SHORT STORY - The Swans of Shoreditch Part 3

The story was originally written by Jonathan for his book Tales of the Infinitely Possible, but was deemed by the author to not quite fit in with the tone of the rest of the book. This is a Boomerang Press exclusive release.

 

The first step for Emily was to make her recognisable and synonymous with the whole Swans of Shoreditch political party.

Bettie described Emily as ‘politician pretty’, especially in her Swan outfit, and ‘approachably smart’, as in she didn’t give off the air of intellectual superiority and smugness that ordinary people found so irritating or intimidating. She also hadn’t muddied herself by being involved in the riots in the early days, like the other leaders.

Emily started off by leading some of the more high profile protests and demonstrations. When the Swans successfully occupied a male only club in central London, it was Emily who spoke to the local news about needing to tare down these musty old institutions. When the Swans turned up to an open training session for Charlton Athletic to protest the reinstated manager, who had been cleared of sexual assault in acrimonious circumstances, it was Emily who was invited to join the BBC 5Live debate about the manager’s legitimacy.

After a year of low profile media appearances, it was time to step up in to mainstream. Bettie managed to negotiate her on to Question Time in a week that the opposition decided to release their deficit reduction plan, which was astonishingly similar to the current establishment.

“Remember Emily, if we want to win this seat, we need to convince men that it’s okay to vote for us as well. Be stately, courteous and measured, but don’t pull any punches. And if any of them bring up the suggestion of radical feminism, either ignore it or subtly play it down.” Bettie said. Emily was in her outfit, shaking slightly. She was on with a UKIP MP who was nicknamed The Rottweiler, and who’d virtually shouted everyone to death last time he was on. Bettie grabbed her by the shoulders and smiled that motherly smile.

“We’re in the right here, Emily, and you know we are. It makes it a hell of a lot easier to debate when you mean what you say, and you’re not just towing a line. Now go kick their old white male asses.” She said, and kissed Emily on the cheek.

“Told you all Swans were dykes.” The Rottweiler said, as he walked past with an aide.

The program was predictable enough to start with. The main focus was the deficit and spending cuts. The people representing the main parties said they were necessary, the Rottweiler called them all a bunch of cowards, and said the cuts didn’t go far enough. Emily got about 20 seconds of explaining they weren’t recommendable for the long term, before the Rottweiler started shouting about her being a terrorist. This pattern went on for the first few questions; Emily just couldn’t get herself into the debate. She felt awful, was desperate to get out. She suddenly thought that this was a horrendous mistake. She couldn’t be an MP, she couldn’t even call a bigot a bigot. She used to lay in bed, dreaming of debating a member of UKIP, telling them exactly why they had such a warped view of the world, but here she was freezing, and on live TV, no less.

“There has been various pledges by the major parties to raise minimum wage to the living wage. Is this something any of you actually intend to do?” a sour faced woman in the back row asked. Again, the three main parties toed the line of  “it’s something we’d like to do, but with the economy as it is, we can’t right now.” The Rottweiler shouted something about wages being fairly balanced to vocation, and then;

“No doubt, the young lady in the feathers thinks everyone should be paid the same, but this isn’t a communist country, darling, no matter how much you want it to be.” There wasn’t even a gasp from the crowd; such was the regularity of an un-PC UKIP comment. On the contrary, there were even a few claps.

“Emily Barrett, your response?” Emily looked over at Bettie, waiting in the wings. She mimed grabbing a pair of testicles and violently twisting them. Emily cleared her throat.

“Thank you, sweet cheeks, for the constant lies and insinuation throughout this broadcast. It’s illuminating to know that 1 in 5 people in this country think you and you’re party are anything but a group of bigoted bullies who scare people in to voting for them.” The Rottweiler went to retort, but Emily cut across him. “No, you will listen to me for a moment. You have had a disproportionate amount of time to peddle your bile, now it is time for some rationality.” Emily said, glaring at him. The mediator looked like he was going to stop her, but shrunk under her gaze. She turned to address the audience.

“The truth is, the living wage is important. The living wage is the key to economic growth. Everyone on this panel knows this, but their interests in private business are such that they will never side with you, ever. We all know these people don’t work for you; they work for the rich and for themselves. For a long time people have become increasingly disillusioned with party politics, but for some reason the main voice of dissent is from some lunatics on the right. I am here to tell you that there is another way.”

“I will be running for a seat in the house of commons at the next election” this time there was a gasp from the audience, “And madam, I can promise you that, in my borough, the living wage will be implemented, even if I have to completely devolve South Hackney to make a new nation, I will do it. I will also make sure men and women are paid equally, that schools receive the budget they deserve, that the NHS remains strong.”    

“I’m going to have to cut you off there, I’m afraid.” the mediator said, “You can’t read out a full manifesto.”

“I thought this program existed to make sure the electorate was well informed?” Emily asked calmly, “You have had UKIP on a disproportionate amount of times, considering the 7 MP’s they have. This gentleman, get’s a free pass to say whatever he wants, why can’t I?” the mediator looked sheepish.

“Nevertheless, we should move on.” After that, Emily was on fire. She was combative, yet poised, and the Rottweiler had been so dumb struck by Emily’s attack, that he went back to sounding like the bigoted oaf he was. Afterwards, Bettie put her arm around Emily and walked her to the dressing room.

“We may have announced to early, but good job.” Emily was a little disappointed. She thought she’d torn the roof off the place.

“I think most people will agree that I won?” Emily said.

“I know, but,” Emily looked at her. She looked strained, like a sudden weight had been dropped on her shoulders. “We just have to win this, Emily, otherwise we may lose everything. They’re after us. They want us finished.” Emily had no idea who ‘they’ were.

 

Over the next year, Emily went from strength to strength. She would attend public forums, she addressed the Oxford Union, and every political broadcast in the kingdom coveted her presence. She fast became the acceptable face of the left, despite her heavy make-up. Most importantly, she resonated with the young, a demographic the Swans saw as totally abandoned by the major parties.

Bettie, however, was starting to lose it. Emily had never guessed how much this meant to her in the first year of living together, but now Bettie barely slept, was constantly taking polls and seemed to scour every corner of the Internet for criticism. She would sit at her desk, writing down the name of the critic and muttering to herself.

 “You’ll be sorry you said that.”

The other leaders of the Swans were helpful, but seemed to be worried that Emily would disappoint. They kept on checking what she would say before speeches, to make sure she was on message, something Emily thought was very close to towing the party line.

Inevitably, the rape story came out. It was in one of the redtops, and was no doubt leaked by the Hackney police, after Emily had pledged that all police would have to wear cameras so their behavior could be monitored.

“Those fuckers. No we’re going to struggle to control it.” Bettie had said, throwing the paper on Emily’s desk. It wasn’t pretty reading. They had made the story look like they were sympathetic to Emily, but had worded it cleverly with sentences like “Barrett had flirted outrageously with Berringer” and “after yet another heavy night’s drinking.”

“I’ve got you on GMTV tomorrow morning to talk about it.” Bettie said, walking to the coffee machine.

“Fuck that.” Emily said, throwing down the paper. Bettie turned round, looking livid.

 “You will do as your told, young lady.” She spat.

“Bettie, if I go on GMTV I’m going to look like just another woman. I’ve got to show the world that I’m above this, that I’m over it, that I won’t use it as a crutch, and that I won’t apologise for it.” Emily shouted back, getting to her feet. Bettie bit back her retort. “Get me on Andrew Marr. I will address this story for roughly 30 seconds, and then I will talk about our policies. I will not turn myself in to a pariah for sympathy votes.” Bettie looked like she wanted to throw the coffee over Emily.

“Fine.” She said, through gritted teeth. “But if this costs us.” She didn’t finish the sentence, but simply turned and walked out the room.

Bettie was a ghost after that. The Andrew Marr interview went very well, she explained briefly that the story was true, and the man in question was now in prison. She explained that, though it upset her and she would have to carry it with her, there were important things to discuss. Bettie didn’t come with her, and didn’t even mention whether she had watched it later.

In the final year running up to the May elections, Emily felt like she became a politician, a proper one, not like the people in the other parties, who got in to power in order to get reelected. She had become the darling of the left, championed by everyone from the New Statesman to The Guardian. The story became less about the Swans, and more about Emily Barrett, despite her swan outfit. Emily figured that was why Bettie was being so distant with her. Emily would still ask for her opinion on this speech or that, but Bettie would bluntly explain that she hadn’t seen it.

“You’re not the only one who is busy, you know?” she had shouted at Emily, after Emily had finally vocalized her disappointment.

“I thought this meant everything?” Emily shouted back. Bettie grabbed her short, grey hair, contemplating Emily for a moment.

“And what if we lose? What then? Things just go back to normal?” the words burst out of her, like she just couldn’t keep them in anymore. “We can’t let that happen, Emily. The Swans of Shoreditch need this. We need to infiltrate. But we need a contingency plan if you fail.” The words stung Emily. This was never her idea; she had just gone along with it. Suddenly, she felt like a puppet. A mouthpiece for an organisation with a few too many open wounds to expose its real agenda. She realised that in the last year, she had slipped off Bettie’s leash, and Bettie despised her for it.

“What sort of contingency plan?” Emily asked, trying to remain stoic. Bettie examined her for a moment.

“If you had just played up to the rape, then we could have. . . . Forget it. Go to bed, Emily.” Bettie turned her back on her and went back to her computer. Emily didn’t know what to say.

 

Emily had her final debate with the Labour incumbent, Cybil Tibbs, two days before the election on LBC radio. Emily thought Tibbs had learnt nothing from her ascendancy. She kept on spouting the same lines about how the constituency was so much better off since Labour had been in charge. It was the same story from all the incumbents across the country. Emily attacked; this was her last chance to persuade the undecided. She talked about all the Swans' plans; the private school breakdown, calling for all private schools in the constituency to surrender any profits to help the state schools. The living wage incentive, giving local businesses council tax exemption if they paid the living wage, and congestion charge expansion, meaning the roads could only be used by service vehicles, public transport and taxis. These were all winners with the electorate. Still, the polls had Labour with the slimmest of advantages going in to the final day, so she had to soak up every last vote she could.

The debate was winding down, with Emily summing up why people should vote for her, when the presenter cut in.

“I’m very sorry, Miss Barrett, but we’ve just had an anonymous phone call saying that, and I quote, “If The Swans do not win on Tuesday, the consequences will be dire.” I mean. . . Do you have any comment on that?” he sounded shaken. Tibbs looked scathingly at Emily, who was dumbfounded. She took a few moments to gather herself.

“I have no idea what that means. Can you not traces the call? Or. . “

“So this has nothing to do with you?”

“No, of course not. It must be a hoax or something. Shouldn’t. . .Shouldn’t you be calling the police or something?” Emily said, sounding frustratingly unconvincing.

“See. This is what happens when you allow terrorists to run for office.” Tibbs said, not looking at Emily.

“Okay, we’ll have to end It there, my producer is telling me the police have been called. So. . . Yeah.” The presenter finished, lamely.

Emily had another dozen appointments over the next 24 hours, and it wasn’t until the evening before the election that she tracked down Bettie, back at the flat.

“Tell me that wasn’t you?” Emily shouted as soon as Bettie walked through the door.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Bettie replied, coolly.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about. For Gods sake, Bettie, we can’t scare people in to voting for us.” Emily said, getting rather hysterical.

“I told you, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Bettie said. She walked towards her room, but Emily grabbed her arm.

“Just talk to me you old hag. What have you done!?” Bettie turned around and slapped Emily in the face.

“I’ve done this for all of us, for everyone in this rat’s nest of the country. We can win tomorrow, and we can move forward in to a more progressive, more tolerant society. Or, we can lose, and society will pay the price.” Emily was upset, her face contorted with sadness. Bettie looked at her, expressionless. “Get some sleep, you’ve got a big day tomorrow.

But, of course, Emily didn’t sleep a wink. She kept on debating to call the police, but a small part of her thought that this couldn’t be true. Bettie was an old liberal feminist, how on earth would she make “society to pay the price.”? Maybe this was motivation to her. If it was, it wasn’t working.

The next morning, Emily got her photo taken casting her vote, did some last minute canvassing at polling stations, before heading for dinner. All the while she was exhausted, physically and mentally, and she was worried. Bettie had not been around in the morning. The other leaders of the Swans dined with her. What did they know, if anything, about Bettie’s supposed plan?

“Exit polls give you a lead of one,” Kim said, checking her phone.   Emily beamed at them. “Let’s hope so.” She thought to herself.

 

“Liberal Democrats – 215 votes” the judicator read. A small smattering of applause. Emily looked out across the assembled masses. Was Bettie here?

“UKIP – 390 Votes” a group of old white men booed in the corner. Emily wondered why they’d even bothered. She looked at the other Swans, waiting with bated breath. No Bettie.

“Conservative – 6,784 votes.” a small smattering of applause ensued, again. Emily saw her. She was right at the back of the room, by the door, dressed in normal clothing. She looked stern and purposeful. Emily’s heart started racing even faster.

“Labour – 17,964 votes.” a huge cheers went up from the left side of the hall, but was it enough to win? As the other candidates patted Tibbs on the back, Emily couldn’t take her eyes off of Bettie. She remained, cross-armed at the back of the hall. Silence fell again.

“Swans of Shoreditch – 17,922 votes.” The Labour supporters erupted.

“No.” Emily said quietly to herself. She took a few steps towards the edge of the stage as Bettie shook her head and walked out of the door.

“No.” Emily said, louder this time. No one seemed to notice. “RUN!” She shouted at the top of her voice, but before anyone could react, the bomb went off, blasting Emily head first into a wall.

 

 

The End

 

 

Jonathan's collection of short stories Tales of the Infinitely Possible is available from Amazon

 

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SHORT STORY - The Swans of Shoreditch Part 2