ELECTION 2001: `Blair Playing the Family Man Has Put Me Off' ; Last Year, We Canvassed Opinions from a West Midlands Cul-De-Sac Which Not Only Had a Famous Name but Represented a Cross-Section of Middle Britain. What Are Its Residents' Views Now?

By Whitaker, Raymond | The Independent (London, England), May 13, 2001 | Go to article overview
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ELECTION 2001: `Blair Playing the Family Man Has Put Me Off' ; Last Year, We Canvassed Opinions from a West Midlands Cul-De-Sac Which Not Only Had a Famous Name but Represented a Cross-Section of Middle Britain. What Are Its Residents' Views Now?


Whitaker, Raymond, The Independent (London, England)


Michelle Barrett has a special reason to hate elections: she lives at 10 Downing Street, Halesowen, in the West Midlands, and is fed up with television crews and reporters on her doorstep.

"I didn't think anything about it when we moved in 12 years ago, but then people made jokes every time I gave my address," she said. "When I rang up during a TV telethon, the woman at the other end said it wasn't funny to play pranks on a charity programme, and hung up." Half-acknowledging the coincidence, though, she has got the council to paint her front door black, just like the more famous one in London.

Ms Barrett, 32, was prepared to speak to The Independent on Sunday because we got to know the inhabitants of Downing Street over a period of several months last year, when we sought their opinions on everything from the Budget to the way Kevin Keegan was managing the England football team. A cul-de-sac of 35 houses on a council estate built in the 1930s, half the street is now owner-occupied, and the social range was illustrated by one man who said: "You'll need a translator for one or two of the neighbours, they're so Black Country."

Returning to the street to track views during the election, it soon became clear that the start of the campaign had barely registered. Some residents had new preoccupations since we last saw them: Roy Smith, a car worker, has moved out, and his wife Theresa is selling the three-bedroom house she still shares with their two sons, aged nine and 14, for just under pounds 70,000. Tim and Penny Marsden have had a daughter, Maria, who is nearly one. And for Tony Green, Friday was his last day as a vehicle engineer with an arm of GKN - he was made redundant after 17 years. Tomorrow, though, he starts a new job.

Mr Green, 51 - "I vote as I see fit on the day" - was one of the few to have compared the campaign launches on TV. Neither impressed him: "Tony Blair's put me off - all that playing the family man. The Tories couldn't even organise theirs properly, with one of their advertising trailers still having a poster for Tesco. Things like that do stick in the mind." It made him feel that politicians had less stature than in his youth: "Then you had some real statesmen. Now they're all like part-time actors."

Kath Homer, 50, is a diehard Labour supporter who calls William Hague "a washout". She responds to mild criticism of the Government by her friend from across the road, Lesley Kane, by saying: "We can't get everything right in the short time we've had. They had 18 years."

Like many voters, Mrs Homer, who runs her household and often cares for her grandchildren, makes little distinction between local and national issues.

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ELECTION 2001: `Blair Playing the Family Man Has Put Me Off' ; Last Year, We Canvassed Opinions from a West Midlands Cul-De-Sac Which Not Only Had a Famous Name but Represented a Cross-Section of Middle Britain. What Are Its Residents' Views Now?
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