Asked what policies the two main parties had and you were likely to get the usual blank stare or something parroted from SKY or BBC. Most it seems wouldn’t know a party policy from their insurance policy and they probably don’t read that either. Nothing seems to affect many, their view of life, founded as it is, by a touching belief in BBC, Sky or the printed media.
As I said, the working demographic changed over the years as the mostly skilled workers moved on or died off and the new breed of ‘professionals’ moved in (professionals as in anyone who is paid for doing something), and as house prices rose the more affluent, on the surface at least, the area has become. Houses have become more ‘showy’, extensions bigger and bigger and many have expensive motorhomes, caravans and boats along with the usual prestigious cars and horse boxes; all behind the latest ‘look at me’ item wrought iron electrically operated gates, now changing it seems this time to wooden oak gates with intercoms and security lights.
Although it does seem that maybe even here, the era of conspicuous consumption, fuelled by the mainly early retired middle-income public sector employees, is coming to an end. Take one road – let’s call it Four Rings Lane – all the houses are on average valued at around £500K, easily affordable it seems for the retired teachers, police and fire service personnel, along with retired local government and civil service couples. It’s not hard for many of these people to have a joint £60,000 a year pension income, and all living as they do in one small cul-de-sac.
The warning signs are on the horizon that things are not quite what they may seem on the surface. It’s obvious that people still working and not employed by the public sector are not enjoying the sort of salaries once enjoyed by our retired neighbours and are starting to feel the pinch of economic reality.
Council tax continues to rise, bringing with it a bill of well over £2,000 a year. Services provided, police, refuse, road maintenance, as everywhere are nowhere near as good as they were even 10 years ago. Many homes are in need of maintenance and it is obvious that the once de-rigueur new cars every three years are not being replaced. Several houses have come on the market in recent months and have not, as has been the case in the past, been snapped up, gutted and extended, with refitted bathrooms and kitchens apparently a necessity. (One particular house sold three times in 10 years and had the benefit of a large extension, the kitchen refitted three times, the bathrooms twice and gardens professionally landscaped twice in that time.)
The ‘churn’ factor has had its effect on the community too, with its fair share of marriage and partnership breakdowns, four homes out of six in Four Rings Lane alone.
On the surface you could easily imagine that the community has escaped the worst of the ‘look at me, I want, give it me now’ attitudes of the last 20 years or so, but look just beneath the surface and you can see as the demographic changed, so did the community. Two classes are emerging, content, self-important, self-absorbed and smug in one age group, and another younger, self-absorbed, certainly on the surface outwardly affluent but probably only one or two pay cheques away from financial hardship or worse.
The main employers in the county are now the public services; the largest private sector companies have many low skilled jobs and the according to the ONS the average salary is £35k – less in real terms than 10 years ago – and there is also little job security.
The gap between low salary earners and these middle-income earners and retired public sector workers is increasing. The local haunt of the middle-income chattering classes has garden furniture on display with a ticket price of nearly £2000 while at the same time there are people visiting food banks, with others (genuine or not) sleeping rough in the main streets of local towns. What do lower income earners think of a couple who recently paid £287,792 including fees for a personalised car registration number which they will never of course own?
Even before the latest national political shenanigans, there was, and is, discontent at local level. It may not yet have shown itself at the ballot box, but even here in St Mary, there is anger and disquiet simmering away just below the surface. It seems even party faithful voters have noticed the problems with the NHS, poor services, no visible police, long waiting times for ambulance services, poor roads, building everywhere – perhaps it’s affected them.
The Brexit shenanigans may well be the last straw, although just how that would reflect in a General Election is anyone’s guess. Looking at our community and how people have voted in the past for more of the same, my guess is that the faithful will vote as usual to keep ‘the other lot’ out. Voting it seems for many does not have consequences. Talk is one thing, changing actual attitudes is quite another.