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News | Published December 10 2019

Election Guide: Sheffield Hallam

In the run up to December's General Election, our election correspondent Joshua Sandiford will be creating profiles of key marginal constituencies around the country. This guide combines a profile of Sheffield Hallam as well as interviews with the three major candidates.

Profile

The student-heavy constituency of Sheffield Hallam was previously held by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who was later defeated by Labour’s Jared O’Mara in one of the biggest upsets of the 2017 General Election.

In October 2017, O’Mara was suspended from the Labour party after a series of offensive comments he made surfaced online.

The Independent MP took time out as he struggled with mental health problems and constituency staff dealt with casework. This has left voters in Sheffield Hallam without proper representation.

In this election, The Liberal Democrats are the main challengers and former aid worker Laura Gordon is trying to win the seat back. Olivia Blake, a local councillor, will be trying to help Labour retain the seat. Ian Walker, a former engineer and director of NHS North of England, is standing for the Conservatives, aiming to build on the vote share he achieved in 2017. 

According to Yougov’s MRP modelling, which correctly predicted the hung parliament of 2017, Sheffield Hallam is “likely” to be won by the Liberal Democrat candidate, Laura Gordon.

Gordon is currently predicted to win 37 per cent of the vote, with the Labour candidate, Olivia Blake, predicted to win 30 per cent. Ian Walker is currently predicted a 23 per cent vote share.

However, these figures were published on the 27th November and as with all elections, everything and every prediction is liable to change.

Key Statistics

Region: Yorkshire and the Humber

Former MP: Jared O’Mara

2017 Result:

Labour - 21,881

Liberal Democrats - 19,756

Conservatives - 13,561

Labour majority - 2175

Turnout - 77.6%

Referendum result -

Remain (66%)

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Interviews

Laura Gordon: Liberal Democrat

Former aid worker Laura Gordon is hoping she can claw back support for the Liberal Democrats in the student-heavy constituency of Sheffield Hallam. 

The Parliamentary Review spoke with Laura Gordon about her domestic priorities and local concerns.

The people of Sheffield Hallam have been unrepresented for some time now, how do you think they're feeling?

Generally, around the country, there is a lot of anti-politician sentiment, but I think the people of Sheffield Hallam have realised how important it is to have a good and hard-working MP. It has left people feeling incredibly frustrated.

Whether it’s because they need help from an MP or because they want to be represented in parliamentary votes, people are quite angry that Jared didn’t keep his promise to resign and that they haven’t had the opportunity to express their feelings about that.

Generally, around the country, there is a lot of anti-politician sentiment, but I think the people of Sheffield Hallam have realised how important it is to have a good and hard-working MP.

What have you heard from people on the doorstep? Are residents more concerned with national priorities or are they talking about local issues?

I think it's both. People are very frustrated about how they have been effectively let down by the Labour party by selecting Jared and then effectively abandoning the seat when he got into trouble. It has left people in a difficult position.

People are obviously concerned about Brexit as well as issues like schools and hospitals, but also more local issues like public transport.

There are some concerns around the city council and some of the issues that have been coming up over the last few years, particularly the ongoing fallout from the ‘Streets Ahead’ contract. It subsequently turned out that thousands of trees that had been felled could have been saved.

There are some concerns around the city council and some of the issues that have been coming up over the last few years, particularly the ongoing fallout from the ‘Streets Ahead’ contract.

Are green issues one of your local priorities?

Absolutely, climate change is a huge priority for me, and that’s both at a national level and a local level.

My background is in international development, and one of the reasons I got into politics is because I got fed up of responding to droughts. They used to happen every 5 to 10 years and now they happen every 2 to 3 years. Ultimately it’s a political problem and [while] you can respond to them in a humanitarian way, you aren't addressing the route cause of the problem.

But the trees issue in Sheffield was never just about trees, it was also about the council response which was a very heavy-handed, authoritarian response.

Instead of sitting down with protesters and trying to come to a solution and engage constructively, the council went for a very heavy-handed response, [arresting] peaceful protesters, including a tambourine-playing vicar.

Absolutely, climate change is a huge priority for me, and that’s both at a national level and a local level.

Will this make people turn back to the Liberal Democrats? How confident are you that you can wrestle back the seat?

I think it’s a good prospect and the reception has been very positive.

The Lib Dems hold most of Sheffield Hallam at council level and I've been working very hard and very closely with local councillors to engage with people.

Having said that, you can never underestimate the Labour Party, they have a very strong core vote and they surpassed expectations last time. We absolutely won't be taking anything for granted and we'll be continuing to work hard for every single vote.

You can never underestimate the Labour Party, they have a very strong core vote and they surpassed expectations last time.

How will a December election affect the way you campaign? Will campaigning be more difficult in the dark?

It's certainly different, it makes it harder to get things like leaflets out and it affects when we can go canvassing, we've had to be a lot smarter in what we are doing and have thought about the areas where people really won't want to speak on the doorstep, versus the areas where people won't mind as much.

We've also been doing a lot more phone canvassing, but actually, people are frustrated and want to have their say. It's really cold but people are willing to engage. We recently had the flooding which affected a lot of people, and if things like that continue or we start seeing snowstorms then it will start to look quite different but at the moment, it has only affected how we campaign, not how much we campaign.

We've had to be a lot smarter in what we are doing and have thought about the areas where people really won't want to speak on the doorstep, versus the areas where people won't mind as much.

Can you tell us about your aid work, what you did before running for parliament and how you think those skills will help you?

My background is in international development and I worked for Oxfam, Save the Children and then the Department for International Development.

This has given me experience of working around the world in some really difficult places, and it's certainly driven my commitment to getting into politics and especially around climate change. I also think the experience of managing big budgets and big programmes is really important and transferable across the different sectors.

My background is in international development and I worked for Oxfam, Save the Children and then the Department for International Development.

And finally, what is your message for the people of Sheffield Hallam?

We have to vote for a positive future and a positive vision for the country and the Liberal Democrats have that.

At the last election, every single MP in the whole of South Yorkshire was Labour and I think these one-party states are just bad for everyone. We need a positive vision for South Yorkshire and a positive vision for Sheffield and that's what I can provide and that's what the Liberal Democrats can provide.

I hope that people will put their faith in me to represent them.

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Olivia Blake: Labour

Olivia Blake, the Labour candidate for Sheffield Hallam, moved to the city 10 years ago as a student. She soon got involved in local politics and worked her way up to become deputy leader of the local council.

The Parliamentary Review asked Blake about the lack of representation in Sheffield Hallam and what she would do if she became an MP.

How is the campaign going?

It's been going really well, we've been having loads of conversations with people and doing a huge amount of work going out and listening to what matters to people. Lots of different issues are coming up across the constituency.

Brexit is at the forefront of a lot of peoples minds and it's a predominantly Remain constituency. Lots of people are raising their experiences with the NHS, which has been quite telling about the state of the NHS, and people are very concerned about that. The other big [issues] are public transport and the climate emergency. Lots of issues are swirling around people's minds.

Brexit is at the forefront of a lot of peoples minds and it's a predominantly Remain constituency.

What have you heard from people on the doorstep?

People are definitely focused on the national picture at this election but some people do have local issues which I've been trying to help them with. Some of those can be very personal and quite difficult and challenging issues. Other issues include how services have been run down and how cuts have been made to local services. It all interlinks; people are seeing the impact of austerity on their local services and are quite concerned about that.

My top three priorities are: rebuilding our public services and getting more investment into the north and into Sheffield Hallam; really pushing on the climate agenda and making sure Labour's Green New Deal and industrial revolution come to fruition and trying to get us out of this Brexit chaos. The only way we are going to [solve Brexit] is through Labour's position of having a second vote.

It all interlinks; people are seeing the impact of austerity on their local services and are quite concerned about that.

Are people mentioning the lack of representation and Jarad O'Mara?

I do think people think have been quite disappointed and I have said previously that I was pleased when Jared announced he was going to resign. Obviously, he chose not to do that and I think that was the wrong decision of him to take.

He's not a very well man and he needs to get the support that he can. I have been helping a lot of people with casework and I've been supporting them with different issues and try and be a help to people in need.

Obviously, he [O'Mara] chose not to do that and I think that was the wrong decision of him to take.

Can you tell us about your work as a local councillor?

I'm a councillor just outside the constituency and I came here about 10 years ago as a student. I studied biomedical science and I went on and worked in that field for a little while and then decided to stand for election and got elected as a councillor. I worked in political communications for a little while and I've been a trustee of different boards.

I've kept my interest in health sciences and access to health care and I took on the finance brief at the council and was deputy leader before recently resigning the position.

I'm a councillor just outside the constituency and I came here about 10 years ago as a student.

And how do you think these positions have helped you with the skills needed to be an MP?

I think the job of an MP is a very broad one and my role as a councillor has definitely given me the experience of helping people with casework and representing people. It's also given me a huge amount of experience in policy development.

As a cabinet member, I was responsible for policy development in the finance area, developing ethical procurement policies, insourcing projects and overseeing the budget of a 1.5 billion pound organisation.

It's been quite a big job that I've taken on and I don't shy away from hard work. To be fair, I often think that I get a little bit underestimated because I do have a lot of experience and I do have a lot to give.

I think that I would be a good MP, I've got the passion to make the argument for people and as an activist, I have campaigned for change so I know what it takes to make change from the grassroots right up to the board level.

I have campaigned for change so I know what it takes to make change from the grassroots right up to the board level.

And finally, what is your message for the people of Sheffield Hallam?

My message to the people of Sheffield Hallam is whether you're a nurse, a doctor, a teacher or you work for a small business, Labour are on your side and in me, you would have an MP who would work hard for you and stand up for you. 

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Ian Walker: Conservative

Having stood in 2017, former engineer Ian Walker is hoping to build on the 23.8 per cent of the vote he previously attained. 

After working and living across Asia and Europe, in 1992 Walker returned to Sheffield, where he grew up, to take over his family business, Rotary Electrical. 

Speaking to The Parliamentary Review, Walker discusses voter's frustration with Brexit and his plans to improve Sheffield's transport system. 

How has the campaign been so far?

It has been very good.

I stood in Hallam in 2017 and nearly doubled the Conservative vote there and at that point, we got back about half of the Conservative voters who had been persuaded to vote Lib Dem to keep Labour out. If we get the other half back, it will genuinely be a three way marginal.

I beat the Lib Dems in the Sheffield Mayoral election last year and I think there is a weariness about the Lib Dem’s message, especially the dodgy bar charts and deceitful letters going out.

On the doorsteps, a lot of people I speak to say they voted Remain but feel disgusted that parliament hasn’t delivered on the democratic decision of the people.

Moreover, in many of the areas, particularly the traditional Labour areas, people rush at me in the steet and tell me they are voting for Boris, they want to get it [Brexit] done and they don’t like Corbyn.

If we keep the Leave vote together, we will have a good chance of coming up through the middle in Sheffield Hallam.

If we keep the Leave vote together, we will have a good chance of coming up through the middle in Sheffield Hallam.

On a national level, what is your view on how this election has been conducted?

I think there has been a change in sentiment.

When I was canvassing in the early days, a lot of people were undecided. After the first leaders debate, that changed to “we are confused.” It seems many are waiting until the last minute to see how they will vote.

More widely, it has been a much more positive campaign than two years ago and hopefully that will resonate with people much more than the previous election.

When I was canvassing in the early days, a lot of people were undecided. After the first leaders debate, that changed to “we are confused.”

According to polls released after the referendum, Sheffield Hallam voted to Remain by roughly 66 per cent to 34 per cent. How has the slogan "Get Brexit Done" gone down on the doorstep?

Pretty well with most people. There is a small minority of noisey Remainers who wont accept the result. I think about half of the people who voted Remain weren’t passionate Remainers and were thinking more “better the devil you know.”

That is the kind of sentiment I get: most people just want to get on with other things.

Rather than having this go on for another two or three years, negotiating another deal or having another referendum, people are thinking they have made a decision and we should get on and do it.

It is causing uncertainty in terms of business investment and people are fed up with it. We had the Brexit debate three years ago and people now just want to move on.

Rather than having this go on for another two or three years, negotiating another deal or having another referendum, people are thinking we have made a decision and we should get on and do it.

You were director of the Sheffield Health Authority and later became a director of NHS England North. How do you think the problems the NHS faces can be solved?

I think the main thing is catching up with the investment in capital. Beyond this, it is important to ensure the NHS is doing what it does smarter, rather than just doing more of the same.

Things do move on in terms of technology, diagnostics and predictive diagnoses so I think there is a need to have some stability for the NHS so we can start to fund it to the extent that we need to fund it.

Also, I think people recognise that the NHS is safer with the Conservatives than it is with Labour. Everybody wants a good NHS and with the Conservative offering, we have a better chance of a buoyant growing economy to pay for it rather than unfundable pledges. People understand we need realism.

Overall, it’s a mixture of funding, getting better systems and capital investment.

Everybody wants a good NHS and with the Conservative offering, we have a better chance of a buoyant growing economy to pay for it rather than unfundable pledges.

On your campaign website, you mention your Christian faith. What would be the main way your faith has shaped your politics?

I think its wanting to give back to my community.

That’s the main thing that’s driven me. I have the luxury and opportunity to give back to my community, which I have done through various charitable trusts for free, and this is something that motivates me as a Christian: to help those who can be helped in any kind of way.

I have the luxury and opportunity to give back to my community, which I have done through various charitable trusts for free, and this is something that motivates me as a Christian

If you were elected, what would be your key local priorities?

The thing I have been campaigning on, and something which is central to my literature, has been the need for far greater integrated transport.

I have lived in both London and Japan, both places where they have good integrated transport systems. In Sheffield, there are lots of competing bus services and there is no co-ordination. Different routes have different fares and people have to pay again when switching. This is something which has been solved in London recently and so I think there is a lot of scope to have better integrated services.

I have also been lobbying both Transport for the North and the Treasury about getting better funding models for rail investment, both to improve links in the region but also to London. I am keen to lobby that HS2 is not delayed and HS3 gets a move on. I think they will be vital for inward investment.

I am passionate about using technology and I think Sheffield has a great opportunity with nuclear and zero-carbon energy sources to contribute to net zero emissions by 2050. I think we need to get more funding for Sheffield to be able to continue to invest in that and develop the industries and technologies of the future.

In Sheffield, there are lots of competing bus services and there is no co-ordination. Different routes have different fares and people have to pay again when switching.

Finally, what is your final message for the people of Sheffield Hallam?

Firstly, a vote for any other party is more likely to let Jeremy Corbyn into No.10, either through a Labour MP or a Liberal Democrat MP propping up Labour.

Secondly, a vote for any other party will cause confusion and delay over getting Brexit done.  



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Authored by

Joshua Sandiford, George Salmon
Election Correspondents
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December 10 2019

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