General Election 2015: Economy will be key to predicting East Midlands results

John Hess
Political editor, East Midlands

image captionEven Mystic Meg could not predict the outcome of next year's general election

Just like football, the prediction game in politics isn't an exact science.

But one thing I can confidently predict is the state of the economy and what's left in the coffers will help shape any final result.

And, of course, I can safely predict the date of the next general election: Thursday 7 May.

No Mystic Meg powers are needed for that - remember, it was one of the coalition's early pieces of legislation to introduce a five-year fixed parliament to Britain.

So, George Osborne's final Budget before the election will be Wednesday 18 March and by the end of that month, the current parliament completes its term.

But in effect, the parties are already combat-ready for a long election campaign.

'Jobs, jobs, jobs'

"I'm hoping to be the next MP for Sherwood," Leonie Mathers was keen to impress on me.

She's Labour's candidate for the Sherwood constituency just north of Nottingham. It's the most marginal Conservative-held seat in the East Midlands.

We met in a community hall in her home town of Hucknall, where she was speaking to local residents. Policing and immigration were top of the agenda.

"If we don't win here in Sherwood, then we aren't going to have a Labour government after the next election," she said.

Just 215 votes separated the two main parties in the 2010 general election.

"There's a lot of pressure on, but I'm confident we can win here," she said.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionManufacturing has rediscovered its mojo in the East Midlands.

The current Conservative MP is Mark Spencer, a local farmer. When I met him, he showed little sign of nerves having to defend such a tiny parliamentary majority.

"This election will be all about jobs, jobs, jobs," he said with confidence.

"If people are in work and feel happy with themselves, creating the right economic conditions is frankly what governments should be doing and that's what we've done."

The East Midlands has traditionally been a two-horse race at general elections. But could UKIP make the same sort of impact it secured in last year's European Parliamentary elections?

"I think we've got a real good chance of taking some seats in the East Midlands," said UKIP's David Sprason, a Leicestershire county councillor and the party's candidate for the Bosworth seat.

'Real opportunities'

Some of the Conservative-held Lincolnshire seats, such as Boston and Skegness, look vulnerable to UKIP, which has polled very strongly there in recent years. But UKIP has its sights on other parts of the East Midlands.

Added David Sprason: "If we look at the 100 top seats, we've targeted two in Leicestershire and one in Derbyshire. So those three are real opportunities for us."

Also in 2015, will the East Midlands live up to its economic reputation as the UK's "bellwether"?

That was the description given by governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney in praising the region's dynamism.

Some of the biggest falls in unemployment last year were in the East Midlands, as manufacturing rediscovered its mojo. But there were hints in the last quarter of 2014 of a possible slow-down.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionKenneth Clarke predicts interest rates will go back to normal soon.

The Rushcliffe MP Kenneth Clarke, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, makes an unlikely Mystic Meg. Nevertheless I pressed him for his economic forecast.

"Before long we are going to see interest rates being taken back to normality," he told me

"There's still some more unemployment to get out of the system. But so long as inflation is this low, I don't think the governor will be rushing to increase interest rates."

The robustness of any economic revival will be one of those key election issues.

Many questions

Labour's Chris Leslie, the MP for Nottingham East and shadow chief secretary to the treasury, questions whether people are feeling the benefit of any economic upturn.

"If you're creating an economy that's based on low wages with zero hour contracts and part-time work, you end up with low morale, low skills and low productivity," he said.

"Ultimately, can we really sustain ourselves as a leading economic world power and leading region in those circumstances?"

That's one of the many questions for voters in this election year.

We may find out some of those answers after 7 May. By then, we may also know who's won the Premiership football title - and who's heading for the drop.