MOST observers seem to agree that this general election is more exciting than most: A combination of global recession, the Government’s massive debts, the faltering starts by Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Tory leader David Cameron, and the surprisingly good impression by Liberal/Democrat leader Nick Clegg have all combined to give the hustings impetus.
The national excitement is reflected here in Westmorland and Lonsdale which has the added dimension of it being a tight marginal won, just, by the Lib/Dem Tim Farron from the Conservatives back in 2005.
Inevitably the BBC North West Tonight team decided to feature the constituency this week and decided they needed an “independent observer”. Less inevitably, they chose me.
They had wanted to explore the Nick Clegg factor, only to find that what people in the constituency wanted to talk about was the Tim Farron factor.
I managed to say that in all elections the best the local constituency party hopes for is that the national leaders and central offices don’t muck up their chances. In this case Nick Clegg has done the reverse for Mr Farron.
He has made an impression as a likeable, energetic and very effective local MP. The Tories, however, have found an equally likeable, energetic and effective candidate in Gareth McKeever.
The UKIP and Labour candidates, by contrast, stand less than no chance. Embarrassingly I forgot their names on camera (John Mander and Jonathan Todd, respectively). But I suppose my loss of memory reflected the fact that this really is a two-horse race.
All four runners were at a lunch question time organised by the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce at The Riverside Hotel in Kendal today.
Hotel owner Jonathan Denby made the most insightful contribution, pointing out to UKIP’s Mr Mander that in 2005 his party polled more votes than the margin of Mr Farron’s win. So, in effect, they had handed the seat to the Liberal Democrats.
In view of the Lib/Dems pro-Europe stance, wouldn’t the best tactic be for him to withdraw and support Mr McKeever? Mr Mander, who made a poor impression generally, was completely flummoxed by this.
The other outsider, Mr Todd, and the two main men performed better, although Mr McKeever made the mistake of attacking the spending of public money on the Kirkgate entrance to Kendal, especially as the main protagonist, formidable businesswoman Mandy Dixon, was in the audience.
The debate lurched between Europe, the Economy (especially the impact of a 1% increase in National Insurance contributions), Immigration, Crime, Education and Pensions, to the more prosaic New Road free car park in Kendal.
But the debate as always in Westmorland & Lonsdale boils down to whether a hung Parliament, facilitated by a victory for Mr Farron, would make decisive Government impossible, or whether it was better for a rural constituency to vote for Mr McKeever to help ensure a Conservative government committed to change.
A photo-finish is ensured.