Election 2015 England

Election 2015: Old order faces threat in South Yorkshire

View of Sheffield Hallam Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Sheffield Hallam is the 11th most affluent constituency in England

In most general elections South Yorkshire is seen as one of those parts of the country where the result is so predictable it barely rates a mention.

Just one of the region's 14 seats has not returned a Labour MP since the 1930s.

Liberal Democrat party leader Nick Clegg's Sheffield Hallam constituency is a splash of yellow in what is otherwise a solid block of red.

In fact these well-to-do suburbs of Sheffield have not returned a socialist MP since 1885 and at the 2010 general election Mr Clegg increased his majority to more than 15,000 votes.

Statistically such a large cushion ought to see the Lib Dem leader home again, but Labour candidate Oliver Coppard fancies his chances and a constituency poll conducted by Tory Peer Lord Ashcroft at the start of campaigning indicated he could be marginally ahead.

If Labour has hit the front, that is an astonishing reversal of fortunes because for the past three general elections the Conservatives have been the runners up to the Liberal Democrats.

Crumbling power base

In fact, Sheffield Hallam, the 11th most affluent of all 650 constituencies, had been solid Tory since before the Boer War until a local protest vote against an unpopular sitting MP in 1997 saw Liberal Democrat Richard Allen take it.

Nick Clegg, then a virtually unknown Liberal Democrat MEP, was adopted as the candidate when Mr Allen stepped down before the 2005 election and has comfortably held the seat since then.

Mr Clegg is now fighting for his political life against a local backdrop which has seen the Liberal Democrat power base on the city council crumble since he took his party into the coalition government.

Elsewhere in the county, attention is focused on the rise of the fortunes of the UK Independence Party in South Yorkshire on the back of a succession of scandals involving Labour politicians which have seen the party come under extreme pressure in historically safe steel and mining constituencies.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Labour came under pressure in South Yorklsire after MPs Eric illsley and Denis MacShane were jailed for fraud

Within two years of the 2010 general election Barnsley MP Eric Illsley and Rotherham's Denis MacShane were jailed for separately defrauding thousands of pounds of illegally claimed parliamentary expenses.

Since then the storm has broken over how a Labour-dominated local council in Rotherham failed to tackle the grooming and sexual abuse of hundreds of girls by criminal gangs.

In the Barnsley by-election UKIP's Jane Collins came second. She repeated this a year later in the by-election to replace Denis MacShane.

Now one of UKIP's Yorkshire and the Humber MEPs, she is standing again as the candidate in Rotherham.

Robust majorities

UKIP is confident Labour's setbacks have created an opportunity in the neighbouring seats of Rother Valley and Wentworth and Dearne.

The party also feels its policy pledge to reduce the immigration of cheap foreign labour from new European Union member states is striking a chord.

If UKIP is to take these seats its candidates will have to overturn some relatively robust Labour majorities - 5,218 in Rotherham, 5,866 in Rother Valley and 13,920 in Wentworth and Dearne.

However UKIP points out that at the recent European elections it matched, and in some cases overtook, the Labour vote in many parts of South Yorkshire.

The Green Party also has hopes of a breakthrough in Sheffield Central despite coming a distant fourth in 2010.

Its optimism is based on success in a recruitment drive at the city's two universities and its hopes that disaffected Liberal Democrat voters will switch to the Greens.

In 2010 Liberal Democrats almost took the seat with the then leader of the council Paul Scriven finishing just 165 votes behind Labour's Paul Blomfield.

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