Do the Tories care about Sheffield?

Andrew Cook, chairman of William Cook, Sheffield.
Andrew Cook, chairman of William Cook, Sheffield.

THEY’RE the biggest party in the coalition Government and made gains across Britain in the local elections, despite the unpopularity of cuts - but questions have been raised by a leading Sheffield Tory donor about why the party has made no progress in England’s fourth-largest city.

Although Conservative candidates stood in all wards at the Sheffield Council elections, serious campaigning took place in just one ward, Dore and Totley, and the party failed to win the seat.

It took 11.8 per cent of votes cast but has no councillors at all.

The party has not had any representative in Sheffield since Anne Smith lost in the ward in 2008 - and she had to fund her own, unsuccessful campaign to seek re-election that year. Its last MP in Sheffield, Sir Irvine Patnick, lost Hallam to the Lib Dems in 1997.

Conservatives are deeply resented in parts of the city due to the decline of the steel and coal industries during the Thatcher years - but no more so than in other mining and industrial areas such as Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster and north Derbyshire, where there are Conservative councillors.

And the party was in control of Bassetlaw Council, which covers ar former coalfield area, until last week when it was taken by Labour. The party made overall gains nationwide, however.

Sheffield steel magnate Andrew Cook, who provided David Cameron with private flights via his engineering firm William Cook Holdings, and gave £700,000 to the Tories i before the 2010 General Election, said they should be doing better.

He said: “It’s a poor do that the party has no representation in Sheffield at a time when gains are being made in local government elsewhere around the UK.

“Areas such as Dore and Totley and other parts of south west Sheffield are areas we should be winning. I can’t give any reasons for the current position as I am not involved in local party politics.”

The only major campaigning activity in South Yorkshire was in the Penistone and Stocksbridge seat before the General Election - where Spencer Pitfield was Tory candidate. He now chairs Sheffield Conservative Association.

His opponent, Labour’s Angela Smith - who won the seat with a 3,049 majority - said: “The lack of a Tory campaign in Sheffield this year raises questions about their commitment to the area.

“Is it also because they were deliberately trying to make things easier for Nick Clegg in terms of keeping Lib Dem council seats in his Hallam constituency?”

But the suggestion was rejected by Dore and Totley councillor Colin Ross, standing to replace Paul Scriven as city Lib Dem leader.

He said: “It’s a ridiculous allegation. The Tories fought a vigorous campaign against us in Dore and Totley, putting out leaflets and even a mailshot from David Cameron.

“Their standing elsewhere in Sheffield has nothing to do with the coalition, it’s been falling away for years.

“I think their lack of presence in the south west of Sheffield is to do with the good work of Lib Dem councillors in those wards - people recognise our efforts locally and on the city council.”

Daniel Gage, unsuccessful Tory candidate for Dore and Totley, said: “Sheffield is a difficult shell to crack for the Conservatives but Dore and Totley is a seat where we can mount a strong challenge.

“It was decided to direct the majority of our resources into the ward where we stood a chance of winning, with the idea of then making progress elsewhere.”