Week 1 of the election diary of doomed candidate Steve Clyne.
My name is Stephen Clyne. People call me Steve.
I’ve never kept a journal before, but after what happened tonight, I thought I’d better start. I have a feeling that the next few weeks will be rather “interesting”.
I fronted up to the local branch of the Labor party, expecting a quiet night preselecting the sitting member and then going out for drinks. I rode my bike down there, planning not to drive home.
As soon as I arrived I could tell something was up. There were twice as many people there as expected, so my first thought was that there was a branch-stack on. It took a while to recognise any of my regular “comrades” among the suits. They all seemed to be carrying iPads – I was carrying my bike helmet.
There was a tantalising glimmer of some juicy gossip doing the rounds, but I wasn’t able to tap into it before the meeting was called to order. The Branch Chair-thingy stood up and announced that our sitting member had pulled out of the race at the last minute for “personal reasons”. My phone vibrated quietly in my pocket. I checked the text message that had come in from Spiro, who I hadn’t spotted yet. “Personal tax, personal hygiene, personal relationships.”
The reason for the presence of the suits from Head Office was now clear. One of them was walking regally to the front, I assumed to announce which patsy was going to be parachuted into the seat from elsewhere. Everyone was watching him but he was gazzumped by branch stalwart Old Bob, who heaved himself up from his seat in the front row and made it to the lectern in time to halt Slick Willy’s march forward.
“It’s great to see our supporters from Head Office here to see the local wheels of democracy at work,” he said without a hint of irony. There was a murmur from where the suits were sitting together up the back.
“So, tonight we will be electing a new Labor candidate to stand in the great seat of Roberts, someone who we hope will be the next Member.”
“This will be interesting,” I thought to myself.
He went on and on about how he had received a nomination of a worthy candidate, clearly attempting to out-manoeuvre the Sate Office. I zoned out, thinking about the pub we wouldn’t be in by 9 pm.
“And so, I declare nominations for preselection for the seat of Roberts open, and would like to submit this nomination for Steve Clyne.”
It took me a moment to work out what had happened, but the standing ovation that followed was clearly arranged by the locals to scare off the branch stackers.
There were no other nominations, and I was unable to raise any realistic objections, so I was duly elected.
Or more realistically, lined up for the slaughter. We hold the seat by 1.1% and a national swing against us of 3.5% on the cards.
At the pub afterwards, Spiro was all smiles and enthusiasm.
“Riding to the meeting on your bike was a master stroke. Demonstrating your green credentials. Brilliant.”
I looked down at my legs. I think I should have taken those bicycle clips off before the photo session.
I woke up this morning as the candidate for Roberts. Pinched myself. Verdict: still insane. I was lying there, thinking that I’d forgotten something, when the door bell rang. It was 7.15, which it turned out was precisely when someone told me last night that they’d arrive – it was Sam, the person that Head Office had offered (appointed, shanghaied?) to be my Campaign Director, who she assured me I’d met just before I left the Branch meeting with Spiro. Was forced to believe her.
She had a large suitcase with her, which she unloaded on the small patch of carpet in the lounge room that wasn’t covered in junk.
IPad, special phone, appointment planner, media briefing kit, FAQs, real-time voter research app, passwords to the secure election strategy website, policy hotline numbers, fund raising kit, blah blah blah.
Half an hour later she was gone, telling me that if I check my on-line diary I’ll see there’s a strategy meeting tomorrow at the electoral office. I felt like it was Christmas but that I missed out on all the good presents. I staggered off to the shower.
At precisely 9 am I got a phone call from Our Dear Leader. Recently reinstalled as PM after a bloody coup – these things are never bloodless – he was chatty but brief. I got the impression he was looking at the figures when he said “Good luck.”
I was about to thank him when the line went dead. Off to call another lamb to the slaughter, no doubt.
In desperate need of a coffee, I decided to ride down to the shops and drop by the electoral office. Guess that’s what candidates do.
It was a hive of activity. People I’d never seen before were scraping off all evidence of my predecessor – posters, nameplate, his personal mobile number on the window. I asked a couple of the worker bees what had actually happened to him, and they just looked at me as if I’d just yelled “Voldemort” in the Hogwart’s Great Hall. Guess I’ll get my owl later.
A couple of guys in white overalls splashed with a cacophony of paint splotches started to stick some new stuff to the front window. Spiro arrived just as they pulled off the backing paper.
“Vote 1 Steve Cline.”
They were looking very pleased with themselves – the big sticker was straight and bubble-free. I was still plucking up the courage to tell them about the spelling when Spiro beat me to it. They didn’t take the news well.
Eventually, I convinced them all that physical violence was not the way to solve a silly mix up. I made my first call to Sam on the new bat-phone, and she promised to sort things out.
Spiro and I went to the pub for a calming ale and a counter meal. “Getting among the people,” he said. Just after that he appointed himself as my ‘Special Policy Advisor’ and invited himself to the meeting tomorrow.
I’m sure Sam won’t mind.
I decided that I needed to look a little business-like in the office today, given that it has been described as the “nerve centre of your election assault.” I’ve got nerves everywhere I go at the moment.
There were even more people crammed into the office than there have been yesterday when it was full of tradies and volunteers. It was painted crisply white, with white IKEA desks and wall units. Someone was up all night with an allen key and a Swedish phrase book, obviously. Along one side of the room were five expensive looking Apple computers, each being attacked by an earnest looking young thing wearing a headset.
Sam called the meeting to order eventually. He was running through the introductions when he noticed Spiro. I introduced him and made it clear to Sam and the others that Spiro would be staying before Sam had a chance to suggest otherwise. He nodded and made a note on his omnipresent iPad without missing a beat.
The meeting ran for an hour precisely, and as scheduled didn’t include a contribution from Spiro. He kept trying to interrupt and initiate a deep and meaning discussion on some supposedly vital policy area, but Sam had his measure.
Sam clapped her hands and the crowd dispersed, all seeming to know exactly what to do next – unlike me.
“Steve, photo time, let’s go!” Sam slid her iPad into a small but stylish back-pack and we were off into the mid-morning melee.
We only walked past three shops before we arrived at our destination. Sam lead us up a steep flight of stairs that wobbled like the belly of a senior political reporter from the Canberra bureau.
The sign on the door said “Dusty’s Special Photographic Studio”, which didn’t fill me with confidence – inside was no better. Things went down hill when Sam emerged with Dusty – a lady in her late sixties wearing more makeup than a busload of CWA members. On the right side of her crimson painted lips there was a large indentation where a cigarette would have hung out of her mouth in days before workplace safety laws put paid to such disgusting habits. She looked pained as a result.
“Oh, Sam, what the hell is this? Look at ‘im.” She walked around me shaking her head. “Got time for the A Team, honey? You need it.” She looked at my mouth and asked me to smile. “No time for dentistry, eh?”
“My teeth are fine . . .” I tried to protest.
“Hair, makeup and a nice collar before we can shoot this guy. I can only do so much.”
Spiro was sitting uncomfortably on a tatty looking lounge. He made to defend me but didn’t have his heart in it. Thanks Spiro.
Twin makeover ninjas Kaylene-Raye and Sue arrived five minutes later, carrying matching attache cases and wearing impossibly high heels. I was plonked on a chair and it was all over in fifteen minutes. They packed up, took a wodge of low denomination notes from Dusty and headed off like a pair of forensic investigators leaving an unpleasant crime scene.
“Respectable, love. Now come on in.” Dusty lead my through a plain door leaving Sam and Spiro in a room alone for the first time.
After Dusty had taken about 3,000 photos while asking me to fake every expression from “fun” to “Just eaten a poo sandwich”, only Sam got to see the results and make a choice for my campaign poster.
“Email that shot to Poster Palace, Dusty, and send me an invoice, yeah?”
“Great doing business with you, Sam.”
Back out in the sunshine, Sam bade us farewell and returned to the office. Spiro suggested another “lunch with the people.”
It turned out to be a few hours well spent, discussing a wide range of policy development issues.
Made it to Day 4 before our first major stumble, and it is good to report that it wasn’t my fault.
The campaign posters arrived today. I scrubbed up OK in the picture – Dusty and the makeover ninjas had done a great job – but overall the posters were a little bit too much like the posters from the last election, and that included having the name of the now ex-member for Roberts under my picture. Oops.
I nearly burst out laughing, but the spectre of the former member seems to hang over our campaign – no-one else seemed to see the funny side of it. Sam whisked the offending articles away and we continued on with business. Guess the posters won’t be going up until tomorrow.
There is an older lady who is always in the office, and I finally found out who she is today. Apparently Barbara (she has no need of a surname) has been the lucky mascot for all Labor campaigns in this seat since 1969. I asked how often have we held the seat, and it turns out our hit rate is nine out of seventeen. The way this is looking, we’ll be 50:50 in a few weeks. I dared point this out to Spiro, a Barb-leiver, who said “Imagine what it would be like without her.”
Everyday is planned out in minute detail by Sam. I asked her if we could schedule some time for going to the toilet, and she shot back with “How long do we need for that?” before realising it was a joke. Or half a joke anyway.
I’ve worked out that all need to do is stand at the front door at 7.15 and a car will pick me up and take me somewhere. The schedule even tells me what to wear: smart casual for shopping centre visits, or today, for example, suit and tie for an official party function and policy launch.
It was excruciating. Our Dear Leader went on and on. I’m sure there’ll be a send up of his hand movements on television any time now. Five hours later, as I write this, I have no idea what the announcement was about. Guess there will be a briefing email about it tonight, telling me what to say tomorrow.