Trusting 'Aldi Mum' to Decide Our Future Would Be Catastrophic for Britain
Sep 11 2013
There, in aisle number five, trudges the woman every politico is courting. Aldi Mum. Every general election is won by swing voters, and every general election has its own emblematic swing voter. The ones that take off become generational totems. The 1980s had Thatcher’s special friend Essex Man: greedily hoovering up council houses and BT shares to become part of the shareholder-homeowner democracy. The 90s had Tony Blair’s two pals: Mondeo Man and Worcester Woman: each a family-lovin’ politics-indifferent nimby shaking off their working-class roots for the more anodyne middle-class frame of mind in which Tone specialised. By 2001, we had the uncomfortable spectre of Pebbledash People: balsamic and basil twats with posh driveways. And, at the last election, we were introduced to Motorway Man and Holby City Woman: possibly the dullest demographic superheroes in history.
Now, all hail Aldi Mum. She is middle class. But struggling. She is the first attempt at personifying Britain's "squeezed middle", and pretty soon all the big parties will want to know her name. This weekend, Ed Miliband’s shadow minister for stuff and other stuff, Caroline Flint, gave a speech at a conference in London, at which she outlined just who Aldi Mum is. She’s in her forties. Stable life so far. Striver. Upwardly mobile, once upon a time. The usual fodder for vote-switching. Now, though, she's facing the scary prospect of downward mobility. She and her husband work respectable public sector jobs, but neither have had pay rises for five years. All the while, the gas company, the train company and all the rest have been turning the garrotte-wheel on their finances.
As ever, the cashflow problem manifests itself in the family fridge. Whereas once they got their little luxuries from the bouji local delicatessen, nowadays, they’re reduced to doing a double-shop: buying their staples at a regular supermarket, then sweeping up a few extra treats – identified by Flint as "prosciutto and prosecco" – from the great German bucket shops, Aldi and Lidl. Though, for obvious reasons, she can’t be called Lidl Woman.
Depending on how she’s feeling, Aldi Mum will win someone the next election. She will stand there in aisle five, gazing vacantly at a brand of Cola she has never heard of in her entire life. And she will consider that nice Mr Cameron "clearing up New Labour's mess/steadying the ship", and she will consider that cute but odd Mr Miliband "looking out for hard-working families", and based on these stories they tell, she will declare one of them The Next Government.
Aldi Mum is the electoral future of our country. But unlike previous swing voters, she isn’t so much a new kind of person, being forged by increased affluence and technological change. She’s just the burnt-out husk of all the old people. She’s the Ghost of Demographic Christmas Future. She’s all Britain’s turkeys coming home to roost.
Once, Aldi Mum span the mortgage roulette wheel with the best of them. She Easyjetted to Tallin for mini-breaks on the back of all that equity accruing in her home. She bought gadgets from The Gadget Store every Christmas. Her politics were simple: better public services. And bigger tax cuts. Despite the fact that this equation is completely illogical, politicians humbly obliged her. How could they not? She was the median voter. If they were serious about getting elected at all, they needed to promise two perfectly contradictory things. Better public services and cheaper tax bills. The budget deficit would hide the difference.
You could say, therefore, that she’s the burnout from 30 years of get-rich-quick schemes. She’s Essex Man after the "gold-plated" FTSE-linked pension some Flash Harry signed him up for in the 90s went down the pan a decade later. She’s Mondeo Man, back looking through Autotrader for a second-hand Mondeo after the outsourcing he’d helped set-up eventually outsourced him, too. She’s Worcester Woman (key characteristics: lives somewhere like Worcester, doesn’t give a damn about politics), remembering back to before the Capital One card got maxed-out. She’s the bumfluff that remains when a country gets drunk on its own self-importance and forgets about the bills. She is a shitbag – well, no, she’s just a bit naive, a bit over-trusting – but she’s a fatal ditherer, and we should still by rights just kick her to death somewhere by the aisle where they sell all the random bits of camping equipment that no one in their right mind has ever used.
This would be the way to restore a semblance of sanity to our democracy. Instead, we’re going to let Aldi Mum – the next stage in the evolution of all those swing voters who cast the wrong vote, who were sold the wrong choices – choose the winner of the most important poll since the last one. How is this going to end? Will it end well, do you think?
Because of the wage clamp and QE-led inflation, in real terms the average voter is due to be £6,000 a year worse off in 2015 than they were in 2008. Basically, the cuddly illusion of how rich people thought they were in 2008 will have completely fallen away by 2015. By then, we will all have to fully come to terms with the fact that a "service economy" isn’t actually a "thing" in a world of things. No Prime Minister has ever had to go to the electorate, and tell them: “Look, I’m going to level with you. That whole idea that you could live a comfortable life was a mirage created by a one-off surge in Chinese trade and a fundamental mis-pricing of inter-bank lending rates. It’s not that the money’s gone. It’s just that the money didn’t exist. And then you spent it.”
But it doesn't feel like that to Aldi Mum. From the inside, it feels like robbery. Human beings are always loss-averse and a dip in status is a kick in the teeth to Aldi Mum. It’s everyone’s third-worst fear, behind public speaking and sharing a lift with Morrissey. A whole new generation of de-natured humans are about to grow up, exiled from their basic right to artisanal breads. Not since the war has their been a real crisis of bourgeois pride like this. In the past 15 years, we’ve opened up the middle classes as never before. And now, we’re having to tell some of those people that their ticket was a mistake. That they don’t actually have a seat on this train.
So, very simply, no one will tell them that. After three decades of the political system warping and folding beneath the foot of the swing voter, after the worst thing possible happened as a result of just that sort of blithe, party-political gainsaying, broken democracy will trudge onwards as if nothing ever happened. And this slightly over-dressed figure will continue to shuffle around strip-lit aisles, examining the provenance of cans of baked beans that cost the suspicious sum of 23p each, pausing only briefly to mutter the name of the next Prime Minister.