Labour sights set on key seats in the east

There's still two-and-half years to go but the battleground for the next General Election is already becoming clear and the eastern region will be at the heart of it.

Of Labour's 106 target seats, 13 are in the east, the largest number in any region after the West Midlands. Party activists are being told that Labour has to win most if not all of them if it wants the chance of forming the next government.

Top of the list is Norwich South, the country's sixth most marginal seat, where Labour needs a swing of just 0.3% to win. Waveney is next with 0.8%.

"These are the seats where we think we've got the best chance of winning," says Bob Blizzard, Labour's candidate in Waveney, who sits on the party's Southern Regions Taskforce.

"They're all seats we've won in recent elections and they're seats where we've got nearly all the candidates in place.

"We will still be campaigning in other parts of the region but those will be the seats that will get the most support and where most will be expected of the candidates."

Most on the constituencies on the target list were lost by Labour in 2010. The exceptions are Peterborough and Cambridge.

Peterborough has been in Conservative hands since 2005 and party strategists believe demographics and a strong UKIP vote will help them. The party came third in Cambridge last time but is hoping for a collapse in Liberal Democrat support at the next election.

Target seats qualify for extra funding and resources and will receive lots of high-profile visits. There will be a big effort in the local and European elections in those seats to prove that the investment is working.

Mr Blizzard is particularly pleased by this strategy of identifying and supporting the key seats so far in advance. As MP for Waveney he was one of the casualties of the 2010 Labour rout. He wrote a pamphlet that analysed his party's defeat in the east which, among other things, called for a more effective campaign strategy.

He also called for the party leadership to take the east more seriously: "The leadership of our party knows that we cannot become the next government unless we win seats in the east.

I think we are now coming up with a more exciting strategy and we'll see more effective and better resources campaigning in the east than we've seen in recent years."

Party strategists believe that Labour will need to win between eight and 10 seats in the east if it's to stand a chance of forming the next government.

Conservative MPs in the target seats claim to be unfazed by the Labour threat. They point to Labour's lack of policies, particularly on what they'd do differently to tackle the deficit.

Labour says those policies will become clearer as the election approaches. For now the strategy is to be seen out and about campaigning in the target seats.

For many Labour candidates the election campaign of 2015 has already begun.