UK Politics

Nick Clegg's Sheffield constituents uneasy at coalition

"He is a turncoat. I had a wasted vote. I voted for Nick Clegg and he gave it to the Conservatives. He is not what he said he is."

Image caption Mr Clegg's Sheffield constituents have mixed feelings about the coalition

Jean from Crookes in annoyed. Walking the dogs with a friend, she is looking out over the Peak District and battling to be heard above the wind.

Sheffield Hallam is a long way from the political stereotype of South Yorkshire.

Remember the former Labour cabinet minister and Sheffield MP David Blunkett and the "socialist republic of South Yorkshire"?

It does not feel like that in the west of the city. It is affluent, middle class - and, at least for now, a safe seat for Nick Clegg. But many people here feel disorientated by the coalition government.

Poisoned chalice

On the eve of the Liberal Democrat conference in Liverpool, in which the deputy prime minister has asked his activists to be patient, a Liberal Democrat councillor elsewhere in Sheffield has said he has had enough and joined the Labour Party.

Ben Curran said he was switching parties because of the coalition government, and his decision could have significant consequences.

The Lib Dems currently run Sheffield City Council, but Mr Curran's defection means Labour, the Greens and an Independent could topple them.

It would be a high profile casualty for the party in Nick Clegg's political backyard.

The only thing likely to spare the Lib Dem administration is Labour concluding they do not want to inherit a poisoned chalice where cuts are as inevitable as they are imminent.

Another councillor here, Frank Taylor, who left the Liberal Democrats a year ago to become an independent, is barbed in his analysis.

He has told the BBC Nick Clegg is a "selfish little nerd" and a "political prostitute" who "has killed the Lib Dems."

The criticisms of a disillusioned former party member could be argued to be just that. But it is a view that resonates with many here, and that will worry party strategists.

For all those who are proud that their MP is now deputy prime minister, or who wish the Conservatives had won an outright majority on their own, there seem to be plenty of others who feel conned.

Paul Scriven, the Liberal Democrat leader of Sheffield City Council, finds himself having to defend his administration and the national government.

"I am not bothered about the chaff that is going off. This is silly political nonsense. We want to ensure the private sector grows here, cut down waste and bureaucracy in the town hall and children get a good education. That is my focus," he says.

"If people want to cross the floor and play silly games that is what they do. The Liberal Democrats will stay focused on the job."

When pushed, he admits he is "disappointed" at the recent defection and will press on.

But national opinion polls suggest his long term job prospects might not be great.

Mr Scriven and his team are on the electoral front line, and if voters want to punish politicians for the impending cuts, they could get the blame at the ballot box.

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