When I first arrived in Sheffield six months ago, my friendly Airbnb host couldn’t stop talking about Jeremy Corbyn. “So is this just you or does Corbyn have widespread support in the whole city?” I asked. “Of course he does! Everybody loves him!” he replied. Next day, I visited the Weston Park Museum, and amidst posters of Sheffield’s fight for worker’s rights, I encountered the main exhibit: a piece of toilet roll with Thatcher’s face on it. Labour’s connection to the working-class might be under strain, but a few days here were enough to realise that Sheffield is still bright red. But can the city of the Full Monty, proud of its industrial past, remain staunch Labour ground in the upcoming election?
Walking around my neighbourhood – Walkely – it certainly appears so. One in every three houses in this quiet, middle-class area, shows its support for Labour with the sign: ‘Re-elect Paul Blomfield’. In both the leaflets and window posters, there appears to be little reference to the leader of the Labour party. Holding a substantial majority (17,309), Blomfield should be quite safe in keeping Sheffield Central. However, it is worth remembering that in 2010 he managed to beat the Lib Dems by a mere 165 votes. If the Lib Dem revival materialises, then they should increase their share of the vote in this seat. Also, the high student population also makes Sheffield Central propitious territory for the Greens, who targeted it by choosing their ex-leader, Natalie Bennett, as the candidate.
In a Fabian Society event in Sheffield last month, one member of the audience asked Blomfield if it wasn’t time for a progressive alliance. You can imagine his response: “Out of 650 constituencies, Bennett decided to run in mine.” No, he’s not stepping aside to make room for any alliance.
An MA student in International Development, Cameron (26) is stranded between these two parties: “I am still undecided between Labour and the Greens. This is because I feel Labour hasn’t addressed the biggest issue of our time – climate change. Also, in Sheffield, there is a chance to get a Green MP, which, if she is anything like Caroline Lucas, will be a genuinely hardworking and fresh voice. However, I feel more connected to Labour under Corbyn than under Miliband. It’s a pretty safe Labour seat, so it’s about my conscience.”
Cameron might be attracted by Mr. Corbyn’s manifesto, but a university professor tells me he will vote Labour despite its leader. Michael – who is a proud Labour member since his student days – describes his party’s manifesto as the “wish-list” of a man who knows he will lose the election. I press him: “Haven’t you been reading too much of the mainstream press?” He smiles: “For once, the mainstream press got it right.”
But Sheffield Central is only one of five constituencies here. Three other Labour MPs hold healthy majorities: Gill Furniss (9,590), Louise Haigh (12,594) and Clive Betts (12,311). The only exception in this red sea is Nick Clegg’s yellow drop in Sheffield Hallam, which he holds by 2,353 votes. In fact, Clegg is the only non-Labour MP in South Yorkshire’s fourteen constituencies. Interestingly, in ten of these fourteen constituencies UKIP came second.
Should the ex-Deputy Prime Minister be scared? His rival will be young disability campaigner Jared O’Mara and local Labour activists are enthused by the prospect of giving the final stroke of red to Sheffield’s map. U-turning on his pledge not to increase tuition fees is still a heavy burden for Mr. Clegg in a city with a high student population. Writing for the Business Insider, Adam Payne suggests that the ex-Lib Dem leader is in trouble if he cannot attract the Tory tactical voters that helped him retain his seat in 2015
While I have received countless leaflets from Labour, Lib Dems and Greens, I’m still waiting to see Mrs. May’s photo come through the letterbox. Nonetheless, the elephant in the city is that Sheffield voted Leave by 51%. Considering that the general election will take place during the summer when many students are away for the holidays, it remains to be seen whether Mrs. May can gain some support in this Labour heartland by attracting UKIP voters. For now, however, gaining any seats appears unlikely: the loo roll in Sheffield’s museum is not going anywhere.