Why Nicky Morgan faces a new battle to defend her seat

John Hess
Political editor, East Midlands

image captionThe Conservatives, Labour, UKIP, the Liberal Democrats and Greens have all declared their candidates for Loughborough

In the battle of the marginals, it always helps to get the bigger picture and a sense of historical perspective. So let me suggest a visit to Cotes Bridge on the outskirts of Loughborough.

During the English Civil War in the 1640s, there was a pitched battle here between the Roundheads and the Cavaliers.

I know a little bit about it because the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has written a children's book which tells the story.

She hopes to retain her parliamentary seat in Loughborough, but with a Conservative majority of 3,700, it could be some fight.

So this was my first big election question for Nicky Morgan: is she a Roundhead or a Cavalier?

"I thought you might ask me that one," she told me.

"As a parliamentarian, I'm a great believer in the power of parliament and democracy."

Loughborough's vibrant market is the political battleground these days. This is a swing constituency where the democratic power and opinion of every voter makes a big difference.

Chatting to people, it became clear to me that there are two major local concerns here: housing and jobs.

image captionHousing is key to election campaigning in Loughborough - 3,200 homes have been earmarked for nearby farmland

On the edge of town is Garendon Park and high on the hill a Romanesque monument to love - its Temple of Venus.

It was built in the Hanoverian days when the Whigs and Tories slugged it out. But the surrounding farmland is now earmarked for the building of 3,200 homes, a prospect that alarms Labour's candidate Matthew O'Callaghan.

"It's going to have significant impact on this glorious landscape," he said.

"Yes, we need housing. But we're not building the right type of housing and we're putting them in the wrong place."

He claims the priority of executive homes on green fields doesn't make sense.

"We should prioritise building on brown field sites with smaller houses for young families and the infrastructure to support those communities," he added.

If the Education Secretary is to avoid becoming a high-profile casualty of this election, she's pinning her hopes on a reviving economy.

"When I was first elected in 2010, there was a real worry about people staying in their jobs and worries about redundancies." she told me.

"We don't see that anymore.

"There are many jobs being created and apprenticeships in the area. What I see is a lot of businesses being set up."

image captionLoughborough's large student population can have an effect on the outcome of elections

But could UKIP and its candidate Bill Piper be a threat to the Conservative vote? They came bottom of the poll five years ago.

Yet in last year's European Parliament elections, it beat the Conservatives in Loughborough. Bill Piper believes the UKIP issue then will work for them now.

"Open door immigration policy with all the eastern Europeans coming in is the problem," he said.

"They're doing jobs that often pay less than the minimum wages. It's pushing down wages which means people can't afford houses, whether in Loughborough or anywhere across the country. "

Loughborough is a university town and its 17,000 student population could be a factor in this election.

For the first time since the constituency was created in 1997, the Green Party is standing too.

'Lost the protest vote'

It's been campaigning for the local authority, Charnwood Borough Council, to pay a "living wage" of £7.85 an hour - slightly higher than the statutory minimum - to staff working for its contractors.

"That would help pump money into the local economy," said the Green Party candidate Matt Sisson, a communications officer at the university.

"People are fed up with austerity and people want to see a change. They are told all the time that there's recovery but they don't see that in the area around them."

I then tracked down the Liberal Democrat candidate Steve Coltman walking through Loughborough's university bedsit land.

Five years ago, many students responded to Nick Clegg's pledge to abolish university tuition fees. The party secured an 18% share in Loughborough and some claim the Lib Dem surge in Loughborough cost Labour's Andy Reed his seat.

"I think it's fair to say we've now lost the protest vote," admitted Mr Coltman.

"But we've come an awful long way and we've proved that we're good enough to govern. If we are judged on our record alone, then we will be judged well by the voters."

There will be no clashing of swords or the firing of musket shot in this campaign. Any hand-to-hand combat may be over snatching election leaflets.

But if there's a change of government after this election, that change starts in Loughborough.

Historical footnote: The Roundheads won the initial Battle of Cotes Bridge. Prince Rupert and his Cavaliers later took the town and the bridge. Loughborough was swing territory even then.

A full list of candidates standing in Loughborough will be published after the 16:00 deadline.