General election 2019: Sheffield Hallam in focus

Jared O‘Mara ousting former deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg in Sheffield Hallam was one of the political shocks of 2017. But two years on, and with O‘Mara not standing, how do voters in the constituency feel ahead of the general election?

Sam Bower has just opened the local shop in Low Bradfield, a village nestled in the hills to the north west of Sheffield city centre. She greets people as they come in to buy essentials, use the Post Office counter, or just stop for a drink in the cafe.

The chatter among customers in this rural community hub often centres on the latest political developments, in their constituency as well as Westminster.

But 33-year-old Ms Bower has no intention of voting.

She says she finds politics all a bit “mind boggling”, describing it as “just a lot of grown men shouting at each other”.

“I just don‘t think it makes any difference, what will be will be,” she says.

“I voted for Brexit in 2016 and we‘re not out yet so what‘s the point? [If I do vote] I just want somebody to do what they say they will do.”

The disillusion felt by Ms Bower is familiar to canvassers and candidates across the country, but this is a constituency that is politically engaged.

Sheffield Hallam had the 13th highest turnout in the UK at the last general election, with 77.6% of the electorate voting. In the previous two elections it was ranked in the top 20.

The constituency is a large one, taking in the west and south of the city, as well spreading out into the Peak District and villages like Low and High Bradfield.

It‘s also a wealthy part of the country. The average house here costs £290,000, significantly higher than the latest UK average of £235,000. The average full-time wage is £670 per week, compared to the £580 UK average.

And more people are in work – less than 1.5% of the population claim unemployment benefit compared to a national average of 4%.

The Sheffield Hallam seat rose to national prominence in 2007 when Clegg became leader of the Liberal Democrats and again in 2010 when he was named Deputy Prime Minister in David Cameron‘s coalition government.

The Lib Dem leader held a majority of 15,284 going into the 2015 election but, in a city that is home to about 60,000 students, his and that majority was slashed to 2,353 after a well-fought campaign by Labour‘s Oliver Coppard.

Then, two years later, Labour finished the job.

O‘Mara‘s win was a major shock, and marked the first time Labour had won the seat since it was created in 1885. However, that fairytale victory became a difficult journey for both O‘Mara and his constituents.

Within months he had been suspended by Labour over alleged misogynistic and homophobic comments.

He went on to but controversy continued to surround his office and, before the snap election was announced, .

Now the Lib Dems have their sights set on winning the seat back. But what do the local voters have to say about that?

Over at Bradfield Tennis Club 72-year-old Chris Galley, from Worrall, knows exactly who he plans to vote for and, like many voters, his decision is centred around Brexit.

Despite voting to remain in 2016 he‘s now changed his mind, partly because he believes the result of the referendum should be respected.

The retired environmental health officer voted Lib Dem in 2017 and thought Nick Clegg was “a decent bloke”. But he says he won‘t be backing them again due to their plans to revoke Article 50.

“I voted to remain but I‘ve changed my mind now,” says Mr Galley.

“I think Boris has got the best deal that he can get.

“I also think Boris has got more oomph and charisma and he‘s got a decent team behind him.”

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Elsewhere across the constituency, in a reflection of the national mood, voters appear focussed on Brexit – though issues like NHS, education and climate change do crop up in conversation.

In fact, many are making their decisions purely on the issue. And while (51% to 49%), nearly 65% of voters in Hallam voted to remain.

In Crosspool, a short walk from O‘Mara‘s former constituency office, Alan, 65, and Gill Bentley, 63, are hoping for a return to power for the Liberal Democrats.

“I will be voting Lib Dem again, I don‘t trust Labour,” says Mr Bentley.

However, he believes whoever wins needs to “sort out Brexit”.

“It‘s been going on for too long and I‘m fed up with it,” he says.

“For all those people that voted to come out we‘re a democratic country and we‘ve got to come out, but I don‘t see it happening.”

Liz Sheppard, a 33-year-old teacher from Fulwood, says she voted to remain but just wants to see an end to the debate.

“I‘m shocked that it‘s taken so long,” she says.

“I voted just before I left the country three years ago and it still wasn‘t done when I came back six months ago.

“It‘s taken up so much time and resources and that‘s taken away from so many other issues.”

In the trendy Crookes area of the city, Jordan O‘Shea is about to celebrate the first anniversary of his business Whaletown Coffee Co, a cafe he set up after moving to Sheffield with his wife three years ago.

As the son of a union leader he says he‘s a dyed-in-the-wool Labour supporter and believes the party is best placed to resolve the Brexit issue.

“I still think that we should remain and try and fix the problem from the inside,” he says. “But if we did leave I feel they are the party that would offer the best negotiations.”

Mr O‘Shea says he is confident Labour can take the seat but fears they may suffer a backlash as a result of O‘Mara‘s ill-fated tenure, describing his time in office as “embarrassing”.

“I think it will have an impact, people are not so forgiving of politicians these days,” he says.

“People see the face rather than the party and I think it will make a difference.”

Fellow Crookes resident Marilyn Wentworth-Poignie, 69, says she is unsure of who to vote for.

She had planned to vote Lib Dem until she watched Jo Swinson in the .

“I voted to stay in the EU and ahead of the debate in Sheffield I was going to vote Lib Dem. But the more I‘ve seen of Jo Swinson and the more I‘ve read there‘s no way I can vote for her,” she says.

“She comes across like a head girl in a private school.”

However, she says there is no chance she won‘t be casting her vote, describing the impending election as the “the most serious vote in years”.

In the far south of the constituency firefighter Mick Clark, from Totley, says he will be backing Labour again after voting Lib Dem in recent elections.

“I voted Lib Dem when Nick Clegg was in and that was a prime example of why not to vote for anyone else [other than Labour],” he says.

“I don‘t know how he shows his face in this city anymore.”

Despite his thoughts on Clegg, Mr Clark says controversy surrounding Jared O‘Mara had not put him off the Labour Party.

“[The candidate] doesn‘t really matter. I want Labour because I‘m a Labour person. It‘s a national thing for me, it does not matter who is standing here.”

The candidates standing in Sheffield Hallam are:

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