UK Politics

Election 2015: Why Dudley? Well why not...

Dudley Castle Image copyright Dudley Council

BBC Radio 4 World at One's Shaun Ley is going to be based in Dudley during the election campaign. As he arrives ahead of the Budget he sets the scene for his reporting to come.

"Why Dudley?" they asked, as I packed my case. To which the answer could be, "well, why not?"

There are plenty of reasons to visit a town that sees itself as the capital of the Black Country in the West Midlands.

As its Wikipedia entry points out, there's the zoo, the castle, and the opportunity to take a selfie outside the buildings immortalised by Led Zeppelin on the cover of one of their albums.

There's also the country's first urban nature reserve, the Black Country Living Museum recreating the world's first industrial landscape, and the chance to walk in the childhood footsteps of Lenny Henry.

All good, but it's the Budget and the general election campaign which bring me here because, as Peter Kellner, president of the pollster YouGov, observed in The Times this week, "the Midlands provide the fulcrum for British politics… for half a century, whichever party has won the Midlands has governed Britain".

For Conservatives and Labour alike, this town illustrates the battle to come.

UKIP challenge

The two constituencies here, Dudley North and Dudley South, were firmly in Labour's hands during the Blair years. Dudley South, the more suburban of the seats, was won by David Cameron's party in 2010.

Its failure to take North by only a few hundred votes is testimony to how the Tories fell short and why Mr Cameron was forced to form a coalition government instead.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption UKIP is pushing hard in both Dudley constituencies

Labour's national recovery ought to mean the party can "bank" Dudley North and focus its energy on winning seats elsewhere in the region. But 2015 is different from 2010. The rise of UKIP and other smaller parties has unsettled the big parties.

Nor are the Conservatives relaxed about their prospects of holding Dudley South. Chris Kelly, their candidate in 2010, secured a majority of almost 4,000 over Labour.

He's not seeking re-election, and the combination of a new candidate and the potential of UKIP as a spoiler means party headquarters is having to provide more support it had originally thought unnecessary.

Lynton Crosby, the Australian expert imported to run the Conservative campaign, has a 40:40 strategy - 40 seats the party is aggressively targeting to secure a parliamentary majority; another forty marginals it must hold on to at the same time.

I think there's a good chance that both the Dudley constituencies feature somewhere on those lists.

So on Budget Day, I'll be getting reaction from people in Dudley to this last act of this coalition government.

Then, from Monday 30 March, as campaigning begins in earnest, I'll be trying to answer the questions people here ask me, in the hope that they'll be of interest to you, too.

Martha Kearney and Shaun Ley present budget coverage on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday between 12pm and 2pm

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