Peter Rhodes on missing voters, a smoker's lament and why some folk prefer draughts to debt

Read today's column from Peter Rhodes.

Not worth a vote?
Not worth a vote?

The most worrying figure so far in the General Election campaign is that while hundreds of thousands of folk have rushed to get on the electoral roll, more than nine million people - that's 17 per cent of eligible voters - are still unlisted.

Some may be hiding from the authorities. Some may not yet have a permanent home. And some, living in rock-solid Labour or Tory seats, may think their vote isn't worth casting. Many years ago I met an MP who told me: "In my constituency if they put the right rosette on a gorilla it would get elected." When the MP died they didn't elect a gorilla. They elected his son.

A reader who gave up smoking 40 years ago admits "my mouth began to water" at a recent reference in this column to Gold Leaf cigarettes. I can believe that. In the smoky old days, nothing inspired brand-loyalty quite like fags. I smoked Golf Leaf and would sing their praises while pouring scorn on the rival mid-market brand, Embassy, even though I and every smoker I knew couldn't tell the difference.

Is anyone surprised Mothercare is calling in administrators? Not so long ago, childbirth and infancy were a chance to pass on old prams, buggies and baby clothes. And then hand-me-downs fell out of favour and everything suddenly had to be brand-new. The result is that raising a baby has become hugely expensive; the pram alone can set you back £1,000. And when people are shelling out such vast sums, they can be forgiven for shopping around. They may go to Mothercare to see what's on offer but then buy the same equipment online, saving a packet. When a store turns into a free look-around showroom for non-buyers, it's all over.

Under Labour's proposed Warm Homes for All scheme, hundreds of thousands of homes would get upgraded insulation, heat pumps, solar panels and other energy-saving gizmos. "Low income" households will qualify for a grant but "wealthier households" will get interest-free loans. So what happens next? If it's anything like the private-sector deal which begins with a phone call ("Hello, I'm the authorised energy efficient consultant for your area."), you'll already know. The package may save you about £100 a year on your electricity bill - but it will also land you with a £10,000 loan. And some of us would rather be cold than in debt, thanks.

The snag with government give-aways is that you always tend to find yourself on the wrong side of the line between "low-income" and "wealthy." The last time Labour embarked on Robin Hood politics I discovered I was considered rich. With every Budget the then Chancellor Gordon Brown took money off me and gave it to my mother-in-law. She thought he was a wonderful Chancellor.

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