So what did the voters think?

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It was a bright and breezy day in Hastings and Amber Rudd, the Conservative parliamentary candidate, was hoping to capitalise on her party's strong performance last week to win back this key marginal seat. The 44-year-old mother of two, a freelance headhunter and journalist, had gathered a war party of activists to get people to sign a petition calling for traffic-calming measures along the seafront.

The team seemed upbeat about its chances of winning a seat in a constituency where just 800 votes separate them from victory. But by yesterday afternoon it became academic as Gordon Brown pulled the plug on election speculation.

Before the news broke, people on the street seemed happy to stop and talk to Ms Rudd. "There is not the hostility towards us that there was, and people seem ready for a change," she said.

However, even card-carrying Conservative Party members were nervous about the prospect of a snap election. One told Ms Rudd the party would be in a better position to fight an election in a year or more. But a man in his seventies gave the team a boost, glancing at Ms Rudd and saying, with a mischievous look, he would definitely vote for her.

A sense of what they were up against in the incumbent MP, Michael Foster, became clear when they visited Paul Joy, the head of the Fishermen's Protection Society and a fierce anti-European. He looked apologetic as he told Amber that Mr Foster was an excellent MP who worked hard on behalf of his constituents, often in defiance of his party.

But Ms Rudd's confidence was undiminished as she urged, "Vote blue, think green, ditch Brown, choose Amber." After nearly a century of being true blue, apart from the blip of a decade of Labour, there was a sense in Hastings that her confidence was not unfounded.