A single question is looming large in the election constituency of Sheffield Hallam – will Nick Clegg keep his seat?
The Deputy Prime Minister has a healthy majority of 15,284 from 2010 and has insisted he is ‘confident but not complacent’ of winning again. But the most recent Lord Ashcroft poll placed the Liberal Democrat leader in an ‘uncomfortable’ position two points behind Labour, who are fighting hard in a bid to claim victory in Hallam for the first time in the seat’s history.
What is certain is that the constituency will be one of the most closely watched in the country, in part because so few – only five – leaders of parties with Westminster MPs have lost their seats since 1945. Polls, platitudes and promises aside, the final answer will come down to votes from the straight-talking Sheffield public on May 7.
“I don’t think he will keep his seat – I just think he has slit his own throat with what he has done,” said Simon Bellingham, manager of the Just Natural fruit and vegetable shop in Crookes.
“I’ve got a lot of friends working at Forgemasters, which had a Government loan cut and he was involved in that.
“A bit of truth and honesty would be nice from politicians, which I don’t think we are going to get.”
The constituency of Sheffield Hallam stretches from Stannington in the north to Dore in the south.
It is home to many students, some of whom feel betrayed by the now infamous tuition fees row, after Mr Clegg promised to scrap them and then they were raised to £9,000 a year by the Coalition Government.
Crookes could be seen as something of an epicentre for the battle. Local Liberal Democrats want to win back a councillor position there after former Sheffield party leader Shaffaq Mohammed lost to Labour’s Anne Murphy last year.
Placards backing Labour’s Parliamentary candidate Oliver Coppard, and Mr Clegg, can be seen installed outside homes in the community.
Retired health worker and grandma Hilary Cartwright, of Crookes, said: “I think Nick Clegg is a bit wishy washy but he’ll probably keep his seat because it’s pretty safe.
“To be honest I think we should carry on as we are, because I know there has been a lot of cuts, but a lot of people have come off welfare and are working now.
“To get Labour in and go back to where we were five years ago would not be good – I think we need to stick with the Conservatives, but I don’t know who will be in with them.
“I just hope it’s not that Nigel Farage man.”
Campaigning is well under way, and over the next two weeks flurries of leaflets and armies of canvassers will hit the streets of Hallam in a bid to win over undecided voters.
Lord Ashcroft’s poll showed that many voters are already swamped with literature as the constituency had the highest ‘contact rate’ of several held by the Liberal Democrats across the country. But it seems to have had no effect on some people, who said they were ‘disenfranchised with all politicians’ and that they were not planning to vote.
When asked for his views on Mr Clegg, one man laughed: “He’s good. I liked him in Last of the Summer Wine.”
Jokes aside, there may well be confusion on polling day, as the English Democrats candidate is called Steve Clegg. Whoever wins the day and triumphs at Sheffield’s overnight election count will be asked to tackle the priorities of their constituents.
Residents out shopping said key issues included education, road safety, pensions and potholes.
Cyclist Pete Lewis, of Crookes, was annoyed by the Government’s decision to raise speed limits for HGVs. “The Government voted it through at the very last minute before Parliament dissolved,” he said. “There’s a clear correlation between road injuries and deaths, and speed limits.”
Retired maintenance manager Harry Lowe, aged 78, of Walkley, was concerned about changes to allow people to draw their pensions early and planned to vote Labour, like his family always had.
Teacher Jane Anderson’s priority was the increasing workload and pressure in schools, for both teachers and students.
“I’d like to vote Green but I don’t know whether it will make a difference here,” said the 39-year-old, of Crookes.
But Margaret Armitage said she would vote Green ‘because they stand for what I’m interested in, like affordable housing’.
Mum Liz Tipple, of Lodge Moor, is one of the undecided voters campaigners hope to convert.
She said her priorities were the health service and support for the vulnerable but there was still a lot to be weighed up before marking an X on her ballot paper.
“I have a lot of family members who wouldn’t be here if they had to pay for their medical treatment,” said Liz.
“My son has type one diabetes and he wouldn’t be here without the NHS.
“I really don’t know who to vote for if I’m honest – part of me feels there is no point apart from voting for Nick Clegg because he will get in anyway.
“A lot of people do feel let down by what he promised and didn’t deliver.
“Really I’m a Labour person at heart but I’m not convinced that, having gone so far down the line, whether turning back will make it worse. Do you vote for what you believe in or do you do a tactical vote?”
n To watch The Star’s exclusive debate with the 2015 election candidates for Sheffield Hallam, visit www.thestar.co.uk.
n See next Tuesday’s paper for a constituency profile of Sheffield Heeley.