A Brief History of Liberty

Liberal, Lover, Scientist

Nick Clegg to lose Sheffield Hallam? You’re having a laugh

The media’s been full of stories about how Nick Clegg’s due to lose his Sheffield Hallam seat to Labour in the next General Election. Here’s the latest. I’ve been a student at Sheffield Hallam University since 2011 and have been closely involved in the Sheffield Liberal Democrats campaigns the whole time, particularly the student side. I’m also a human being and have noticed several things.

  • Sheffield Hallam is not a student constituency. Confusingly, the eponymous university is on the other side of the city and Sheffield Hallam students mostly live in the City Centre, Broomhill, Walkley and Nether Edge. These wards are all in the Sheffield Central constituency. There must be some Hallam students living in the Hallam constituency but since 2011 I’ve never met one. The University of Sheffield is closer to the Hallam constituency but is still located in the Sheffield Central constituency. There is one ward in Hallam, Crookes, that has a voting student population of a few thousand but the other wards don’t have great numbers of students. 
  • In the years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014, twenty one councillors were elected in the Sheffield Hallam constituency. Of those twenty, nineteen were Liberal Democrats and two were Labour. There was a by-election in Fulwood, a ward at the centre of Hallam, where Nick’s MPs office is based. Labour threw the kitchen sink in, hoping a big win would humiliate Nick. The Lib Dem majority rose and our candidate Cliff Woodcraft took half the vote. In the 2014 local elections, Labour narrowly won the Crookes ward because there was a split in the Lib Dem vote - ex Lib Dem councillor John Hesketh stood as an independent and if his share of the vote had gone to the Liberal Democrat candidate, he would have won.
  • Sheffield residents have seen what a Labour administration looks like. Sheffield City council has been run by Labour since 2011 and it has been among the most incompetent, hopeless authorities in the country. They’ve closed libraries, cut waste collection, demolished the famous Don Valley Stadium where Jessica Ennis used to train, raised bus fares for students and all manner of daft policies.
  • The Sheffield Liberal Democrats are among the busiest and most professional Lib Dem outfits in the country. We campaign all year round and while we have lost a lot of ground across the centre of the city, our vote has held up well in the affluent Hallam side of the city. The local Conservative party has collapsed with a number of senior members switching to UKIP and the regional office being closed down and moved to Rotherham. The Labour party has made disappointing progress over the last few years, particularly among students - the Sheffield Hallam Labour society dissolved earlier this year due to a lack of interest. Thirty seven thousand students and nobody wanting to be part of the Labour society.

Labour will beat the Conservatives into third place in 2015 but will come nowhere near Nick Clegg’s vote. If you don’t believe me, knock on a few doors in Fulwood or Dore & Totley and see for yourself.

Putting the myth of the North-South divide to bed

For Labour politicians, grumbling about the infamous North-South divide has become a staple - honed over decades into the meaningless soundbyte we have today. It wasn’t always meaningless, during the 1970s and 1980s there was a huge decline in Northern fortunes. It seems broadly forgotten today but Ted Heath and Harold Wilson closed far more uneconomic pits and mines than Margaret Thatcher.

But, as the rhetoric goes today, the North is once again being left behind as the South (and London in particular) surges ahead into a futuristic age of prosperity and safety. Politicians from all major parties are jockeying to appeal to concerned Northern voters. The Coalition has made a positive response to Labour’s bitterness (I understand that under Ed Miliband, Labour MPs have been banned from droning on about the North-South divide as it alienates Southern voters, whose votes Labour will need if they ever want to win again) and we’re seeing policies designed to foster Northern industries. HS2, enterprise zones and thousands of new apprenticeships to name just a few - and now Osborne is trying to kindle a debate about further transport links in the North.

image

These are tremendous and worthy policies - no part of our country should be left behind as Labour’s bank-busting deficit is eased. But voters in London and the South are quite right to be bemused by all the talk of their glittering palaces and mountains of hoarded gold. Here are the stats for unemployment from the ONS (2012):

North*: 1,321,605 (8.9%)

Midlands: 830,813 (8.2%)

South: 1,938,910 (6.9%)

While the rate of unemployment is lower in the South than in the North, due to the population difference, there is a significantly greater number of people looking for work in the South. Here are the figures for poverty** from Poverty.co.uk:

North: 3,407,720 (22.8%)

Midlands: 2,387,070 (23.6%)

South: 6,164,998 (22.0%)

Again, the rate of poverty in the South is slightly lower than in the North or the Midlands but there are almost twice as many people living in poverty in the South than in the North. Almost half of these are in Greater London, where prices are notoriously much higher - a salary may be decent by Coventry standards (for example) but would get you much less in London. This means the problem is even more exaggerated in London than the figures show (the poverty rate in London is 28%).

My point is not that we should forget the North, quite the opposite. We need to see a sustained industrial strategy for revitalising Northern business and bringing new tech to the North but this can’t come at the expense of other regions, including Scotland, Wales, the Midlands, London and the South.

* Northern figures represent figures for North East, North West and Yorks & Humber. Midlands figures represent figures for East Midlands and West Midlands. Southern figures represent figures for South East, South West, East of England and Greater London.

** Poverty defined as people living in households below 60% of median income after deducting housing costs

Are we heading for a wipeout in London?

As you know, two years ago we had elections in London for the Mayor and the Assembly. In a shocking act of helpfulness, some bright spark has arranged the voting data from these elections into a ward by ward spreadsheet.

Since London only votes for its council once every four years, the 2012 vote is a useful tool to predict how the votes will fall this May. I used the data for the London-wide Assembly vote and drew up a ward map of what it would look like if London voted the exact same way in a Local Election:

The first thing you’ll probably notice about that map is that there are no yellow wards. Not even in any of our strongest areas did we receive a plurality.

Now, if that happened on the 22nd May, it would be an unqualified disaster. Imagine it - not a single Councillor in all of London. But there are a few reasons it won’t work out quite that badly.

First - that was two years ago. Several local parties have made a real impact since then and the feeling of anger over the Coalition is beginning to subside.

Second - not everyone who wants a Lib Dem Councillor wants a Lib Dem Assembly member. The 2012 election was dominated by Labour and the Conservatives in the inevitable Boris v Ken race and the Lib Dem message was squeezed.

Third - that was without incumbency. Literally thousands of talented, experienced Councillors will be going up for re-election and many more energetic and persuasive new candidates. We’ve already shown that where we work, we win.

Fourth and finally - we got 7% across London in that vote. Rallings & Thrasher have forecast the Lib Dems to get 14% of the vote nationally on the 22nd.

That’s not to ignore by-elections either - according to the LibDems4London website there have been 42 council by-elections since 2010 and we’ve won several (in Kensington & Chelsea, Kingston, Brent and Sutton).

These are going to be tough elections for London Lib Dems and there are probably going to be a lot of disappointed candidates on the 23rd - but it’s not too late to turn it around in your ward, get those last few leaflets delivered and knock on those few extra doors.

Party Political Broadcasts: the roundup

So the major parties PPBs for the upcoming Euro elections have been released and they make interesting viewing. David Cameron sets out his vision for the EU in the Conservative video and while I find his language about Europe pretty patronising, his party deserves credit for talking about Europe when it’s so divisive within their own party. Nick Clegg gives a powerful defence of Europe in the Lib Dem PPB, explaining (quite rightly) that his is the only party to fully support our membership of the EU to keep our economic recovery on the rails.

The Labour broadcast is the odd one out. It doesn’t feature Ed Miliband at all, nor does it mention Europe or the EU, either by name or allusion. It’s just a whiney attack on the Government. No positive vision for the EU, no promises of what a Labour MEP will do that no other party will, nothing.

The BNP broadcast reminded me just how much I hate the BNP (it’s easy to forget they exist these days). You can also find the Green PPB and the UKIP PPB.