“I’m sorry Oliver, but I have no interest in politics.” Louisa demurred.
“Please, Louisa, hear me out.” Mayor Oliver Jellis pleaded
The proposition had been a very simple one: an elderly and long-serving member of the local council had been taken severely ill. She had been forced to resign her seat, leaving it vacant. Mayor Jellis and several other councillors were keen to see Louisa Calleray join them. It was proving harder to convince her to do so than Mayor Jellis had anticipated.
“Look at all that fuss in Egypt. Really!” Louisa said.
“I cannot quite connect the situation with the Suez Canal to our little corner of the United Kingdom.” Jellis said.
“Politics, Oliver! It’s all motivated by politicking!” Louisa replied warmly.
“But it really is not all like that.” Jellis countered. “Lots of people do good work for their communities, work that without politicking would probably never be achieved.”
“Yes, Oliver. I have been the beneficiary of some of that work, what with the Planning Office and the like.” Louisa agreed.
“You could do so much good, Louisa.” Jellis told her. “Your work here is fantastic. With the backing of the council you could do so much more.”
“I don’t know, Oliver, but I enjoy my independence. Bureaucracy intimidates and irritates me.” Louisa said with a rueful smile. “You know what it’s like having to jump through hoops at every turn.”
“I cannot disagree. However, making the rules instead of abiding by them is surely as good an incentive as you would ever need to be a part of the process, surely?” Jellis urged.
“That makes sense, of course it does.” Louisa agreed. “I have, though, no particular affiliation to – or even a particular fondness for – any political party.”
“Run as an independent. It has been done before.”
Louisa looked at the photograph of her deceased husband for several long moments. She sighed wearily.
“Oliver, I cannot say yes or no to you today. I need to give this some careful thought. My time is so very much tied up with the Connolly House Project. Did you know that we are opening another two properties this year?” Louisa asked.
“I had heard on the grapevine that you are about to open a place in, uh, Birmingham?”
“You heard correctly.” Louisa confirmed. “And just this week we purchased another property in Liverpool.”
“Goodness!” Mayor Jellis exclaimed.
“So, you see now, Oliver, why I would have to give your kind invitation some serious contemplation?”
“Of course, of course.” Jellis agreed. “We have about a month before the election anyway, so you take whatever time you need.”
“I am assuming an answer sooner rather than later anyway, given that you don’t want to be looking for another candidate a week before the election?” Louisa smiled warmly.
Looking slightly abashed, Mayor Oliver Jellis rose to his feet.
“You understand the situation perfectly.” he said as he shook Louisa’s proffered hand.
“In that case, you have my promise that I will give you my decision within the week.”
“Excellent!” Jellis beamed.
“It’s a ridiculous idea, darling.” Louisa told the photograph of her husband. “Me, getting into politics? The very idea!”
It was eleven-thirty on a dark and chilly autumn night. Louisa Calleray sat at her desk in her study. The desk lamp provided the only illumination. It shone on the silver-framed photograph of Stuart Calleray, creating a halo-like effect.
“I am not a political animal, Stuart” she said.
“You don’t need to be.” Stuart replied. “You just have to be you, the you that people know and trust and, yes, love.”
“I don’t know. My work here keeps me so busy and is too important to me to…, to not give my all to.” Louisa replied.
“You cannot do it all by yourself anymore, darling.” Stuart told her gently. “Your success has been remarkable, but it is time to start letting go of the immediate day to day running of the operation.”
“Oh, no! I cannot do that!”
“You have to, Louisa. You have very good people around you, advising you and helping you to help other people.” Stuart said.
“I know I do, and I am immensely grateful and proud of my team.” Louisa smiled.
“You have the one asset that is irreplaceable: loyalty. Your ‘team’, as you call them, are not just loyal to you, they are devoted to you. There is nothing you could ask of them that they won’t do in a heartbeat.” Stuart’s voice was soft and even-toned, but there was steeliness to it that Louisa was unaccustomed to hearing.
“This has been my baby for so long, Stuart. Letting go is not going to be easy.”
“You are not letting go, honey, just loosening your grip a little. Your people will take up the slack with the same level of care and compassion as they always have.”
“You are right, of course.” Louisa conceded. “The other question here is whether I really want to get involved in politics.”
“Jellis made a good point, you know. Being on the inside influencing is a much better proposition than being on the outside protesting!” Stuart Calleray laughed.
“And am I rebel enough to do that, darling? Do I have the gumption to stand alone against aggressive opposition?”
“You are one of the strongest women I have ever met, Louisa. It is why I fell in love with you in the first place. You have achieved so much because you had - and have - self-belief by the bucket-load.”
“I don’t always feel as confident as I may appear.”
“That is where your strength lays, my love. Your opposition will pick up on any weakness and exploit it. Having the knack of seeming confident whilst you’re shaking like a jelly inside will stand you in good stead.”
“Hmm, maybe…” Louisa said uncertainly.
“You are a stronger woman than you give yourself credit for. Not only that you have great ideas and great stamina. Not many can keep up with you.”
“Oh, phooey!” Louisa laughed.
“Above and beyond all of that other stuff is that you possess one natural asset that most politicians would kill for.”
“Oh, and what might that be?” Louisa asked, puzzled.
“The likability factor, darling. People from all walks of life of all ages naturally like you. You could not have achieved what you have without it.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that…” Louisa began
“Oh, but you must believe!” Stuart interjected. “Just think of the people around you, the people you have helped and the people who are just a telephone-call away for you.”
“Anyway, this is the local council, darling. It’s not as though you are aiming to be the next Prime Minister, is it?” Stuart joshed.
“A woman Prime Minister? The bully-boy ‘old-school-tie’ brigade that run this country will never allow that to happen, not in my lifetime at least.”
“Yes, you’re probably right.” Stuart agreed. “Even so, it has to happen one day. All it takes is the right person in the right place at the right time. That person could just as easily be you as any other woman. She, like you, may be sitting on her local council having this same conversation with herself.”
Louisa jerked awake. She shivered in the chill of the small room. She stood up and eased the stiffness out her back and neck.
“Falling asleep at my desk is never a good thing.” she said aloud to the study.
“Thank you, darling.” Louisa told her husband’s photograph. “I miss you so much at times like this, but I now know what I want to do.”
Louisa Calleray was elected to the vacant seat on the local council virtually unopposed. Two candidates dropped out of the race upon learning of her intention to contest the seat. Her main opposition, a bitter misogynist who made no secret of his loathing of women in politics, was soundly beaten into a very distant second place.
On the same day that Russia launched her Sputnik satellite into orbit and shocked the whole world, Louisa Calleray attended her first-ever council meeting.
Oliver knew that Louisa Calleray would come around. She was the most remarkable woman he had ever met. He was convinced that Louisa Calleray was still to make her mark on history. If the path to that mark started on the floor of the council chamber then that could only be to the credit of the council.
Louisa had taken a leap of faith after the dream-dialogue with her late husband. She refused to accept or acknowledge that it was probably her own subconscious allowing her to work through her dilemma in a safe and pleasurable manner rather than any kind of spectral intervention by Stuart.
She had recruited an energetic and successful woman, Charlotte Watkins to take on the day-to-day aspects of running the Connolly House Project, appointing her General Manger and giving her a great deal of responsibility. Charlotte had adapted to the role with great aplomb and had secured the affection and loyalty of the staff with her easy-going manner and genial air.
Louisa felt some of the weight of responsibility slip from her shoulders and ease her mind. She felt ready to takmeet the challenges that the new role she had agreed to take on presented.
To be continued...