Election of Hope: Part 9 – The Declaration

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.

Matt stood stoically on the stage looking out across the sea of party activists eagerly awaiting the result of the election. He was sandwiched between Linda to his right and Hayley to his left, while Janice Butler, the chief executive of the local council, stood poised to read the results of the election.

Inclement weather had prevented ballot boxes from polling stations on the constituency’s remote islands from being collected overnight, and so the count had been delayed until Friday afternoon, once the national result was already known. They would either be adding another member of parliament to an already surprisingly large 78-seat majority for the Conservatives, or ensuring the Liberal Democrats would end the election without a net loss of seats.

The candidates and agents had already been given the result, as they are required to be given the opportunity to ask for a recount if the result was close, but in the event it was not necessary. As was expected of them, the three candidates stood expressionless behind Janice so as not to suggest which way the result was going before the declaration had been made.

“I, Janice Butler,” the chief executive began, causing the room to fall silent, “being the acting returning officer for the constituency of South West Carn, give notice that the number of votes given for each candidate was as follows.

“Linda Grace Fuller, the Conservative party candidate, 25,365.”

Wild applause erupted from one corner of the sports hall, where activists wearing blue rosettes, already buoyed by the national result, began sensing a strong finish for their candidate.

“Hayley-Ann Reid, Labour party, 3,553.”

A polite smattering of applause rang out from the small handful of hardened Labour party campaigners who had come along to support their candidate, despite their party’s dismal showing elsewhere.

“Matthew William Tyler, otherwise known as Matt Tyler, Liberal Democrats, 22,035.”

Matt looked out to witness dejected faces among his supporters, but who were applauding enthusiastically nonetheless. While his party had won over one million more votes than in 2017, and had seen the largest increase in their share of the vote of all of the major parties, his result had confirmed that they had ended the election with one less member of parliament than in 2017.

Alex was tapping away furiously at his mobile phone, trying to rationalise the numbers as best he could. Whilst Linda had seen her majority increase from 276 to 3,330, the raw figures only told part of the story. Her vote share had increased by 6.6%, while Matt’s had improved a mere 0.7%. Had the Green party not stood aside for him, he would likely have seen his share of the vote fall. In the end, the swing from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives was a mere 3%, not as bad as Matt had been expecting but still disappointing for a target seat.

Linda’s 49.8% and his own 43.3% were well within YouGov’s MRP projections, where other constituencies had wavered, sometimes considerably, meanwhile Hayley had seen Labour’s share of the vote tumble by 7.2% to 7%, keeping her deposit as desired but achieving little else. In order to have won, he would have needed to have taken almost all of Hayley’s voters, a tall order even with their disastrous national campaign and her efforts to encourage tactical voting locally.

As he leant over to politely shake Linda’s hand, though pointedly saying nothing, Janice concluded the declaration. “And I declare that Linda Grace Fuller has been elected as the member of parliament for the constituency of South West Carn.”

*

Matt was beginning to tire of the activists coming up to him and commiserating him on the result, as the counting staff were quietly packing tables away and the gathered activists were collecting their belongings and saying their goodbyes. He looked over at the Conservatives who were gathered around Linda on the stage, posing for photographs, then at the Labour activists, who were somewhat less jubilant. As he was about to turn to Max Viner, one of the Liberal Democrats’ local councillors, his eyes met Hayley’s, causing him to freeze.

He jumped as he felt a hand slap his shoulder. “Go to her,” Alex whispered in his ear. He turned to face Alex, who seemed surprisingly positive despite the result.

“Huh?”

“Hayley,” Alex explained. “You don’t have to hide it anymore. I know you were talking about her on the bridge. It’s been obvious you’ve fallen for her since she gate-crashed your campaign launch, and unless my radar has developed a fault, I’m 90% sure she likes you, too.”

“B-but,” Matt struggled to protest, but Alex was insistent.

“Yes, yes, I know, she’s a Labour councillor.” He smiled, unpinning his yellow rosette from his jacket. “But the election’s over, you’re not standing against her anymore, so that hurdle has fallen.” He grabbed both of Matt’s shoulders, swinging him around and shoving him in the back. “So go to her!”

Matt took a few nervous steps forward, looking directly at Hayley. She smiled as she saw him moving towards her, taking a few steps in his direction. Matt paused, shaking his head. He turned around and marched back to Alex.

“I can’t do it,” he protested. Alex rolled his eyes.

“What the fuck do you mean ‘you can’t do it’? You went to dinner with her for fuck’s sake! And now the election’s over, who knows when you’ll see her again. So, if you don’t do it, you’ll only regret it.”

“I can’t do it,” Matt repeated, “because it’s not Hayley I’m in love with.”

Alex looked back at him, confused. “It’s not?” He scratched his head. He had known Matt for so long, he thought he could read him like a book. Now, though, he was beginning to doubt just how well he knew the man stood in front of him. “Well, if it’s not Hayley, then who?”

“I can’t say,” Matt replied shaking his head.

“Oh, come off it,” Alex said laughing, “this is me you’re talking to. You tell me everything, or at least you always used to.”

“I know.” Matt bowed his head, staring at his shoes. “But I can’t tell you who it is. I can’t tell anyone.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s complicated.”

Alex was beginning to grow concerned for Matt. He placed his hand on Matt’s arm and squeezed it gently. Matt looked up and stared at him. “You know you can tell me anything,” he said, seeing the pain evident in Matt’s eyes. “I made a promise to you when your parents died that I would always be here for you, and that’s never going to change.”

“I know,” Matt replied, shaking Alex’s hand off his arm. “But if I told you, you’d never speak to me again.”

“Why?”

Matt sighed, his eyes beginning to water. He had been bottling his feelings, his last secret, inside him for so long, he was making himself physically and emotionally ill. He had always resisted telling anyone, even Alex, believing it would change the way people behaved towards him. But he had to tell someone, he had to open up and be honest about how he felt, before he found himself staring off the side of a bridge again.

“Because it’s you, Alex,” he said exasperated, finally losing the battle with his tear ducts and allowing himself to cry. “It’s always been you!”

A bubble of silence seemed to wrap around Alex and Matt as the low drone of a hundred conversations carried on in the sports hall around them. Alex stared at Matt, visibly shocked by the revelation, but unable to speak. Matt wiped the tears away from his eyes before continuing.

“There has only ever been one person who’s made my life complete, who I’ve felt truly comfortable being myself around, and it’s you, Alex. And I’m not saying this to turn you, because I know you’re not that way inclined, and I’m not saying this to make you feel bad, because I’d never want to do that. In truth, I’m not sure why I’m saying this. Maybe it’s just because I’ve carried this on my own for so long and I need to get it off my chest. But I honestly don’t think it’s possible for me to love anyone else all the time you’re in my life, and I don’t know what to do.”

Alex listened intently, question after question rolling around inside his head with each word passing from Matt’s lips, but still he was unable to verbalise any of them. As Matt stood before him, seemingly on the edge of collapsing into an emotional mess, he finally recovered the use of his voice and asked possibly the least helpful of the questions running through his mind. “What about Ellie?”

“Huh?” Matt raised his eyebrow. He was expecting a barrage of questions after pouring his heart out to Alex, but not that one. At least, not so soon.

“Well, you managed to fall in love with her, didn’t you?” Alex elaborated.

Matt shook his head. “I cared very deeply for Ellie and I would have done anything for her. Sure, I enjoyed the companionship, and losing her hurt me very deeply, but I’m not entirely sure I could describe the way I felt about her as ‘love’.”

“Is that why-” Alex could not bring himself to finish his sentence, but was sure Matt knew what he meant. He shook his head again.

“I’ve always known I am bisexual,” Matt explained, “but I’ve never told anyone. Not even Ellie knew. I mean, how could I tell her? She was a devout Catholic, she would have disowned me! Then, one day, when we were going through some of the boxes in my parents’ attic, she found a stack of gay magazines. I didn’t even realise I still had them. But I had to be honest with her, and she just turned. She berated me non-stop for half an hour before walking out. She went to see a lawyer the next day, and the rest is history.”

Alex looked back at him stunned. “She divorced you because she found a stash of gay porn? Ouch!”

“Oh, fuck off, Alex,” Matt growled. He was in no mood for Alex’s trademark humour.

“I’m sorry, Matt,” Alex replied, sounding sincere, “but why the fuck didn’t you tell me this before?”

“I told you, I didn’t want anyone to start treating me differently, least of all you. I know nothing can ever happen between us, but at the same time I couldn’t deal with losing you.”

“So, what about Hayley?” Matt looked puzzled by Alex’s question, so he decided to elaborate. “You’ve only known her a few weeks, but the two of you seem to have grown close.”

Matt laughed. “I mean, yeah, she is very attractive, and she has a magnetic personality, but there’s one problem.”

“What’s that?” Alex asked, raising his eyebrow.

“She’s not you!”

Alex looked Matt up and down, trying to process the conversation. Despite how long they had known each other, and how much time they spent together, he had never suspected that Matt felt that way about him. He could not believe that he had not realised it before, though Matt was always skilled at concealing his feelings, and he could not believe that Matt had not told him before, either.

“Oh, Matt,” Alex said eventually, rolling his eyes, “you’re such a fucking idiot!”

Matt nervously took a step back. He was not sure if he should apologise for finally opening up about his feelings in the way he did, most likely ruining their friendship forever, or turn and run away in search of a cave he could hide in for the rest of his life. Alex, though, would not let him do either.

After what felt like a lifetime staring back at Matt, deep in thought, he suddenly sprung into life once again. Without giving him an opportunity to react, he grabbed the open ends of Matt’s blazer with both hands and clutched them tightly. He pulled Matt towards him with such a force that both of them almost flew backwards onto the floor, only the stubborn weight of Alex’s body keeping them both on their feet.

Matt opened his mouth, but no words followed. The speed with which Alex had acted had stunned him, his limbs frozen like ice and unable to move. His heart was pounding so rapidly in his chest it felt as though it was trying to escape.

Alex closed his eyes and sighed. The warmth of his breath brought an odd comfort, despite the disoriented terror still coursing through Matt’s body with every heartbeat.

Matt scrunched his eyelids tightly closed and drew a deep breath. He could hear Alex’s heavy breath drawing closer, but it was a slow, considered advance. He tentatively opened one of his eyes to see Alex’s forehead tilted slightly to the right, just a hair’s width away from his own. His body tensed as he realised what was happening.

A shiver ran down his spine as Alex’s lips brushed against his. He savoured their warmth and allowed their feeling of softness to linger on his own. Alex pulled his head back slightly, teasing him. Unlocking his arms from the side of his body, Matt placed his hand on the back of Alex’s neck and gently pulled him back towards him for a longer embrace.

In that moment, the all-too-familiar taste of defeat no longer felt so bitter. For the first time in months, he felt a passion for life filling his body, taking over every vein, sinew and nerve and evicting every negative thought and motion. For the first time since his divorce, he felt truly happy and at peace.

Eventually, they pulled their lips apart and Matt drew in a deep, satisfying breath. He rested his forehead against Alex’s and, placing the palms of his hands on Alex’s chest, smiled. He did not want the moment to end.

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