Simpkins had defrauded the voting slips in the constituency of South Shindle
for the last eighteen years. This was to be the fifth general election result
she had fixed. From the very start, it had been so easy. As an unmarried school-teacher,
chair of the W.I. and more recently, the first woman lay-preacher at St James
the Less, she was beyond reproach.

volunteered to be a polling clerk shortly after her fortieth birthday. Her
application to replace the retiring head of the small Church of England school,
where she had taught for nineteen years, was rejected by the governors. They
chose to appoint a dynamic, younger man called Eric Buttles. As Elsie’s only
route to a headship would have been to move to another school in another town,
she continued to teach in the infants’ class. She busied herself with minor
roles of responsibility in the community. Her application to be a polling clerk
was successful, and it was not long before she became the Presiding Officer, in
charge of counting the ballot papers for the constituency of South
Shindle. The small fees she got for both
council and general elections, paid for her annual holiday to Felixstowe.

was where she met John Markham. He was a young man with brilliant blue eyes,
and a missionary zeal to change the world. They had collided trays in the Cosy
Teapot one wet afternoon, and he gallantly offered to reserve a seat for her,
while she went to the ladies’ to soak the tea stain on her coat. As the rain
poured down outside, he talked about his life and his ambitions. He had grown
up in Norfolk. When he was eight, his parents told him he was adopted. That his
biological mother had abandoned him as a baby. He spoke warmly about his
adoptive parents. Liberal thinkers who had been environmentalists long before
it was fashionable. He went to study at Downing College Cambridge, where he
became politically active in the Labour Party. Now, at the age of twenty-six,
he was to be the party’s youngest candidate in the forthcoming General
Election, standing for the constituency
of South Shindle.

and John talked long after the rain had stopped. When they came to say goodbye,
Elsie wished him well, and John asked to see her again.

weeks’ later, his resounding victory was a surprise for the pollsters, South
Shindle was a Conservative stronghold. They were no less surprised when he won
the following three elections with similar, substantial majorities.

sat regarding herself in the mirror, thinking about what dress to wear for her
fifth General Election. She opened the middle drawer of the dressing table, and
pulled out a rosary box. It was the only surviving remnant of her hated
Catholic upbringing. At fourteen, she had been raped by a boy from the Jesuit
school. She was forbidden an abortion, and when she gave birth to a healthy boy,
he was immediately taken into care. She opened the rosary box and took out a
hospital nametag. A kindly nurse had kept it for her. The letters were faded,
but the name John Simpkins was still clearly visible.