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Katharine Quarmby Headshot

Penury - middle class style - and the British election

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I'm in reflective mode this week, as I pack my bags for a stint covering the campaign trail for the next six weeks or so for a national newspaper. I've been reading up on key marginals, the effect of the expenses scandal, the importance of the women's vote and what might happen to the welfare state post the election - whoever wins.

But, as Bill Clinton said, "it's the economy, stupid", that really counts. In the end, it's all about following the money - both in corruption terms (and the expenses scandal has tainted politics generally) - and the effect of the recession on British hearts and minds.

Two conversations I've had this week have set me thinking about what might happen on May 6 (or whenever the election might be).

One was with a great friend of mine, a teacher living on the South Coast (in a swing seat which might be the first parliamentary gain for the Green party). I was bemoaning the effect of the recession and the double dip on creative salaries. Like most journalists and writers I've realised that Marx was right this year - people like me are the superstructure - and when push comes to shove, we're definitely surplus to requirements, and can be laid off or have our word rate cut at will. Most creatives I know, in TV, print, or music have seen their salaries halve this year. And the double dip has hurt too - the after-shock, this year, has continued.

But now, as my teacher friend says, (and she's married to a creative), we're staring at the possibility of a triple dip. If Cameron and his Tories get in, they have made it pretty damn clear they will cut public spending - which could send us into a triple dip. It won't be just creatives like me bemoaning our fragile salaries, it will be teachers, traffic wardens and police officers losing their jobs too. My friend is hanging on to middle class status precariously - as most of us are. We are shopping at Lidl, a downmarket supermarket chain, for our basics, and then, as my friend says, going to Waitrose (a rather luxurious upmarket) for a few treats and a latte. That's the new poverty - middle class style. As is this - I ran into a few mothers during the post-school coffee run, and had a quick chat to them. One, who doesn't need to work because her husband earns well, was bemoaning her idea of poverty - relinquishing a winter sun holiday because she'd had her garden redesigned.

Middle class anger at such "sacrifices" shouldn't be swept aside or sneered at. It will have an effect at the ballot box, but in the end it's the people losing their homes, or who really can't even afford the weekly shop at Lidl or Aldi, who should be pitied. They are angry - and no-one really knows, yet, what will light their fire. In some seats the far right party, the British National Party, will channel that anger into bigotry and hatred against immigrants (and might well even win one seat in East London) - but no-one thinks they will do well everywhere.

So - nobody knows. That's why elections are so exciting. Stuff happens - and it did this week, with the Tory peer Lord Ashcroft admitting that he had never relinquished his non-dom status despite a "solemn promise" to do so. The Tory lead in the polls has slipped to just two points. As the pollsters say, it's too close to call. But, in the end, I would characterise this election to be one where anger will determine the result - anger at the expenses scandal, anger at the recession, and nobody knows who, or what will channel that anger, and to what end. Let's wait and see.