It is Birmingham’s most marginal constituency and is also seen as a national barometer for the General Election. Jane Tyler visits Edgbaston to find the political contest hotting up.
In May the biggest test at Edgbaston will not be on the cricket pitch but in the polling booth.
The constituency is Labour’s most vulnerable seat in Birmingham and number 39 on the Tories’ hit list.
Because of the kind of voters it contains, it is also regarded as a bellwether seat – one which indicates the mood of the nation.
When the political map is a sea of red, Edgbaston has a Labour MP; when Britain is true blue, so is Edgbaston.
It is therefore one Cameron’s team has to win if they have any chance of forming the next Government.
And with a slender 2,349 majority, that is entirely possible.
The incumbent MP, Gisela Stuart, is anxiously looking over her shoulder as the Conservative’s hopeful Councillor Deirdre Alden is snapping at her heels, hoping for a second bite at the cherry after narrowly missing out in 2005.
The General Election fight between the pair is already hotting up, with a bitter row over copyright and a smear campaign. Mrs Stuart got in hot water for using social networking site Twitter for suggesting Mrs Alden and her councillor husband and son may have claimed a £150,000 council allowance, which turned out to be false.
Ms Alden then fought back, suggesting Ms Stuart had used her picture in an election leaflet without obtaining copyright.
When Ms Stuart won Edgbaston in the Labour landslide of 1997 it was a shock, as it had been Conservative since 1945.
It is also one of the few British seats to have returned a woman MP in every election since 1945.
So, rather bizarrely, the Liberal Democrats have picked a male city councillor, Roger Harmer (Acocks Green), as their candidate.
Not only does he face an uphill battle because of his gender, politically he stands little chance of being elected as the Lib Dems have always finished third – their last Edgbaston MP was George Dixon in 1886.
On the face of it, Edgbaston looks like a walk in the park for the Tories.
The constituency is made up of the four wards – Quinton, Bartley Green, Edgbaston and Harborne – and all of its 12 councillors are Conservative.
It has parks aplenty, thriving shopping areas, the famous cricket ground, the King Edward’s schools, the University of Birmingham, and the new super hospital.
But it also has pockets of deprivation with council estates in Quinton’s Welsh House Farm and Bartley Green.
There is also a growing and spreading red light area on the Gillott and Rotton Park Road side of the Hagley Road and drug-dealing at night around Edgbaston Reservoir.
Another worry for David Cameron is that people vote differently in general elections than they do locally.
So the 57-year-old Alden is not taking anything for granted and campaigning as though her life depended on it.
She sits on the city council for the Edgbaston ward and lives in Harborne with her husband and fellow councillor John.
Coun Alden said: “On the doorstep I am picking up that many people were completely disgusted by last summer’s MPs’ expenses scandal.
“I have made it quite clear that, if elected, my main home will remain in Harborne.
“I will not be buying a second home at tax payers’ expense, nor will I be claiming extra money for food over and above my salary.”
As far as issues are concerned, Coun Alden said the NHS was very important with the new super hospital being built in the constituency.
The behaviour of the police locally is also a concern.
“I attend a lot of meetings and a familiar complaint is that the police either don’t respond, or are slow to respond, to low level crime and anti-social behaviour,” she said. I want to see police paper work reduced so that officers can spend more time out on the beat – dealing with the anti-social few who can make life so miserable for the law-abiding majority.”
The economy is also, according to Coun Alden, “in a dire state”.
“We must start paying back the deficit which Labour has run up,” she said.
“Certain things, such as the NHS, will be protected under the Conservatives, but there is huge Government waste where cuts could and should be made.”
Ms Stuart, aged 54, a divorced mother-of-two, has a home in her Edgbaston constituency and regards her seat as a “microcosm of the nation”.
She said: “The over-riding concern at the moment is the economy and jobs and that’s true across the constituency. Everyone knows someone who has been affected by the recession.”
Ms Stuart said the NHS was also a major concern to her constituents.
“The new hospital, which will open in June, can be seen from all four wards in the constituency,” she said. “People know that the NHS is now providing good timely care but we want better value for money and for our hospital to be an international centre of excellence.”
Education was also important to voters, she believes.
“Many of our primary schools are excellent. Our secondary schools need to be as good. Rebuilding the schools at Four Dwellings, Shenley Field and George Dixon is going to be very important as is getting Harborne Hill academy status with the extra funds that will bring to the school.”
Coun Harmer is 44, and lives with his partner and their three children in Northfield and represents the Acocks Green ward and works for Groundwork UK. The number one issue as far as I’m concerned is the economy and unemployment,” he said. “Birmingham has been particularly badly affected by the recession because of the high level of manufacturing, although Edgbaston is not quite so bad as other parts of the city.”
He said another concern for Edgbaston residents was low level crime such as anti social behaviour, vandalism and graffiti.
Being a man contesting a seat traditionally held by women does not faze Coun Harmer either. “While I’m in favour of a proper representation of women in Parliament, voters should choose the best candidate for the job,” he said.