Election 2015 England

General Election 2015: Austerity in the Chancellor's patch?

Knutsford's McLaren showroom.
Image caption Knutsford is the only town outside London to host both McLaren and Tesla showrooms

If you desperately need a sports car, have a six-figure sum burning a hole in your pocket and don't want to walk too far between rival showrooms - Knutsford is certainly the place for you.

This Cheshire town of 13,000 people in the middle of the Tatton constituency boasts one of the UK's seven Tesla dealerships. Within 30 yards you can also find a McLaren showroom - there are only five in this country.

It's also a very safe Tory territory.

Chancellor George Osborne has increased his majority here each year since he succeeded Martin Bell, who held the seat as an independent MP from 1997 to 2001 after beating Conservative incumbent Neil Hamilton on an anti-corruption ticket.

Barring anything as sensational as the sequence of events which led to Mr Hamilton's loss in 1997, the Conservatives are confident Mr Osborne will successfully defend what is a handsome majority.

Image caption George Osborne's name has been on the Conservative office in Knutsford since 2001

Graceful town centre roads in Knutsford like King Street and Princess Street are not full of boarded-up shops.

And if you ask people perusing them, many will tell you they've not felt the squeeze in the economy or the bite of council cuts at all.

"Things are prospering along alright," according to Paul, a retired barrister I spoke to.

"There's no industry round here that's likely to have suffered significantly, so I suppose other places would be worse off."

Chris owns his own joinery business. Despite the downturn hitting the construction industry hard, he told me: "I've not felt any downturn. If anything it's getting better - no issues at all really."

Seven-figure house prices are a very common sight in the estate agents' windows here, in contrast to most of the rest of the North West.

This is the western tip of the so-called Golden Triangle of millionaire mansions and Range Rovers.

'Hidden poverty'

It may seem to the casual visitor that Knutsford and its people have been impervious to the economic downturn and the coalition government's welfare reforms, but elsewhere in Tatton there is certainly evidence many are struggling.

In Wilmslow a church-run project called Food Friend delivers free meals to those in financial hardship. Its website says: "Although on the surface Wilmslow and the surrounding area is an affluent one there is still hidden poverty."

And back in Knutsford, the Longridge estate was built in the 1960s to house families from inner city Manchester.

Shirley has mobility problems and receives disability benefits. She has lost a portion of her housing benefit because she's deemed to have too many bedrooms.

She said: "What you do get in the benefits just about covers your bills, if you're lucky, and then you've got to find money to eat with."

She told me the impression people have of her town just isn't accurate: "People seem to think it's a place where everybody is well off and has got plenty of money. It's not always the case".

Image caption Longridge is a more deprived area of the Chancellor's constituency

But, even in this more deprived part of town, there are signs of hope for the future.

Amanda and her husband have both been training as nurses whilst bringing up two young children.

Despite struggling with the cost of childcare whilst earning the same as most students, Amanda said things have been improving over the last few years.

"I think quite a lot has been done across the country. I think things have been heading in quite a positive direction," she told me.

The shopkeepers in Knutsford town centre present a mixed picture too.

Sarah manages a ladies' fashion shop on King Street, and said economic problems have hit her customers.

"Whilst there are some very wealthy people here it's definitely not immune," she said.

Across the street Caroline runs the Age UK charity clothes shop, where trade has significantly increased over the last financial year.

She said: "The market in charity shops has changed, it's become more acceptable" - meaning her increased takings don't necessarily mean people here can't afford to shop anywhere else.

While there is plenty of money in Tatton, not everybody has it of course.

With unemployment here well below the regional average, and average wages well above, those who say they are struggling seem more than outweighed by those who aren't.

Just don't let the sports car showrooms fool you!

The following candidates (in alphabetical order) are standing in the Tatton constituency: Stuart Hutton (UKIP); George Osborne (Conservative); David Pinto-Duschinsky (Labour); Tina Rothery (Green); Gareth Wilson (Liberal Democrat)

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