General election 2017: Lancashire a key battleground

Theresa May
Image caption Theresa May spent May Day campaigning in West Lancashire

After spending time on the doorstep with both main party leaders over the past few weeks, it's quickly becoming apparent how politically important Lancashire is at the moment.

In a sign of how ambitious the Tories are being on the run up to the general election, Theresa May spent May Day campaigning in West Lancashire - a seat which has been staunchly Labour for the past three decades.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn launched Labour's plan for free school meals for all primary-age children at a community centre in Leyland - just a couple of weeks after his previous visit to Lancashire.

And these are not anomalies.

We have seen a steady stream of senior political figures venturing up the west coast mainline to visit the red rose county in the four weeks since the prime minister made her surprise announcement.

The local parties have been hurriedly trying to find candidates to stand in all 16 of Lancashire's constituencies.

'Always independent'

In a lot of cases, voters are seeing the return of some familiar faces.

Take Burnley for example. The town's former Liberal Democrat MP Gordon Birtwistle is hoping he can reclaim his former seat from Labour's Julie Cooper. Out on the doorstep though, it's interesting to note there's no sign of the Lib Dem brand on his rosettes.

It's a theme which pops up across the county. Chorley's Lindsay Hoyle has huge billboards throughout the constituency which make little or no mention of the Labour party.

Image caption Tom Watson was campaigning with Labour's Graham Jones at Accrington market in Hyndburn

When challenged by his Conservative opponent Caroline Moon, he said: "I've always been independent, I don't take instruction from anybody".

One of the big issues, both here and in the neighbouring constituency of South Ribble, is the closure and subsequent partial reopening of the local A&E.

It's such a big issue that former Labour councillor Mark Jarnell is standing in South Ribble on behalf of the National Health Action Party.

Fight over fracking

And 10 miles down the road in Blackburn, another single-issue candidate has come to the fore.

Duncan Miller says there is 'no single bigger issue' than reforming Blackburn Rovers Football Club. If he can prise the seat from Labour's clutches, he wants to see new owners at Ewood Park.

Elsewhere, one word is continuing to dominate the political agenda on the Fylde - fracking. The process of drilling down into the earth to extract shale gas has caused controversy for years.

Tina Rothery, a high-profile anti-fracking campaigner - and member of the now-famous 'Frack Free Nanas' - is standing in Fylde for the Green Party and say she is hoping to topple the large Tory majority of over 13,000.

In the neighbouring constituency of Blackpool South, the numbers are much more marginal.

Labour's Gordon Marsden has been the MP here for 20 years but only has a majority of 2,500. He faces tough competition not only from the Conservatives but also from UKIP, who won almost one-fifth of the vote here two years ago.

But throughout Lancashire, things do not come closer than they do in Lancaster & Fleetwood, the constituency formed in 2010.

Labour's Cat Smith - a long-term supporter and close friend of Jeremy Corbyn - is defending the county's smallest majority of just over 1,000. The Tories have chosen former MP Eric Ollerenshaw to fight this battle - a sure sign of how seriously they are taking things.

Speaking to voters across the county, there is not just one issue or concern which will influence what happens on 8 June.

The feeling I get from people across Lancashire is that this election will be complicated and unpredictable and I'm positive we're in for one or two big surprises over the coming days.

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