Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

Can you tell what someone's political preferences are from the state of their lawn or their hedge? I only ask this because a friend's mother, a staunch Tory, is fond of remarking that "you can always tell a communist because they're the ones with the untidy front gardens".

Can you tell what someone's political preferences are from the state of their lawn or their hedge? I only ask this because a friend's mother, a staunch Tory, is fond of remarking that "you can always tell a communist because they're the ones with the untidy front gardens".

Leaving aside the rather endearing notion that everyone in the world, Conservative or communist, is assumed to have a front garden (you have to bear in mind that this is someone who lives in the Cotswolds), the run-up to a general election does throw up some important issues for the urban householder. I'm not talking about things such as stamp duty thresholds, or replacing the council tax with local income tax, but something far trickier. The question is: do you put up a party political poster in your window?

To put it more simply: do you want to tell the entire neighbourhood which way you intend to vote - and run the risk of them haranguing you (or even ostracising you) on the common, next time you walk your dog? Or do you not put one up and run the risk of people making the wrong assumptions about your behaviour at the ballot box?

And what would you do if those people down the road, who seemed so pleasant when you met them at a neighbour's barbecue, put up a BNP poster? Would you, as Woody Allen suggests in the movie Manhattan, "get some guys together, y'know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them"? Or would you, as I confess I think I would, merely pretend to be so busy clipping your communist hedge or mowing your Marxist lawn that you failed to notice them next time they walked by?

I have to admit I am fascinated by the correlation between appearances and voting preferences. We've all had that moment when you assume that the person you've just met at a party will share your views on, say, drugs because they're wearing hippy-ish clothes, only to discover that the kaftan is a fashion statement rather than a political one, and beneath it beats the heart of a Margaret Thatcher or a Norman Tebbit. It's the same with houses.

At my last house but one, the scruffiest property in the street (not mine, the one next door) was the only one that was proudly displaying a vast blue Tory poster during the 1997 general election campaign.

The householder, as he was fond of recounting at great length, had lived in Battersea all his life, unlike yuppy interlopers such as me, who had only recently arrived to infect the neighbourhood with their suspect political views. In that election, the Labour candidate, Martin Linton, ended up taking Battersea - a notorious marginal - from the Tories. So, you see, gentrification can sometimes be a good thing.

Anyway, have I put an election poster in my window this time? Well, I might have done if our household had reached some consensus on its voting intentions. The more financially astute among you may be aware of an online organisation called uSwitch.com, which offers "a free, impartial comparison service" on things such as telephone and digital television contracts, and household bills such as gas, electricity and water. For example, if you're with British Gas, you can instantly compare what you currently pay with what you would pay if you switched to another supplier.

What we really need is a uSwitchvote.com, where you could tap in what you think about various issues and see how well each party matches your views. At the end of the exercise, taking everything into account, it would work out who you should vote for.

My builders have no truck with this woolly-liberal shillyshallying. They are violently anti-EU (too many Polish construction workers flooding the country, they say) and appear to object to any sort of taxation whatsoever.

Robert Kilroy Silk might be just their man. But whatever they vote tomorrow , they have already solved one problem. My windows are now so obscured by dirt and scaffolding that even if I had put up an election poster, nobody would have been able to see what colour it was, let alone read it.

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