It is a bit like your granddad telling you about his plan for how he’s going to woo Katy Perry or your old man talking about how he’s still ready and able if Roy Hodgson calls on him for the World Cup squad. We all have dreams and we certainly all have daydreams but the thought of Labour beating the Lib Dems in Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam is fanciful at best, at worst it is a waste of resources and a short-term PR exercise.
Like most of the new breed of activist, I’m a believer in electoral math, or as I’m English I should say maths. National polling is all well and nice but elections are won and lost in the vast majority of cases due to what is happening on the ground. We are seeing this more and more and many people still cling on to national polling as a good indicator of what is going to happen at elections, heck I’ve seen people say that national polls dictate what happens in parish town elections, I know, madness.
So anyway on to Sheffield Hallam, a seat the Lib Dems have held since the 1997 collapse of the Tories and John Major’s exit. Every General Election since (and including) that one, the Lib Dems have won going away. As it stands it is the third safest Liberal Democrat seat in the land. It isn’t a target seat for Labour and whilst I can’t say never will be, it certainly won’t be for a long, long, long time. The area is broadly liberal and social conservative, not exactly the home of people who embrace Labour.
Now of course the national trend on the Lib Dems and certainly Nick Clegg is negative, quelle surprise. I won’t sit here and type that the country love Nick Clegg and his party, because that would be wide of the mark. The party have hemorrhaged votes and support in the past four odd years but that has come primarily in areas that weren’t natural Lib Dem territory. People and areas that have been respective to the party for many years have seen the drop-off being far less.
Moving on to Sheffield Hallam itself, it has a university, students loved Nick Clegg, students now don’t love Nick Clegg, that means Nick Clegg will lose a seat where there are lots of students, that is the lazy thought process. Now I haven’t checked how many students are enrolled at Sheffield Hallam, far less those who have got their vote at their university home instead of the parental home, far less those who actually bothered to vote in 2015, but if all of these people voted LD and now switch their allegiance to Labour, will that be enough to overcome the 19,000 deficit they had in 2010? Somehow I doubt it.
Now it is true that others will have drifted away, so lets look at how the councillors in this seat are doing. Well they are still doing rather well, in 2012 they received just shy of 50% of the vote, even in 2011, which was probably the Lib Dems bottoming out, they got over 44% of the vote. Labour were 11% shy and last time out they were 20% shy. Yes local elections and national elections are different and there will be those that support Lib Dems locally but won’t nationally but enough to overturn such a large deficit?
Lastly – and this is the biggest issue – if the Lib Dems and Nick Clegg lose in Sheffield Hallam in 2015, and that is a huge if but we’ll play the game. They’ll lose it to the Conservative party and not the Labour party. The last time Labour won this seat? It hasn’t happened yet – in history. The area just isn’t receptive to Labour and they will not win. It was Tory all the way through its history bar a 1916 by-election until the Lib Dems came in and built a power-base locally.
The whole issue of Labour unseating Nick Clegg in Sheffield Hallam is just the delusions of a madman. It won’t happen. No matter how much you say it will and how hard you are going to try, it just won’t happen. History tells you that, polling tells you that, demographics tells you that, there is nothing that tells you a win there is possible in any way whatsoever. The only thing this story does is publicly say that Labour are still anti Lib Dem and not give an excuse for those Labour voters who have come across from the Lib Dems to go back. They want no public softening of their approach to the Lib Dems.
This whole story is quite simply a short-term PR stunt. If they fail to win Sheffield Hallam and get egg on their face then they won’t care because this story will be consigned to the annals of election history quite swiftly after the 2015 General Election. They want to show the electorate how much they dislike Nick Clegg and maybe even get the party to pour in extra resources themselves in the seat. The fact of the matter is Labour’s chances of winning Sheffield Hallam are identical to me winning the EuroMillions tonight, I suppose in that case I should at least buy a ticket…
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