Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Election

Fitting with recent events, this month’s post is a short story by Jack Fisher. Jack has published several short stories, a travelogue and most recently a novel. Find out more about Jack’s work here: www.jackfisher.org.uk

Friday 26th January
My new flatmate moves in tomorrow. A second-year, apparently, don’t know why she’s been put in the postgrad accommodation. The last thing I want is to be cooped up in this tiny flat with a party-mad nineteen-year-old. I’ll be sleeping with my fingers crossed tonight.

Sunday 28th January
Well, I needn’t have worried. She – Kathy – seems very nice, and not the party animal at all. She actually requested a postgrad flat herself. Studying politics – the serious type, it seems. I think we will get on fine.

Thursday 8th February
Persuaded Kathy to share a bottle of wine. Can’t be good for her, shut away in her room every night. Was a bit hard work at first, but once she’d warmed up, she’s actually really good company. I think she’s a bit uncomfortable in her own skin. Her background is quite working class, and she seems self-conscious about that, like she’s out of place here. Which she is, in a way. She’s definitely bright though, and when she gets onto politics, she really lights up. I told her, she could teach some of my postgrad friends a thing or two. But just when she’s getting going and opening up, she stops herself as though she’s suddenly remembered who she is.

Saturday 17th February
Now that was an interesting night. I’d arranged to meet some friends in the pub, and I invited Kathy along. Had to chivvy her a bit, but she accepted in the end. But then when we got there, she barely said a word. I would try to bring her into the conversation, but she’d say a few words then clam up. I felt so awkward. Then, after an hour or so, everything changed. Somebody brought up the cleaning staff, how the university weren’t paying them a fair wage or giving them decent conditions. I could see Kathy react, become suddenly restless, fidgety. She waited a few seconds then spoke up. Talked about equality, about the need for collective action, the necessity for people to act and not just talk. She spoke quietly, but clearly, and with purpose. It sparked others into life, like they’d woken up to this girl in the corner. It developed into quite a debate, the atmosphere was almost feverish. The drinks kept flowing and by the time we called it a night, we’d come up with an action plan, slogans, designs for flyers, basically, as someone said at the end: a campaign.

Tuesday 27th February
Got the leaflets back from the printers today – a big moment. “A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work!” We’ve agreed to meet at the main campus entrance tomorrow to hand them out. Effectively, this will be our campaign launch. I can’t wait.

Wednesday 28th February
We all met as planned, but no sign of Kathy. Spent the morning on leaflet duty, then at lunchtime someone told me they’d spotted her in the library, so I went to find her. There she was, head down, surrounded by books. When I finally got her attention I noticed the guilt flash across her face. She pointed apologetically to the pile of books, but before she could say anything I said: let’s go. You can spare an hour at least. After spending the morning in the cold I wasn’t in the mood to take no for an answer, and she reluctantly packed up and left with me. At the entrance we handed her a stack of leaflets. I had my eye on her, watching her as she thrust her arm at people as they walked by, leaflet clenched in her fist, her eyes firmly on the ground, not making contact. Gradually she started to look a bit less uncomfortable, and when one young man took a look at the leaflet, laughed derisively, and asked her what the point was, who really cared about all this, she actually answered him back, quietly but calmly, gave him a short speech about fairness and equality and looking out for each other, and when he moved on we actually had the impression she might have given him something to think about, and that is not an easy thing to achieve. I smiled at her afterwards – her face coloured, but I’m sure there was excitement in that colour too, not just shyness.

Tuesday 7th March
Kathy more and more involved in the campaign now. Quietly, in her own way, but with determination. She wrote an article to the college paper. I know the editor a little, self-important is the best way I could describe him, thinks he’s destined for great things. He wasn’t keen on the idea at first, said he didn’t publish any old rubbish from a second-year, but when I read it I knew he would have to, it was some of the best writing they’ve had in that paper for years. She even organised a protest – kept on the sidelines while it was happening, of course, still uncomfortable with any attention.

Thursday 16th March
Campaign still going strong. Now the vice-chancellor has agreed to hear us out. But I admit I have become distracted. An idea has come to me. It’s a crazy idea, I know, but I can’t get it out of my head. I’m going to give it a few days to see if it goes away, but if it refuses to, I’m going to have to act on it. If I do, it’s going to take all my powers of persuasion, that’s for sure.

Sunday 19th March
Okay, it’s not going away. It’s election time soon for the presidency of the Union, and tomorrow, I’m going to suggest to Kathy that she runs. I know, she’s only a second-year, and a few weeks ago she could barely look people in the eye. And yet – something inside is telling me she can do it.

Monday 20th March
Well, that went about as well as I thought it would. I waited for the right moment, first breakfast came and went, then I saw her in the afternoon, then back in the flat for dinner, and then she was about to go to her room as usual, and finally I just blurted it out. Once she realised I wasn’t joking, which took a little while, she was horrified. Told me I was crazy, and in no uncertain terms that she would never do it in a million years. I left it at that, it wasn’t the time to argue. But the idea’s out there now. She probably thinks she’s done enough to put me off. But I know differently.

Wednesday 23rd March
Steadily working on her this week. Drip drip drip. Whenever I can, and as subtly as possible, I point out her strengths, how well-suited she would be, and the wrongs that she could right, the injustices, because that’s my best weapon, that’s what really pricks her. Still not biting though.

Sunday 26th March
Had to go for it today. Two days until the deadline for declaring your intention to stand. The time for tiptoeing around was over. I came home armed with a bottle of wine, and I wouldn’t let her go to her room. I think she could tell I meant business, and at least she let me speak without interrupting or shaking her head. I told her straight, said that I thought she was brilliant. That she didn’t know it herself, but that I knew it, and so did everyone else who had worked on the campaign. That she had the brightest ideas, the most eloquent way of the explaining them, but that most of all, she just had that sense of knowing what was right, then sticking to it with determination. She was embarrassed by all this, tried to disagree, but I wasn’t having any of it. I told her I would help her, we all would, and we would work like we had on the fair pay issue, which we could include in her campaign, if she agreed. That together I thought we could win, because I really do. She shook her head then, like she still thought I was crazy, but by the time we went to bed, she at least promised she’d sleep on it. I think maybe out of respect for me more than anything, but I still have some hope she’ll say yes. I have to.

Monday 27th March
She’s agreed to stand! I still almost can’t believe it. I saw her at breakfast, she looked me in the eye and asked me: do you honestly think I could win? I said yes. Hand on heart. Then she said okay, I’ll do it. I really thought I’d pushed myself too far this time, but what a moment. I actually gave her a kiss and a hug, which shocked her a bit I think. And then I pulled myself together. We walked straight to the Union office to get her on the ballot. She was virtually silent the whole way. I was terrified she was going to change her mind, I ended up rambling at her just to keep her distracted. It was only when she’d signed the form and handed it in that I relaxed a little. But not for long – the real work starts here.

Tuesday 28th March
The ballot closed today. There are four other candidates, three men and one woman, but only two of the men have a real chance of winning, at least most people seem to think. It’s hard to tell the difference between them. They’re both private school, one slightly more conservative than the other, in the ‘small c’ sense, the other says he wants to rock the boat a bit, but really they’re both formed from the same mould. Eton and Harrow, I call them. They haven’t got an interesting idea between them, but they both seem to be very popular. You could say that the college, and most of the students, are their natural constituency, whereas they certainly aren’t Kathy’s. If the election turns out to be a popularity contest she’s got no chance. So we shall have to make it a battle of ideas. That, she can win.

Monday 3rd April
Hard at work writing Kathy’s manifesto. Well, I’m helping, but really she’s writing it herself. She has such clear ideas, and such a powerful way of expressing them, that I’m just acting as a sounding board. Tomorrow we’re printing it up as flyers and booklets. I’ve rounded up the usual volunteers for distribution.

Tuesday 4th April
The manifesto launch went really well. Most people probably hadn’t a clue who Kathy was before today, but a lot more do now. It looked great – clear, concise, punchy. The big surprise was how good she was one-to-one, talking with people as we handed out the flyers and booklets. Her passion – her own kind of quiet, thoughtful passion, that I couldn’t have imagined until I’d met her – was really coming through.

Friday 7th April
No help from the paper today, who are supporting Eton. No surprise there, he and the editor are thick as thieves. They ran an editorial disparaging Kathy and her policies, calling her naïve and simplistic. She was quiet all day after reading it. I told her – it means they’re rattled, that they see her as a real threat.

Sunday 9th April
Spent today trying to get a feel for how people are likely to vote. Kathy’s definitely the surprise package. We’ve all done well getting her name and her manifesto out there, and people are taking to her – it’s turning into a three-horse race, which is good news. Not so good from the paper again, a couple of letters – no prizes for guessing where they originated – insinuating Kathy was too bookish, or unsociable, to understand her fellow students’ concerns. Basically trying to paint her as somehow ‘weird’. She didn’t take it well again. I’m going to have to try to stop her reading any more of this stuff for the rest of the election. Need to keep her spirits up – it’s the debate tomorrow. Her big chance to shine – she could wipe the floor with any of them when it comes to proper, reasoned arguments.

Monday 10th April
I’m finding it hard to write this, after the debate. She’d been nervous all day, really gone into her shell, I was worried, but from the first question she answered clearly, and argued convincingly with the others. It went well, like this, for the first ten or fifteen minutes, just like I’d hoped, but then Eton and Harrow got more aggressive, ignored the other two and concentrated solely on Kathy, talking over her, interrupting, trying to belittle her at any opportunity. She started to lose her nerve, got quieter and quieter, which just made it worse, by the end she was almost mumbling her answers, looking down at her notes. I could hear some laughter from the audience. It was awful, I wanted to rescue her, but I had to wait until the hour was up. She rushed off afterwards, I had to run to catch her up on the way home. I’ve never seen her so upset, she’d obviously been crying, she said she should never have listened to me, that I’d persuaded her to do it, that she knew it was a stupid idea, that it had all been a horrible experience. Then she wouldn’t talk to me at all, just went into her room and closed the door. I felt awful. I still do. What was I thinking of? I’m so selfish, I should have known deep down that she was too sensitive, that I shouldn’t have put her through it. I need to look after her from now on.

Tuesday 11th April
Another bad day. It started okay, Kathy seemed to have gotten over the worst of last night, and some of the gang came round to boost her spirits, telling her that the people they’d talked to had been appalled by Eton and Harrow’s behaviour and were more likely to vote for her now. Perhaps that helped, because she found some energy from somewhere and went to the campaign stall in the canteen. Seeing her there, talking to people, reasoning with them, answering their questions, I was so impressed, knowing what she’d been through last night. Suddenly, I felt so full of admiration for her, and such a desire to stick up for her, that I wanted to cry. And then we heard the news. First just rumours, then confirmed. Harrow has withdrawn from the race. He’s saying he’s now backing Eton. That’s a disaster for Kathy, as now she’ll be fighting against all their votes combined. It’s almost as if they’d planned it this way – I wouldn’t put it past them, that’s for sure. I tried to pretend to Kathy that this was good news, that she’d seen one of them off, but we both knew it wasn’t true. It really seemed to take the wind out of her sails, and she withdrew into herself again for the rest of the day. I felt low myself, and still do as I write this. I feel even more convinced than yesterday that I’ve done the wrong thing.

Wednesday 12th April
Quietish day today, in preparation for tomorrow night. All the candidates will make speeches in the Great Hall. It’s the biggest event of the election, even bigger than the debate. I’m losing my confidence. I was even thinking of suggesting to Kathy that she pull out. Not sure I could face another night like the debate, my conscience couldn’t stand it. Managed to bite my tongue though, I’ve given her enough advice already. She’s been keeping to herself again. I offered to help her with the speech, but she politely refused.

Thursday 13th April
Just back from speech night. What a rollercoaster! I was so tense. The hall was packed, I was so rooting for Kathy, that at least she wouldn’t be leaving in tears this time. They drew lots and she went last, so I had to sit through the others chewing my fingernails. They were the usual vacuous affairs, mainly jokes to appeal to the audience’s sense of humour, peppered with the odd unrealistic promise. Then Kathy came on. She was quiet at first, a bit hesitant, I feared the worst, then she took a deep breath, it felt like she was summoning strength from somewhere, and after that she spoke with passion, with eloquence and confidence, like a natural. She made the other speeches seem ridiculous by comparison, and she got the biggest applause, easily. Afterwards I grabbed her and hugged her, said we should have a drink to celebrate, but she looked shattered, said she had to go straight to bed. As she left, I told her – we can still win this. And I genuinely believe we can.

Friday 14th April - morning
Off to vote now. So excited! Friends have been round, saying everyone’s talking about Kathy’s speech. She can do this. I think it, they think it, and she thinks it now too, I can tell. Well, in six hours we’ll know either way.

Friday 14th April
The results are in. It’s a landslide. Eton got 63% of the vote. Kathy scraped into second with 19%. I’m crushed. I can’t believe I actually thought she could win. I mean, she had the best campaign, by a mile. And she was the best candidate, definitely. But everything was against her. Why couldn’t I see that? She’s barely speaking to me. To anyone, in fact. She feels like a failure, she said. Like she’s gone through all that, all the insults, the stress, the pressure, and for nothing. She blames me – she wouldn’t say it, but I can feel it. And she’s right. I just hope she can forgive me.

I’ve been looking through these diaries a lot these last few weeks, during the election. Reading them brings it all back, like it was yesterday, not thirty-five years ago. My granddaughter said I should sell them to the papers, that it would make a great story. I told her off. That would be against everything Kathy stood for, I said. But she’s only young, I wasn’t really mad at her. Besides, she was almost as excited as me, watching the television yesterday, seeing the results come in, and then that moment, that fabulous moment when she came out in front of that huge crowd, and began to speak. I’d been trying not to cry, but I couldn’t stop myself then. It was almost as if I knew what she was going to say, although I didn’t, of course, I was as surprised as anyone. I know those words off by heart by now though: “Thirty-five years ago”, she said, “I fought my first election. I didn’t think I had it in me, but my friend persuaded me to stand. She told me I had to fight for what I believed in. I lost that election, heavily, and painfully, and for a while afterwards, I was convinced that she’d been wrong. Then I realised that she wasn’t. She was right. You do have to fight for what you believe in. And ever since then, with your help, that’s what I’ve been doing. And that’s why we’ve won this election, and why I can stand before you today, as Prime Minister.”

Jack’s novel The Liberty Arms is out now. It’s a political thriller and the first part of a trilogy.
You can find out more here: https://www.thenewsociety.net.

Download Jack’s novel from Amazon: The Liberty Arms

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