MP Sir James Duddridge intends to quit as MP for Rochford and Southend East after 18 years, leaving an intriguing political landscape and the potential for a fierce battleground as the next general election approaches.

Clearly, the introduction of a new, unknown or unfamiliar candidate is major factor. Will the voters get a “local” candidate or will Tory central office have a hand in it? We will see, but there are candidates in Southend and Essex who are likely to throw their hat into the ring.

The candidate is one thing, but the Tories’ polling position is another.

If we flash back to 1997 with Tony Blair’s landslide victory, Rochford and Southend East came within a whisker of being snatched by Labour, which had been riding high in the polls before the election, in many ways just as Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour is now.

In that 1997 election, Sir Teddy Taylor – the respected, much-loved sitting MP – was challenged by Labour’s Nigel Smith, then a Southend councillor and notably the husband of Angela Smith, who won Basildon in that 1997 election.

Albeit on revised boundaries, Sir Teddy won the 1997 election, polling 22,683 votes, 48.7 per cent of the vote. Mr Smith polled 18,458 votes, a 39.7 per cent share of the vote after leading an exceptional campaign.

At the count, there were real concerns that Sir Teddy might lose. He didn’t. Many suggested this was because of his personal popularity in the backdrop of an election which saw the Tories lose 178 seats - the worst election defeat since the 1930s.

The question now is can Labour make an advancement in Rochford and Southend East?

If the current polling position persists in the run up to the general election, then it sets the right backdrop for Labour. Latest polling data suggests Labour will win.

The introduction of an untested Tory candidate is an additional factor, although an outstanding campaigner with a good track record may also benefit the Tory cause. While the circumstances – Tory polling and loss of a sitting Conservative MP – are a tantalising prospect for Labour, the attention should also turn to whether Sir Keir Starmer hits the right notes in the next year or so.

Tony Blair’s opposition frontbench before the landslide in 1997 were household names. Mo Mowlam, Clare Short, Robin Cook, Jack Straw, Gordon Brown to name a few. Even before the election, they were leading the debate.

Can the same be said for Sir Keir’s opposition front bench currently? His deputy Angela Rayner is clearly visible – but are the rest? Is Labour at the forefront of the debate?

These are questions which many will ask as we approach the general election, which must be called any time between now and December 17, 2024.

With pundits predicting Labour taking a 47.9 per cent share of the vote in Rochford and Southend East (with Tories lagging at 45 per cent), it’s going to be interesting!