A GREAT “known unknown” of the coming election in Britain is the extent to which people who could normally be counted on to vote are this year so turned-off by the state of politics that they will just not bother to go the polling station -- or, more confusingly, will deliberately give their vote to one of the fringe parties in protest. There is a case to be made for a box marked “none of the above” on the ballot paper. All that the opinion polls tell us is how those who intend to vote say they will decide between the three main parties; the “don't know” category is not always covered and in any case does not distinguish between uncertainty and apathy.

The parties commission much more detailed polling than the broad results that are published in the newspapers. They probably know what effect the MPs expenses and allowances scandal has had on voters in constituencies where the sitting MP is seeking re-election. Will there be an inclination to punish those MPs who have been criticised for abusing the system or will there be a “curse on all their houses” effect? Yesterday we learnt that MPs are to get an automatic 1.5 per cent increase in their basic salaries next year following a recommendation by the Senior Salaries Review Board. That won't help with those facing a wages freeze or unemployment. Wouldn't it be wise to defer it until better times?