An Ipsos Mori poll shows support for the Lib Dems is at its lowest since 1991. Nick Clegg has been the focus of anger towards the party, and Sheffield, the city he represents, has joined in too. But will local Lib Dems stand by their man?by David Goodhart / December 15, 2010 / Leave a comment
Click here to read David Goodhart’s interview with Nick Clegg
Sheffield—the city of unemployed steel workers and The Full Monty; of snooker; of blunt talk and rough edges. It’s still in many ways a classic northern left-wing city—returning five of its six MPs under Labour colours. A city of half a million souls, over-dependent on the public sector and therefore close to the frontline of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition’s deficit-crunching public-sector shakedown.
But in the past 20 years it has become something else too: a successful post-industrial city with nearly 100,000 people (students and staff) in higher education, and one of the biggest retail centres in northern England. It’s full of shiny new buildings and sports centres, with a first-class travel infrastructure—and it has acquired a post-proletarian politics to go along with it. The city council is Lib Dem-controlled and its most senior political figure is no longer the gruff former Labour home secretary, David Blunkett, but the charming Lib Dem chap who represents Hallam in the city’s affluent west, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (see interview, p46).
Sheffield is Clegg’s backyard and his frontline. As deputy leader of a government embarking on an unprecedented public spending squeeze, he is not making many new friends in a city where the state counts for well over half of GDP. To the Labour and trade-union establishment he’s a cuckoo in the Sheffield nest. Following his change of mind on tuition fees, the local student leaders have him in their sights too. The new Labour years brought a lot of investment to the city, and while most of the cuts are still noises off, life is about to get tougher for some in Sheffield—especially poorer people more dependent on the local and national state. Nick Clegg is a convenient target for protesters. In fact, hating Nick Clegg is something of a national sport; he’s the poster boy for anti-coalition, anti-cuts sympathies everywhere.
But just how ferocious is real anti-Clegg sentiment in the city he represents, and how will ordinary Sheffielders react to the various bombs the coalition is preparing to chuck at the public sector? Will local Lib Dems, having to defend and implement unpopular decisions made by their own leaders in London, turn out to be sturdy defenders of the coalition, or its weakest link? Sheffield is the acid test. If Clegg and his party can win the argument here, or at…