Norwich voters have their say

Mary HamiltonThousands of Norwich people turned out to vote today in the most tightly-contested General Election in a generation.Mary Hamilton

Thousands of Norwich people turned out to vote today in the most tightly-contested General Election in a generation.

Polling stations opened at 7am, with the electorate having until 10pm to cast their votes.

A string of eve-of-election opinion polls gave David Cameron's Conservatives a clear lead over Labour and the Liberal Democrats, but suggested that the Tories will not reach the level of support they need to claim an overall majority in the House of Commons.

And as voters began to cast their votes this morning, there was more genuine uncertainty about who would eventually emerge as Prime Minister than in any election since 1992 and a real expectation of a hung Parliament for the first time since 1974.

A steady trickle of early voters flowed into the polling station at the Maid's Head this morning after polls opened at 7am, with about 20 Norwich South voters through the doors before 8am.

Dr Annie Grant, Dean of Students at the University of East Anglia, voted Labour in support of Charles Clarke.

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She said: 'I think Charles Clarke is a good constituency MP, and the thought of having David Cameron in power makes my toes curl.

'This time I did have some thought about it as a lifelong Labour voter. I think they have done a very good job but a very bad job of promoting their achievements.

'I do disagree with their immigration policy especially the points system because of the effects it has on international students, but in the end I did vote for them.'

Her partner Graeme Barker, who voted Lib Dem, said: 'I am an eternal left wing voter and I've voted in a variety of elections for Labour or the Lib Dems, mostly whoever would stop the Tories getting in.

'I have a lot of time for Charles Clarke and I think in many ways he has done a good job but I do not forgive him for his collusion in the Iraq war.

'He was one of a succession of extremely right wing home secretaries who acted as though he was afraid of the Daily Mail.

'I think the sustained attack on human rights has been unforgivable and the Lib Dems have a much better record over the last few years.

'I have been going back and forth over who to vote for but a few days ago I made up my mind.'

Beatrice Leal, of nearby Wensum Street, dropped in to vote before going to catch a train to work.

The 26-year-old art history student said: 'I voted Green, because they are campaigning against tuition fees, but most of all because they are against cuts.

'They are the one party who are not about to take away all our public services.

'I had decided which way to vote some time ago - what's happened in the last few weeks hasn't changed my opinion.'

Green city councillor Peter Offord and Conservative party member Jake Smyth were also out early at the Maid's Head to speak to voters.

Mr Offord, 62, was a lifelong Labour voter before the 1997 election, when he became disillusioned with Labour and became involved in politics with the Green party.

He said: 'I think it's important to have a presence at the polls, and for the rest of the day we will be encouraging people to vote.

'I think this is a great opportunity for progressive politics. If people have the nerve to vote for what they believe in we could see real change.'

Mr Smyth, 18, is studying for A-levels in politics, law and history. He became involved in politics during the 2005 election and has been a Conservative party member for two years.

He said: 'I'm hoping to encourage Conservative voters because I believe we need a strong government.

'A hung parliament would not be good because as we have seen from the leaders' debates politicians argue a lot and we need a strong majority to get things done.'

Candidates of all parties in Norwich South were busy campaigning until the last possible moment to try and win over voters to their cause. Today was being spent visiting polling stations and making sure supporters vote.

The contest in Norwich South looks like a four-horse race and could be a very close finish with all sides believing they have the edge.

Labour's Charles Clarke is defending a majority of just over 3,000 and the eyes of the nation could be on events at St Andrews Hall in the early hours of tomorrow as the ballot papers are counted.

Mr Clarke spent yesterday door knocking in Tuckswood, meeting campaign staff and also responding to emails answering voters, questions, said he still remained confident. Earlier he took part in a BBC Radio Norfolk election debate and also managed to find time to have lunch with his wife at the Mad Moose.

'I feel very positive,' Mr Clarke said. 'I think a lot of people are waiting to make up their mind but all the evidence is that my vote is holding up and I don't think my opponents have been able to make the case that they are an alternative to Labour.'

Conservative candidate Antony Little was joined by Euro MP Geoffrey van Orden for the final stages of campaigning which also saw him canvassing in the Thorpe Hamlet area, Lakenham and Tuckswood.

'The level of activity and enthusiasm in this campaign is unlike anything I have seen before,' Mr Little said. 'The question is who is going to get their supporters out. I think this election will turn entirely on turnout.'

Green Candidate Adrian Ramsay spent the day canvassing and organising campaign staff ahead of today's poll.

'I'm confident we are the only party who has knocked on every door of the constituency and I'm very optimistic,' Mr Ramsay said. 'It's going to be very close, but we know that thousands of people are intending to vote Green, and based on our canvassing and our posters, it's clear we have got a fantastic chance.'

Lib Dem candidate Simon Wright was joined by Norman Lamb for the final stretch of his campaign which saw them leafleting in Eaton and stopping off for coffee at Waitrose.

'I'm knocking on doors until the last possible moment,' Mr Wright said. 'The feedback has been incredibly positive, but it will all come down to a few votes. It's going to be a long 36 hours ahead but we are determined.'

In Norwich North it looks like a straight fight between the Conservatives and Labour to win the seat, though the Lib Dems also claim they are making inroads.

Conservative candidate Chloe Smith was in Plumstead Road visiting homes and shops as part of her final day's campaigning.

'I was out at 8.30am and my aim has been to make sure I am available to people throughout the day, whether it's people heading out to work or young mums, or catching up with people at work,' she said. 'The really positive thing has been to have so much support making itself known.'

Miss Smith is said to be favourite to hold the seat she won in last year's by-election, but turnout was barely 45pc back then and the result will surely be much closer this time with much depending on whether Labour voters 'come home' to the party as Gordon Brown urged this week, turn to the Lib Dems, or stick with the Conservatives.

Labour's John Cook was out in Sprowston and Mile Cross yesterday as part of his final campaign push.

'I'm feeling good,' Mr Cook said. 'We've been putting out our eve-of-poll leaflet and we've been door knocking as a reminder to people to vote Labour,' Mr Cook said. 'I reckon I've knocked on close to 20,000 doors over the last four to five months which I think is pretty good. I've always felt it will be close, and based on the 2005 results this is a seat with a nominal Labour majority of 6,500, so it's quite winnable for us'

David Stephen, the Lib Dem candidate, was out canvassing in Crome and Sewell wards. He said: 'We've been getting a very warm response in the areas we have canvassed. It's been very positive.

'A lot of people are wavering and think they will vote for us. In the by-election a huge number of voters stayed away, so I don't think it can be said to be a Labour-Conservative competition. Some right-wing Tories are going UKIP, some Labour and Lib Dems are going for the Greens so there's a lot to be fought for.'

Nationally the final newspaper polls of the campaign all put Conservatives in the lead with support ranging between 35pc and 37pc. The other two parties were vying for second place, with Labour apparently edging slightly ahead on 28-29pc and the Liberal Democrats on 26-28pc.

On an even swing, the figures would make the Tories the largest party, with between 268 and 294 seats in the House of Commons, but leave them well short of the 326 MPs Mr Cameron needs to lead a majority administration.

The polls suggest Labour could emerge with around 248-274 MPs, with the Liberal Democrats holding the balance of power on 77-82 seats.

t Don't miss the Evening News tomorrow for a special late edition with the results from all the local constituencies.