Election 2015 in the east gets under way

Houses of Parliament at sunset, London Image copyright Thinkstock

We can learn a lot about the forthcoming election campaign here in the east by looking at what happened in Lowestoft last week.

At exactly the same time, both Transport Secretary, Patrick McCloughlin and the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Rachel Reeves, turned up for a spot of campaigning.

Mr McCloughlin opened a new road and took a boat across Lake Lothing to look at the site of a new river crossing. He also talked excitedly about the plans to improve the A47 and the rail line to London.

Ms Reeves met with council tenants who've been affected by the so-called bedroom tax. She described the reform to housing benefits as cruel and insensitive and promised that one of the first acts of a Labour government would be to scrap it.

What did we learn?

First of all, most of the action is going to take place in the marginal seats; the parties have limited resources these days so it's the seats with small majorities like Lowestoft, which is part of Waveney, that are highly prized.

There are 13 marginals in our region:

  • Waveney
  • Great Yarmouth
  • Ipswich
  • Norwich North
  • Norwich South
  • Cambridge
  • Peterborough
  • Harlow
  • Basildon
  • Stevenage
  • Bedford
  • Milton Keynes South
  • Northampton North

Secondly, the messages will be very different - the Conservatives will talk a lot about the economy and infrastructure.

They will point to the fall in unemployment across the east and the growth in new jobs as proof that things are improving. They will flag up their promises about improving important roads like the A47 and the A12 and putting money into local railway schemes which, they'll say, is only possible because of the economic recovery.

Labour will instead focus on the impact of austerity - on people who've been hit by welfare cuts or who are now on zero hours contracts. Labour will argue that most people are not feeling the recovery, austerity should be slowed down and the NHS protected.

Image caption The future of the NHS will be a big issue in the 2015 election

A third lesson can be learned from Lowestoft - as we dashed about the town trying to keep up with Mr McCloughlin and Ms Reeves we kept passing a purple taxi with Vote UKIP written on the side.

One of the reasons this election is so close to call in the marginals is because of the presence of a potentially strong third party which is UKIP in many seats here in the east and Greens in others.

It is very clear on the doorsteps that many people have had enough of main stream parties and many have not yet made up their minds. How this group of people ends up voting could have a major impact in our marginal seats.

Controlled campaign

And the fourth lesson - the big name visits are for the cameras not the voters.

During the couple of hours that they were in Lowestoft, Mr McCloughlin and Ms Reeves will only have met a handful of 'real people'.

Their visits were short, but came with plenty of picture opportunities to help the local media tell the story. Everyone they met had been hand picked.

The parties are terrified of an embarrassing confrontation, which in this day and age could go viral on social media within seconds.

This will be a carefully controlled campaign - if you want to argue with a politician, wait until the candidate comes to your door.

When it comes to issues here in the east, the economy and jobs will be high among people's concerns.

The prime minister recently promised a future Conservative government would create 500,000 jobs in the region and spend more than £4bn on infrastructure.

Labour has questioned the figure for jobs, but pledged to match the spending on infrastructure.

However, when it comes to one of the biggest questions in the east - that of improving rail services - both parties have different approaches.

The Conservatives are committed to keeping the trains in private hands while Labour favours a form of partial re-nationalisation.

With nearly all of our hospitals having struggled with their A&E departments this winter, ongoing problems, waiting times and our trusts facing debt - the NHS will also be a big issue.

So too will immigration, particularly along the coast and in the Fens.

And then there's house building, protecting the countryside and whether there's enough money to protect communities from flooding.

Lots for the people of the east to think about as this most unpredictable of election gets under way.

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