Annabelle Dickson, Political Editor
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
This region will be key to the fight for the keys to Number 10 and this time next year the national spotlight will firmly be on the East, Political editor Annabelle Dickson looks at what to expect and assesses the race for power in the marginals as the candidates and incumbents edge nearer to the finish line.
The fight for Norwich North is between two feisty females who have been working hard on the campaign trail long before the final furlong.
Both Tory MP Chloe Smith and Labour’s Jessica Asato, who is trying to unseat her, believe their national parties are winning the argument.
But on the ground the campaigning for local causes has hit fever pitch.
Ms Smith, who won the seat in a by-election after long serving Labour MP Ian Gibson stepped down over the expenses scandal, and then again in 2010, said she believed voters were appreciating her results in campaigns such as Norwich for Jobs and Norwich in 90 rail campaign.
But Ms Asato, who was selected to fight the seat in September 2012, has been vocal in her own campaigns on issues such as the closure of the fire station and the living wage,.
She said they were issues resonating with voters.
“It is not that easy. You don’t have the elected authority.
“But the way we have seen the campaigning is to try and articulate what ordinary people, who are looking for an alternative to the coalition, are saying to us. That has been my ambition.”
Ms Asato admits it is going to be a “tough contest”, but said she was encouraged by local election results which if reflected in a national election poll would put her ahead of the Tory with a small majority.
When is the big day?
The fixed term parliament has made it an unusual campaign, with MPs and candidates knowing that the election date will be May 7 next year in advance.
The have been no candidates on tenterhooks waiting for David Cameron to call a surprise election.
UKIP’s own polling has put Great Yarmouth as one of its top chances for a seat in Westminster in 2015.
It’s candidate Matthew Smith was selected by the anti-EU party to stand in the seaside town early on.
He is currently facing charges of electoral malpractice.
The party however remains upbeat – the party’s East of England spokesman Stuart Gulleford claims its prospects for the 2015 General Election have never been brighter, with interest in the party at fever pitch.
“The opinion polls continue to run in our favour and point towards a spectacular result in the European and local elections. We can build upon this excellent platform in 2015 with interest in seats in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, where we are particularly strong,” he said.
Labour’s candidate Lara Norris said she believed UKIP’s success was down to the “anti politics thing”. “Politics has become a bit of a dirty word,” she said.
The candidate said that she wanted people to judge her by her actions rather than her words, and was working hard to organise community events on the ground. “It is about starting to put the foundations down to have something a bit better and a bit more long term than what you might have had if you only fought the campaign in the last few months before an election,” she said.
But the bookies still favour Conservative MP Brandon Lewis to hold the seat.
Ms Norris said: “I meet a few and they tend to be the real dyed in the wool, we have always voted Tory and we always will. But people will always and have always voted Conservative.
“They are voting Conservative and not for Brandon Lewis.”
But Brandon Lewis said he believed that measures such as the enterprise zone in Great Yarmouth and
investment in flood defences would work in his favour.
Who looks likely to be prime minister?
The polls put Ed Miliband ahead, but much can change in the course of the year and his lead is not big.
What are the big events in the next year?
There is still a Queen’s Speech. The Scottish referendum will dominate September.
If the Scottish vote ‘Yes’ for independence it could be a major blow for prime minister David Cameron.
There is also a mini budget in the autumn and a main budget next March to come. Expect some big giveaways. Watch out particularly for news on the A47 in the Autumn Statement.
Over the border in Suffolk Labour’s Bob Blizzard is on a mission to win back his Waveney seat and he claims to be winning support from Tories and Lib Dems and even non-voters in his fight.
The former MP, who was defeated in 2010 by Tory Peter Aldous, said he felt the response on the doorstep was much stronger than it had been in 2010.
The former Waveney district councillor has been vocal on local issues such as his opposition to the closure of Blundeston Prison, but also believes that wider issues are bringing voters back to Labour.
He said that particularly in areas of social housing he was winning support from people who had not voted in the last election who, he said, were “really feeling under the cosh”.
Sitting MP Peter Aldous, who is hovering on a wafer thin majority, said he was not taking anything for granted in his fight to hold the Suffolk marginal.
“We are pointing in the right direction, but I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge,” he said.
“I feel that we are getting a fair hearing, but I do not take anything for granted and we still have a lot of work to do to get the message across and for me to take things back to government and the Conservative Party.”
He said the main issues on the doorstep were the economy, jobs and the transport system.
But said that he was being careful not to over promise.
“I fully understand that a lot of people been here before and there had been a lot of promises made over the years.”
Will there be television debates again?
It looks like there will be, but exactly who will be involved is still up in the air.
The Conservatives have said that “all options” are on the table. It is suggested that there could be three different debates. One for a “choice of prime minister” – between David Cameron and Ed Miliband.
A second adding Nick Clegg to the line-up and a five-way debate also including UKIP’s Mr Farage and Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party.
Will there be any surprises?
As with any election campaign, expect gaffes and shocks.
No doubt politicians will be extra careful with their microphones after former prime minister Gordon Brown was left red-faced after being heckled about his views on immigration, calling the woman who had spoken to him “just a sort of bigoted woman.”
How will UKIP and the Greens do?
The two fringe parties are expected to do well in the European and local elections next month, but past elections have shown that in a general election support is not so strong. Could this year be different?