In a letter sent out by the Lib Dems as part of their election literature, John Harthman – who stood against the rival party’s last MP in the constituency, Richard Allan in 2001 – says that Clegg was “incredibly brave” to put “the country’s interests before his own party interests” when he went into coalition with the Conservative party at the last election.
The letter’s call for tactical voting will be seen as more evidence that the deputy prime minister doesn’t feel as secure in the constituency as he claims to be.
“Conservatives in Sheffield Hallam have a choice,” the letter reads. “We can stick to our narrow party interests and vote for a Tory candidate who won’t win, or we can vote Nick Clegg to make sure that Ed Miliband’s Labour candidate doesn’t sneak in through the back door.”
Harthman argues that it “is in the best interests of the people of Sheffield Hallam and the country as a whole” that Clegg is returned as MP for the constituency, “so I’d urge you to give him your vote in May this year”.
Harthman told BBC Radio Sheffield that he had been approached by the Lib Dems to write the letter after writing a letter making a similar point to the Times. He repeated that he didn’t think there was a “realistic chance” of the Conservatives winning the seat.
The constituency of Sheffield Hallam has never in its 130-year history been represented by a Labour MP. Apart from two years under the Liberals between 1916 and 1918, the seat was held by the Conservatives until 1997, when Allan won it for the Liberal Democrats, subsequently handing it to rising star Clegg in 2005. A poll from Lord Oakeshott in May 2014 was the first to show Labour as the party Clegg needed to beat.
But by Clegg’s own admission, demographics in the area have shifted, putting Labour in a much stronger position.
“The south-west of Sheffield used to be the place where the factory-owning classes lived and that’s changed over time. So, like any part of the country, it changes and the politics changes with it a bit,” said Clegg after polling in March put him two points behind Labour in the constituency.
Senior members of the Liberal Democrat campaign are dismissive of the idea that the party leader could lose his seat on 7 May. But four of the five published polls conducted in the constituency since the 2010 election have shown Labour ahead, with an average lead of 4.6%. The average is dragged up by a poll from the Unite union and Survation, published in January 2015, which had Labour’s candidate, Oliver Coppard, ahead by 10 points.
A spokesperson for Clegg said that the deputy prime minister was grateful for Harthman’s endorsement. “Nick attracts support from a wide range of political backgrounds because people recognise he has been a good local MP for the last 10 years and has delivered for Sheffield Hallam.”
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 15th April 2015 18.46 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010