Hot air beside the seaside

Election views - Devon

''I was inspired into politics by Tony Blair; I had never seen a politician like him. On Iraq, I have nothing but admiration. He put his manhood under the chopper, knowing there would be nothing political in it for him - purely for moral reasons."

Crikey, I didn't realise there was anyone left in the Labour Party - apart from Ruth Kelly, perhaps - who was that on-message. It must be youthful idealism: James Court, recently selected as Labour's parliamentary candidate in my constituency of East Devon, is only 21. He thinks he makes him the youngest candidate in British history. He seems a nice chap on the phone. I haven't met him and, to be honest, I am not sure how many people will. For one thing, he is mostly in London, studying politics at the University of Westminster; for another, Labour tends not to campaign much in East Devon, a "safe" Tory seat, preferring to lend support to sitting Labour MPs - in this case, Ben Bradshaw, the MP in Exeter.

It is perfectly sensible for the Labour Party not to waste resources on an "un-winnable" seat (records show Labour in third place to the Tories and Liberals since 1966); but it is tough on people who want to vote Labour in East Devon to have a virtual candidate. And, damagingly for Labour's long-term future, you start to look more carefully at the alternatives.

So, who else is there to do battle with my sitting MP, Hugo Swire, a rather dashing man, perfectly suited to the constituency, which has the third-highest proportion of over-65s in Britain? Eton and Sandhurst; former director of Sotheby's who took over from Boris Johnson as shadow minister for the arts; a member of the National Farmers' Union and the Countryside Alliance: how could anyone object?

By the end of the first week of campaigning, only the Liberal Democrats and the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) had put forward candidates. Out canvassing, both had their fans. On a neat council estate in Axminster, the Lib Dem hopeful, Tim Dumper (in personnel and training for many years, including a stint in Kiribati in the central Pacific), and the town's Lib Dem mayor are watched closely by a fierce-looking, clipboard-toting colleague; there is a lot of support for the Liberals and this is a typically professional, local operation. With Dumper, you feel safe: if anyone is going to beat the Tories, it'll be the yellow rosettes.

In Seaton, a little seaside town, Ukip is out in force, resplendent under huge purple umbrellas emblazoned with gold pound signs. "It's the only coverage we're getting," quipped one of the campaigners, referring to what he sees as the lack of airtime Ukip is getting on television.

Colin McNamee, in engineering sales and marketing, is resplendent in a Martin Bell-style white suit. The minute I met him, a helmeted Securicor man jumped out of his van, shook his hand, and said: "I wasn't in the British army for 27 years to see Britain given away." McNamee beams.

For all that, to be honest, there is a distinct lack of buzz. There is a smattering of Conservative posters pinned to trees and some huge Ukip hoardings in front gardens. I haven't seen a single Labour or Lib Dem placard yet. And the election hardly features in the local press. You would think that a real live election would be a godsend to country editors with nothing to report other than jumble sales, but you would be wrong. Says Mary Evans, editor of the Exmouth Journal: "If any of the candidates said anything relevant to my readers, we might cover it."