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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison

The Floating Voter

The General Election was once more approaching. Having fought in the Second World War, I realise the importance of democracy, and I always champion this principle by voting. Nevertheless, in recent times, the cynicism of politicians and the similarity of party policies have left me unable to pick a candidate. I have, therefore, formulated a random selection method for use on ballot days.

As I later discovered, history and computer science had conspired to make this an unusual election. Successive governments had redrawn political boundaries to maximise safe seats and minimise the number of marginal constituencies. To the surprise of all, however, the computer software which identified voting intentions of constituents, revealed that only one marginal remained. Furthermore, the safe seats were exactly divided between the main parties - the vote here at Barchester-in-the-Marsh would decide the government.

This explained why three party battlebusses arrived in our village, though did not explain why they all parked outside my cottage. Nor did it explain why the leaders of the parties each invited me to dinner in order to explain the detail of their policies.

The Prime Minister and I had probably consumed one too many bottles of claret when he let slip that I was the only undecided voter in our equally divided constituency - my vote would therefore decide the government. Perhaps I was equally unwise to disclose, under pressure from Jeremy Paxman on the news analysis programme, Newsnight, that my final decision would be made by Mavis.

Mavis and George live on a small island in the middle of the river that flows through our village. I have enjoyed watching their progress over the years. I have taken almost as much pleasure in the hatching of their cygnets as I had in the birth of my own children all those years ago. In winter, I always ensure they have food. Since my dear wife, Florrie, died, I have thought of them, in some ways, as my family.

Every day I walk to the river to see them. Sometimes Mavis is on her island. Sometimes she is nearer the left bank, and sometimes she is nearer the right bank. There is no pattern, and so her location when I pass on my way to the polling station dictates my vote. Right for Conservative, left for Labour and the island for Liberal Democrat.

As I approached the river on the day of the election, there was clearly some confusion. The Labour and Conservative leaders stood on their respective banks with their opposition colleague rowing towards the island - each with a large bag of cake crumbs. Confusion had arisen as George, Mavis and one of their older offspring were all present and, coincidentally, occupying the three key locations. As I walked away, it was clear that only I knew which had been Mavis - or Dame Mavis as she now is. I insisted that the new Prime Minister ensure her a place in the House of Lords - or be excluded from the next contest.