Matt replied as he headed down the landing and out of view. 

Alex felt compelled to follow Matt, but thought better of it. He had known Matt long enough to understand exactly when he needed some time alone to think. Besides, someone needed to see Anastasia and apologise for Matt’s absence. He headed back into the flat to gather his belongings, taking one last shot of coffee to steel his nerves. 

Alex emerged from his daily meeting with Anastasia ashen-faced. Once they had gone through the compulsory campaign update, she proceeded to give him a dual ticking off for the newspaper article and for Matt failing to appear, once again, on the campaign trail. She had made it clear to him that, for the remainder of the election, he was to consider himself Matt’s carer. He was not to let Matt out of his sight and, if he did, he would be personally responsible for any further no-shows. He was certainly not to let Matt have any further liaisons with opposition candidates. 

He dropped a bundle of leaflets – his task for the afternoon – into the passenger’s seat of his car before crashing into the driver’s seat. He took his phone out of his pocket and tried calling Matt again. Ten times he had tried getting hold of the candidate during the campaign meeting, hoping he could deflect some of Anastasia’s ire onto him, and ten times the phone rang continuously, before eventually being redirected to Matt’s voicemail. As he heard the opening lines of Matt’s automated voicemail message for the eleventh time, he angrily threw his phone on top of the leaflets and buried his head in his hands. 

Alex had known Matt for more than a decade. He had stood by him during every election campaign. He knew that Matt often struggled with the stress of fighting an election, but he had never seen him this volatile. He could not help feeling as though he had let him down. He had known that things had been difficult for Matt since Ellie left, and knew, deep down, he was not up to an election campaign, and yet all Alex had done was order him around and tell him off when what he really needed was support. For the first time since he had met Matt, he felt as though he had failed as a friend. 

As he sat in his car allowing his guilt to engulf him, his phone began ringing from the pile of leaflets. He jumped, startled, hoping it was Matt. He immediately reached for the phone, only to see the words “private number” staring back at him. Given the organisation which had gone into the election campaign, and the number of people who had been given his number, this was not unusual. However, he was still hit by a subconscious feeling of dread as he swiped to answer the call and brought his phone up to his ear. 

“Hello?” he said hesitantly. 

“Good morning!” A deep, unrecognisable male voice crackled down the phone. “Am I speaking with Alex Cook?” 

“That’s me,” Alex replied apprehensively. 

“I’m PC James Marston, and I’m calling from Pons Carn.” 

Alex’s heart stopped. He was not local and was still trying to learn the geography of the constituency, but even a casual visitor knew that Pons Carn was the tallest bridge in the county. Nightmarish visions danced through his head as he waited for the officer to continue. 

“Do you know a gentleman by the name of Matthew Tyler?”

“Yes. Why? Has something happened?” he asked, panicking. 

“I think it would be better if we spoke about this in person.” 

“No!” Alex protested. “If something has happened, you can tell me now.” 

“We wouldn’t normally-” PC Marston tried to deflect Alex, but he cut the officer short. 

“Please!” he pleaded anxiously. 

PC Marston sighed. “Mr Tyler is currently threatening to jump off,” he said solemnly. “We’ve got specialist officers on the scene, but he is refusing to speak to anyone. He just keeps asking for you.” 

“I’m on my way!” 

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