Election 2015 England

General Election 2015: Greater Manchester's key constituencies

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionBBC North West political editor Arif Ansari's guide to the general election

It's always just after the clocks go forward that the streets around here fill up with two things - people in garish clothes training for the Great Manchester run, and political candidates chasing your vote.

If you don't like the latter, I'm afraid there's only bad news in store - there will be more leaflets and canvassing than ever during the next six weeks.

That's in large part due to the fact that there is a real spring in the step of the smaller parties, buoyed by a general disappointment in their larger, more-established, opponents.

Let's talk about UKIP first because it is they who are making this election so different across the North West.

In terms of winning seats, their main - and arguably only - Greater Manchester target appears to be Heywood and Middleton, where they ran Labour very close in last autumn's by-election.

But UKIP's impact will be felt much more widely - their claim last week that they are the "new party for the working class" will have sent shivers down some Labour spines.

Image caption George Osborne outlined his vision for building a "northern powerhouse" in his final budget earlier this month

The Tories, meanwhile, are just as worried about losing precious votes in the key marginals which will ultimately decide the result of the election nationally.

Chancellor George Osborne will surely be hoping his devolution deals, and the inclusion of Greater Manchester in the so-called Northern Powerhouse, will win over some hearts, minds and votes - but for decades this hasn't been a happy hunting ground for Conservatives.

The Greens are also talking up their chances, but it will be interesting to see from whom will their votes come if they do? And will Bez have as much of an impact on politics in Salford and Eccles as he did on the Manchester music scene with the Happy Mondays?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bez announced he would be standing for the Salford and Eccles seat during an anti-fracking camp in Barton Moss

Bez - more formally known as Mark Berry - will be fighting on an anti-fracking ticket in the seat being vacated by Labour's Hazel Blears, who has represented the area since 1997.

Political punditry can often be a mug's game but let's take a look at some of the other key battles across the region.

Labour is very confident of taking Manchester Withington back from the Liberal Democrats. John Leech may have voted against his government on the Bedroom Tax/ Spare Room Subsidy issue, but his party's U-turn on university tuition fees may not play so well in a constituency packed with students.

The Lib Dems could also be at risk in their more established seats of Hazel Grove and Cheadle, but their support is much more established in those seats.

Elsewhere, the Tories are after Bolton West - where Labour's Julie Hilling has a majority of just 92 - while Labour fancy their chances of regaining Bury North.

Conservative David Nuttall swept in there last time after the expenses scandal which ultimately saw the jailing of Labour incumbent David Chaytor.

During the next six weeks, BBC North West Online and BBC Radio Manchester will be giving you all the information you need to make an informed choice about the parties and their positions.

Three big events during the campaign will be one-hour live debates on Thursday evenings from mid-April, in Withington, Heywood and Bolton.

Image caption Research shows immigration, health and the economy are some of the campaign issues which matter most to you

The economy, immigration, and health - chosen as a result of audience research - will be the main themes.

Will the parties' manifestos come alive or quickly unravel?

Will there be any "Gillian Duffy" moments when the party leaders visit our area?

Nobody yet knows but it will be fascinating to watch it all unfold.

And to return to the Greater Manchester run - It's a 10k grind rather than a sprint - something we should all remember as this first week of the campaign begins to pick up pace.

You can follow my updates on Twitter and listen to my reports on BBC Radio Manchester throughout the campaign.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionArif Ansari's guide on how to register for your vote

More on this story