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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 April, 2005, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
Candidates prepare to woo voters
By Chris Rogers
Political Editor, BBC South West

Would-be MPs could face tough questions from South West voters
The political parties in the South West are now off and running in the 2005 general election race.

For people voting in a region famous for pasties and cream teas, there are many political issues to be debated in halls, on hustings and on doorsteps.

Housing for local people, with affordable homes snapped up as holiday houses by people elsewhere in the UK, is almost certain to be raised.

Other topics will probably include water bills, pensioners and hunting.

Council tax

Devon and Cornwall are considered to be good counties for retired people and pensioners, but many say they are struggling having been faced with swingeing council tax bills.

A proportion of the aggrieved grey voters have staged high-profile demonstrations, with some appearing in court, vowing vociferously to go to jail rather than pay "excessive" increases.

Politicians and prospective candidates will be loath to ignore the concerns and opinions of the over-50s in the region, knowing they could possibly hold constituency results in the palms of their hands.

According to a recent Age Concern report, the over-65s are twice as likely to vote as the under-25s and normally remain loyal to the party they have always voted for.

In contrast, the swing-voters are more likely to be in the 45-to-69 age range.

Controversial ban

Some voters will no doubt also want to voice their concern and anger at water bills in the region, which are the highest in the country.

The water company claims the increases are necessary to improve sewerage, water pipes, beaches and bathing water quality, but voters may ask candidates why the region alone should pay for these when they are used by the tens of millions of visitors who come to the South West each year.

Another thorny problem candidates may have to contend with will be the ban on hunting with hounds.

The ban may already be in place, but in the South West, with its vast rural areas, there remains a residual anger which could surface during the campaign and ruffle a few political feathers.

Pensioners protesting in London
Some older people have vowed to withhold council tax payments

The only three-way marginal seat in Devon and Cornwall is Falmouth and Camborne, currently held by Labour's Candy Atherton. It is the party's only seat in Cornwall, which was won in 1997 from the Conservative Sebastian Coe.

The Tories would obviously like to regain that seat. Labour does not want to lose its toe-hold in Cornwall and the Lib Dems are the dominant party in the region, holding eight seats.

There is also likely to be some national interest focusing on a determined challenge in the region by the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which won two South West MEP seats in the 2004 Euro elections.