I spent a couple of hours this afternoon canvassing in one of the less Conservative wards of Norwich South with Antony Little, the Tory candidate, who also stood there in 2005. Norwich South is a constituency I know well, having been at university in Norwich in the early 1980s when we wrested it from Labour control at the 1983 election. It's a seat that has changed a lot, with several of the formerly Conservative voting wards undergoing a massive change in population. The LibDems became very strong here on the local council, but are now shadows of their former selves. Instead, they have allowed the Greens to become the official opposition on Norwich City Council. The Conservatives have gone from no seats on the Council to five in a very short time, and that is largely because of the campaigning talents of Antony Little.
Norwich South is the top LibDem target in Norfolk. Simon Wright is the LibDem candidate. He is a very talented campaigner and ran Norman Lamb's campaign against me last time in North Norfolk. However, a talented campaigner doesn't always make for a great candidate and the Greens in particular are keen to point out Mr Wright's failings in that regard. The Greens' own candidate, the very youthful looking Adrian Ramsay, is also the deputy leader of the party nationally.
And of course the three of them are up against the might of Labour's Charles Clarke. Clarke's demise is often predicted but has yet to come about. Since his sacking from the Cabinet, he has been far more active in the constituency, which up to that point had felt a little neglected.
Clarke counts his lucky stars that he has a very divided opposition, and it is that which may save him. For none of his three opponents has managed to pull away and assert themselves as his main challenger. Although the LibDems came second last time, it is difficult to see any evidence of much of a campaign so far. The Greens are making great noises about the fact that they could win, but they only got 3,100 votes and 7% of the vote. Delusion rules in Norwich Green Party, but I quite accept they will move into double figures this time around. The question is, where will their votes come from? If they come both from the LibDems and Labour it could be enough to let Antony Little slide through the middle. A vote of 12-13,000 votes could win this seat, and the Tories polled around that number in the nadir year for the Tories nationally on 1997.
Anecdotally, the canvassing session this afternoon proved to be quite positive for the Tories. We had several switchers from long term Labour voters and several others who said they couldn't vote Labour again while Gordon Brown remains as leader. Between us we only discovered 1 Green and 1 LibDem - although there were several Don't Knows who I always assume are LibDems.
I am not predicting a Tory win here, because I think the split opposition will mean Charles Clarke hangs on. But stranger things have happened. The one thing I do know is that not many candidates will have fought a better campaign on limited resources than Antony Little.