General election 2015: 100 days to go

General election 2015 graphic featuring Westminster
Image caption There are 14 target seats in the east

The grids have been drawn up, the campaign is already under way. With the forthcoming election too close to call, for the next 100 days the parties will be throwing everything at trying to win.

This will be a carefully targeted battle; in many parts of the eastern region, there will be hardly any campaigning at all.

That's because much of the effort will be going into the 14 key marginal seats where just a handful of votes could decide who wins, and given how close the polls are, could make all the difference between who ends up running the country and who is in opposition.

There are target seats in every county across the east.

An Essex constituency that will be the focus of a lot of attention is Clacton, where UKIP swept to power in last year's by-election and which the Conservatives have vowed to win back.

If you live in any of the target seats you can expect to see dozens of posters and lots of big name visits.

And best make sure your doorbell is working, or depending on your point of view, isn't - because you are sure to have a lot of people coming to your door hoping to win your vote.

The parties are talking about fighting two campaigns: A 'ground war' which involves hundreds of activists knocking on doors and an 'air war' where the party leaders and senior colleagues will do battle in TV and radio studios.

"The parties see this long campaign as an advantage," said Prof Paul Whiteley of the University of Essex.

"They've got more time for the 'ground war'... to knock on doors and talk to people. And talking to people on the doorsteps is an effective way of putting on extra votes, probably more so than the 'air war'".

Image caption The region's doorbells will be ringing as the political ground war marches on

Party strategists seem to agree.

They have told us they see the ground war, away from the cameras, as being the most important part of this campaign and for Labour it is a compelling tactic to combat the Conservatives' ability to outspend it.

Leaders' visits

It is already clear the party leaders will stay out of the ground war as much as possible, preferring to deliver their message and meet selected voters in very carefully controlled conditions.

When the prime minister came to Ipswich and Norwich recently, he delivered a speech on the economy. A subject where he feels his party performs the strongest - in front of an audience which had been invited by local MPs.

The local media was allowed to ask him a couple of questions - no time for anything too challenging - and there were a couple of very visual photo opportunities of him walking around a factory and making jewellery for his daughter.

Ed Milband is doing something very similar. In the last few months he has held so-called 'public meetings' in Great Yarmouth, Corby and Stevenage.

At each one he delivered a speech in front of a hand picked and largely Labour supporting audience, taking questions in batches of three, which allowed him to dodge the more tricky ones. After a round of media interviews he went off to visit something photogenic.

Like the prime minister, he was accompanied by advisors who went ahead to make sure there weren't any embarrassing confrontations around the corner.

What matters to the voters

So what are they going to talk about? In this election there are some key differences on important local issues.

On the economy, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will point out that the eastern region now has the highest employment rate in the country.

They will point to the growth of hi-tech industries in places like Milton Keynes, Cambridge, Norwich and Ipswich as proof we are leading the country out of recession. Labour will question how strong the recovery really is and ask if those in work are really in secure jobs and being paid a proper wage.

Image caption Improved links from Norwich to London could help win votes

There will be lots of pledges from all three main parties about improving road and rail links.

The Conservatives belief the best way of improving lines like the main route between London and Norwich is by keeping them privatised. Labour will argue that giving the public sector a chance to take over failing lines - as happened with the east coast main line - is the best way forward, while the Green Party will argue for complete renationalisation.

Labour will stop any more free schools from being built (we already have 22 of them here in the east with nine more planned) while the Conservatives will continue with the policy.

And of course, there is also the debate around immigration which will play out strongly in many parts of Essex and the Fens, where some communities feel things have gone too far.

Both UKIP and the Greens are strong in the eastern region.

It isn't just their stance on their key issues of Europe and the environment that are winning them so much support, but a general disillusionment which many people feel towards the main three parties.

No one can predict how well these two will do; will they win seats or simply take votes away from other parties, changing the expected outcome in some areas?

With so many key Tory/Labour marginals here, the UKIP vote could prove critical in several seats, including Great Yarmouth and the Greens could play a significant role in some others, like Norwich South.

It's been four decades since there has been so much uncertainty surrounding the outcome of an election.

The next 100 days will be an intense fight for the hearts and minds of the voters in the east and even then the final outcome might not prove to be conclusive.

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