Bellwether British town wants change at election, but has doubts on delivery

By Hannah Ellison and Ben Makori

WATFORD, England (Reuters) - In a large commuter town north of London that has backed the winning party at every election for 50 years, disheartened voters are keen for Britain's July 4 election to bring change, but unsure who - if anyone - can deliver it.

Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and opposition Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer kicked off their election campaigns on Thursday, each arguing that only they can snap the country out of its economic and political malaise.

In a series of interviews with the public in the town of Watford, conducted less than 24 hours after Sunak called the vote, there were few arguments about the malaise, but little enthusiasm that an election would deliver the remedy.

"I'm not sure either party are going to provide what people are asking for," said Vicky Aitchison, a 54-year-old training manager who also runs a community group for market traders.

"Sadly what we're seeing today is an NHS (National Health Service) that is struggling, we've got policing that's being reduced, we've got schools being managed differently, local councils that are in debt are going into administration, and you've got the general public's cost of living increasing."

Or, as 80-year-old Susan Ainsley put it: "They're all as bad as one another. I'm just a bit disillusioned to be honest ... We seem to be in a bit of a rut with everything."

Opinion polls support the view that change is on the way. After 14 years of Conservative-led governments, Starmer's Labour Party are around 20 percentage points ahead and, as things stand, would win enough seats to form the next government.

Despite that polling lead, the prospect of Starmer as prime minister, the country's former top prosecutor who has positioned Labour in the political centre ground, was yet to inspire a sense of hope among Thursday's interviewees.

"Starmer's made some really key statements about what he's going to change, he's going to reduce some of the cost of living things, reduce this, reduce that," Aitchison said.

But that would come at a cost, she said, and she worried who would end up paying: "That money has to come from somewhere."

Sunak, who stood in pouring rain on Wednesday to announce the election and talk up his handling of the economy, similarly faces an uphill struggle to convince voters that the party that has been in power since 2010 can effectively bring change.

"To be honest, I'm undecided. I don't know what I will do. I don't think I want any of them ... I'm maybe 51-49 to vote for Rishi," said Samuel Ugwu, a 46-year-old planning engineer.

(Reporting by Hannah Ellison, Ben Makori and William James; editing by Mark Heinrich)