Battle stations as poll date nears

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Sheffield goes to the polls this month with political skirmishes emerging across the city.

Although no overall shift in power is expected after May 22, wards such as Broomhill and neighbouring Crookes have the ingredients to make them worth monitoring.

At the last local elections, two years ago, Labour gained a seat in Broomhill from the Liberal Democrats, taking the scalp of former council leader Paul Scriven.

In fact, the Lib Dems came third, also behind the Greens, who are making a big push this time to overturn Labour’s majority of 201. They currently have two Sheffield councillors, both in Central, where they are aiming for a third.

Already things have been shaken up in Broomhill as a result of Liberal Democrat and city opposition leader Shaffaq Mohammed deciding to switch to Crookes, leading to accusations that he was “jumping ship” to a safer ward, which he denies.

His critics believe he could pay a price in the form of a backlash against the Lib Dems - both in Broomhill and Crookes. Representing the Lib Dems in Broomhill is Harry Matthews - a student in a ward heavily populated with students.

Across the country, they may be local elections, but they are usually won and lost on national issues and reaction to Government policies, and the low poll ratings of the Liberal Democrats in general and Nick Clegg in particular suggest a tough time in Sheffield as elsewhere.

However, the city’s Liberal Democrats have a strong record of seizing on local issues - and in Broomhill, the future of the community library figures prominently.

The Lib Dems - and Greens - have campaigned vigorously to try to ensure it does not close as a result of council cutbacks.

And the library was high on the agenda when Broomhill Forum held hustings last month.

Candidates were also asked for their views on issues ranging from traffic and air pollution in the suburb - running concerns in the community - and the plight of local shops and bus fares.

An enthusiastic turnout of more than 60 people, suggested there is still a spark of interest in local elections.

In the Crookes ward, which includes Crosspool and Sandygate, the Lib Dems are defending a more comfortable majority of 549 over Labour.

But Labour is aware of the potential political value of ousting the city’s Lib Dem leader - and have Anne Marie Murphy, who has lived in Crookes all her life, as a candidate. Not that the Lib Dems won’t be putting up a fight. Not only is Crookes a ward that they want to retain, but it is now part of Nick Clegg’s Hallam constituency and the result will be analysed as a pointer to how the Liberal Democrat leader will fare in next year’s general election.

Residents report that Mr Clegg’s team has already been busy with leaflets.

Former Liberal Democrat councillor John Hesketh is standing again as an Independent. He lives in Crookes and was a ward councillor for 16 years, once serving alongside Shaffaq Mohammed in a Lib Dem cabinet at Sheffield Town Hall.

He left the Lib Dems, taking exception to the direction of Nick Clegg’s party, and polled 736 votes two years ago, which suggests he could play an important part in a keenly contested ward.

Some observers are raising an eyebrow that there is no Conservative candidate in Crookes, nor Stannington, two wards in a Hallam constituency that was once seen as natural Tory territory.

Conspiracy theorists wonder whether a secret deal has been struck between Cameron and Clegg. One local politician is not convinced, but says: “I have to say that Sheffield Conservatives are giving a very good impression of not being bothered about fighting Clegg in Hallam.”

There is still no Conservative on Sheffield City Council, although they are fielding candidates in most Sheffield wards.