Chapeltown Reverend Rick Stordy jokes “I’m a vicar – not a prophet,” when asked about his predictions for this year’s general election.
He was speaking shortly before the churches of Chapeltown hosted a busy hustings to help voters weigh up who they will support on May 7 by putting candidates in the hot seat.
The seat of Penistone and Stocksbridge was created in 2010 and is defended by Labour’s Angela Smith with a majority of 3,049.
Only Sheffield Central has a lower majority in the city – and Ukip are understood to be targeting the area after three councillors were elected in the seat at last year’s local elections.
However, historically, the old Penistone constituency was Conservative and the party came second in 2010.
Rick said: “Chapeltown has had a lot of history of being Labour in the general elections and Liberal Democrat in the locals – so it will be very interesting to see how some of the new parties fare.
“I think a lot of people are disillusioned with politics. We wanted to encourage people to engage with it and use their freedom to vote which is really important.
“One of the interesting things in how the hustings came about is we have somebody at our church who is Polish and was born before the Iron Curtain came down. He cannot understand why we don’t relish the right to change our Government and have our say.”
Rick stressed turnout was relatively high in the seat in 2010 – at 67 per cent.
One big issue locally was high house prices, he said, meaning that young people were often priced out of the area.
Voters arriving at the doors of Chapeltown Methodist Church knew what mattered to them and were hoping to challenge candidates with many questions.
Mum Jan Crowther, of Ecclesfield, asked one of the first and most hard-hitting about MPs’ salaries and how they could justify a pay rise as recommended by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
She said: “How can they get an 11 per cent rise and I get nothing in four years? Nobody gets an 11 per cent pay rise, apart from MPs.
“I’ve always known how I am going to vote in the past but this year I don’t.”
Daughter Louise Swift added: “Politicians just go on about the same stuff all the time – I want them to tell us what they are going to do.”
Couple Heather Hall and Glen Freeman, of Chapeltown, were there because of a personal experience.
Glen lost his job at Remploy in Brightside two years ago and has not been able to find work since.
Heather, aged 55, said: “More than 80 per cent of the people who worked there are still unemployed – nobody will take them on.
“The Conservatives closed all the Remploy factories and said it was not economical to keep them running and the workers should work with able-bodied people.
“But companies just won’t take them on. Glen goes to the Job Centre all the time but they don’t do anything. He is desperate to work. He has had a stroke and finds it difficult to speak in interviews, so he has offered to work for free for six or eight weeks so they can see how hard he works but no firm will do it.
“Something needs to change.”
Inside the church, candidates clashed when Roy McNulty, a retired printing engineer from Chapeltown, asked about what plans they had to encourage growth locally and nationally.
Graeme Waddicar, Ukip candidate, said the party would make savings in areas the other parties ‘don’t want to look at – there are monies that can be put back into the economy without cuts or tax rises’.
He said these included scrapping the ‘vanity’ HS2 project as well as leaving the EU and reducing foreign aid – which should not be ring-fenced as there was then an impact on public services.
Joe Otten, who was representing Liberal Democrat candidate Rosalyn Gordon, said there was a ‘lot more we can do’.
He said plans would include a 10-year programme of rolling infrastructure in future to speed up projects like HS2, better links between northern cities to ‘work together on an economic basis’ and more devolution to restore control to local cities.
Angela Smith said Labour would target tax rises at the ‘very richest’ in society, including a mansion tax and bankers’ bonus tax, to reduce spending cuts and tackle the deficit year on year.
She said fair funding was needed for local Government – because Sheffield and Barnsley had suffered decreases of 40 per cent in their revenues while other parts of the country had seen an increase.
“No more victimisation of South Yorkshire,” she added.
Conservative candidate Steven Jackson replied: “Surely that’s falling on the Labour MPs and councillors who obviously haven’t been doing an effective job fighting for their regions?”
He said ‘the people of Sheffield know best’ when it came to deciding what was spent on their economy to build it and the party was creating more apprentices to move the country back to creating and manufacturing. He said the success of city regions showed the Conservatives’ plan was working.
English Democrat Colin Porter said it was ‘ridiculous’ that £13billion in foreign aid had been ring-fenced as it could be used to pay off the national debt.
“There’s no need for all these cuts,” he added.
“It’s all false what they’re doing – we’ve to look after our own people first.”
But when the microphone was passed back to Roy for his verdict, he said: “I’m not sure that I really heard any clear plans in terms of encouraging growth and investment as opposed to cuts and taxation.”
Angela Smith Lab 17,565
Spencer Pitfield Con 14,516
Ian Cuthbertson Liberal Democrats 9,800
Paul James BNP 2,207
Grant French Ukip 1,936
Paul McEnhill English Democrats 492
Rosalyn Gordon – Liberal Democrats
Steven Jackson – Conservative
Colin Porter – English Democrats
Angela Smith – Labour
Graeme Waddicar – Ukip