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The innocence of the novice candidate

County View

County View
John Healy

The white flag has been raised, and 63 runners have gone to post for election to Mayo County Council. Thirty-three face disappointment, but as of now, there is not one among them who doubts his or her chances of success.
You and I may surmise that we can distinguish between those with a genuine chance and the lost causes, but in the mind of each aspirant, there is no such thing as a no-hoper. Seasoned campaigners can sense how the wind is blowing, but the neophytes remain blissfully unaware of the perils that lie ahead.
A never changing feature of the political process, is the innocent optimism of the novice candidate. Most candidates are prone to overestimating their popularity with the voting public, but none more so than the newcomer seeking election for the first time. Whether it is down to wishful thinking on the one part, or the practised false sincerity of the voter on the other, first timers are inevitably carried away by the apparently genuine promises sealed on the doorstep.
Sadly, the sense of shock when the ballot papers are tumbled out on the counting table, and it becomes clear that the promised votes were only a myth, is palpable. Novice candidates have been known to be traumatised for weeks when – inexplicably to themselves – all those votes they had marked off as certainties never materialise.
It was such an experience which led to a neighbour, a failed candidate, to ruefully proclaim, when it all was over, that the one thing he had learned was that ‘there are a hundred liars living on the Newport road’.
Failed candidates are often so disbelieving of the reality unfolding before them, so genuinely baffled at the idea that friends and neighbours could have duped them, that reason goes out the window. It is several years since a candidate for the then Castlebar Urban Council went through a similar Gethsemane. This man had first become a member of the council at a time when, bizarrely, only eight candidates went forward for the nine seats on the council, such was the level of public apathy and indifference among the Castlebar public.
Five years on, things had changed; this time, there was an election and, for the first time, Jim was obliged to go canvassing. The reception he got was warm and affable and most encouraging. (“Why wouldn’t we vote for you, Jim. Sure who else would we be supporting?”). And Jim duly ticked off another brace of votes in his favour.
Come the count, the inevitable happened. Far from the 300 first preferences he had been assured of, he got 30 odd. Jim was eliminated early.
Shell shocked, he went home, and thought, and thought, and tried to make sense of his experience. No, there had to have been an error somewhere. A ballot box must have gone missing; someone had credited his votes to some other candidate; something was not right.
And so he went round the streets again, back to the same neighbours and locals who had promised their number one. Again they assured him that they had done so, even signing the sheet of paper he placed before them to reconfirm their sincerity. Armed with his ‘proof’, Jim returned to the Town Clerk’s office where a long conversation ensued. Gently and sympathetically, the Town Clerk explained to him the realities of political life, and that a vote promised on the doorstep is of zero value until it appears in the ballot box.
The experience marked the end of a political career, and a salutary lesson for novice candidates on the perfidious nature of electioneering.