It is widely expected that Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be visiting the Queen on Tuesday to ask for the dissolution of Parliament in order to call a General Election on May 6th.
However for the Candidates contesting the Eastleigh constituency this will be just a formality. The Bank Holiday Weekend has seen all parties out on the doorstep and a host of billboards have suddenly blossomed in front gardens throughout the borough, mingling with spring flowers.
Internet betting giant Betfair currently have sitting Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne as the ‘odds on’ favourite to retain his seat despite a narrow 500 vote margin over the Conservatives last time out.
Appearing on the BBC ‘Politics Show’ last week, he appeared confident while maintaining that his high national profile as a shadow minister and his reputation as hard working constituency MP would see him through.
In Eastleigh, Chris Huhne also has the full support of a majority Lib Dem council and the backing of an efficient and well funded local party machine – described as ‘ruthless’ in the Financial Times recently.
Looking to close the gap for the Conservatives is election first timer Maria Hutchings. A working Mum with a background in marketing, she shot to fame by publically challenging Tony Blair on national TV and then followed this up with some intemperate ‘off the cuff’ comments about immigrants which were widely reported at the time.
Since coming to Eastleigh two years ago she has immersed herself in local projects and is well known in the community.
Eastleigh is number 11 on the Conservative target seat ‘hit list’ and the Party has sent a number of well known front benchers to support her campaign.
During one such visit last week, Party Chairman Eric Pickles remarked that it was imperative for the conservatives take seats like Eastleigh in order to stand any chance of forming a government.
As a key marginal the local Conservative party qualifies for help from Lord Ashcroft’s controversial fighting fund – however, although he previously donated £25, 000 in 2005 -party workers say they have as yet to receive any extra help from him this time .
With the two rivals unable to attack the other over their recent record in government it seems the campaign is destined to focus largely on local issues.
The New Labour candidate, Leo Barraclough, is also a debutante at this level having previously contested a Council seat in his home town of Brighton – where he lost to the Greens.
Although the possibility of a win here for New Labour is discounted by the bookies (he is an outside 50/1 shot) there was a considerable amount of support for Labour in the previous contest and so the freelance journalist and former London Editor of Variety magazine will be looking to salvage as many of the 10,000 votes that were cast for Labour as he can.
He has had relatively little time to prepare as he is a last minute replacement for Dan Clarke, a popular West End Parish Councillor and the previous PPC who had a well publicised defection to the Lib Dems last year.
Determined to throw a spanner in the works is the UKIP candidate Ray Finch, a Havant based engineer, scouser and compulsive blogger who was once described on the Daily Telegraph website as having a head ‘shaped like a potato’.
Instead of targeting the sitting MP or the Labour candidate, UKIP in Eastleigh are likely to concentrate on sapping the key Tory vote instead. In fact Local UKIP activists claim it was a minority of disgruntled Tory voters swinging to UKIP that handed to the seat to the Lib Dems in 2005.
Widely expressed dissatisfaction among the Tory faithful with party leader David Cameron over his flip flop on the Lisbon Treaty referendum (a campaign which Maria Hutchings was closely identified with) gives local UKippers cause to believe they can pull the same stunt off again.
Ray Finch who has previously stood as a candidate in the European Elections has campaigned on a number of local issues and believes he can save UKIP their deposit this time round.
One person who could frustrate this goal is the English Democrat candidate Malcolm Moore.
The English Democrats started as a UKIP splinter party and their similarities could lead to a split in the nationalist vote in Eastleigh.
While UKIP’s Ray Finch describes himself as ‘Not labour, not Tory but British’. Malcolm Moore describes himself as ‘Not Left, not Right but English.’
Both parties claim to follow a non racist and non homophobic agenda and call for withdrawal from the EU. However the English Democrats favour a devolved Parliament for England while UKIP are still firmly High Tory Unionists.
As well as nicking votes from UKIP the English Democrats could also attract misplaced lib Dem votes due to the ‘Huggett factor.’
In 1994 independent candidate Richard Huggett polled 10,000 votes in Plymouth while standing as a ‘Literal Democrat’.
Although in this case, the similarity in name is confined solely to the term ‘Democrat’ it is quite possible that some Lib Dem votes could go astray, there is evidence to suggest this has already happened in other elections – not at all good news for a party defending such a narrow majority.
Although even the most optimistic Labour supporter would concede that Eastleigh is a tight two horse race between the Tories and the Lib Dems, the potential for one of the minority parties to knobble either of the front runners should not be underestimated.