While Gordon Brown is yet to fire the starting gun*, many of the general election candidate runners and riders are already half way down the track. This has naturally started to fan speculation that a long, attritional campaign will serve only further to alienate politicans from the public rather than energise people to get out and vote. Even if the polls close in the coming weeks, it is entirely possible that the next government will win power with the suport of barely one fifth of the eligible electorate.
Yet public discontent with politicians should not conceal an appetite for political debate. Earlier this week I, along with the other main candidates in two Bournemouth seats (and Alderney/Branksome East), participated in a 'Question Time' type debate at the Bournemouth Hebrew Synagogue. The room was full and decidely not apathetic; the debate was frank.
Questions ranged widely, from tackling the problem of social care to the baleful rise of anti-semitism. But it was the thorny issue of expenses that provoked the most intense response. It is also the most frequent topic (although certainly not the only one) that emerges on doorsteps and in surveys. The change in personnel following the election will help but the problem is not, as still too many candidates seem to assume, going to end there. The deep suspicion of the political class remains palpable. This is going to take years, and much more than just a new expenses system, to fix.
* Memo to incoming government: It will be a massive improvement when fixed term parliaments remove this right.