Nick Clegg, the incumbent Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats is fighting to secure his Sheffield Hallam seat in the build up to the May 2015 General Election. His no longer safe seat and constituency have been under scrutiny in the media, with many outlets such as The Guardian and the Telegraph predicting that he will lose his seat to Labour come May.
The Leader of the Liberal Democrat’s climb to Number 10 following the hung government of the 2010 General Election was, following a major campaign pledge to remove tuition fees from the higher education industry in the UK, largely on the wave of young and often first-time voters. In 2010 the Liberal Democrats were the young person’s party and Clegg took the Sheffield Hallam seat with a 53.4% majority (total turnout of 51,135) resulting in a 6.9% swing of voter behaviour from Conservative to Liberal Democrats. 6 months later, on 3rd November 2010, the Coalition announced the trebling of tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000.
In the build up to the 2015 Election, the political landscape has changed beyond recognition. Previous fringe parties such as the SNP, Green Party and UKIP are now stripping votes from three main parties and, as such, it is widely predicted that there will be a hung government once more, come the May election. But it is unlikely that Nick Clegg will re-secure his Sheffield Hallam seat, according to a recent Ashcroft poll. The student population of Sheffield – both Sheffield Hallam and the University of Sheffield – totals approximately 55,000. If a moderate proportion of the Sheffield student population, nationally-renowned for their political activism and engagement, register and vote in the May elections, Clegg’s majority could quickly slide and the seat could fall to Labour. The Ashcroft poll revealed that Labour was polling 2% higher than the Liberal Democrats in Sheffield Hallam – at 36% to 34%.
The cogs have been slowly turning towards ousting Clegg from the Sheffield Hallam seat for the last 18 months, and in November 2014, The Guardian published a blog entry by student Aidan Phillips, urging students to rise up against Clegg and his broken tuition fees promise. Clegg, in April 2010, was one of the 200 MPs to sign an NUS pledge to prevent the rise of tuition fees and it is clear that the young people who voted for the Liberal Democrats as a direct result of the tuition fees promise, still feel short-changed and have turned to other parties such as Labour and the Green Party. Interesting to note is the absence of any information regarding the tuition fee increases or other changes to the HE industry on Clegg’s official campaign website; in its place are three main focuses for education and children that in no way mention tuition fees.
Labour’s Oliver Coppard, one of the candidates running against Clegg in May, stated in an interview with The Independent earlier this month that he predicted the need of a swing of 18.6% in order to secure the seat from the Liberal Democrats – is this achievable? With the announcement by the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, that the recent changes in automatic registration to vote has meant that 1m young people have been lost from the electoral roll, this question may well be to close to call before results are announced.
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