Clegg on frontline on home turf

Residents of Lodge Moor may have opened their door the other day to find Nick Clegg.

The Deputy Prime Minister was campaigning for the Liberal Democrats in his Hallam constituency in the run-up to an election next Thursday.

Yet voters in the Fulwood ward are out on their own this time in Sheffield.

Although it will be polling day for county councils, including Derbyshire, there will not be the usual elections for district councils. So a third of the seats on Sheffield City Council will not be up for grabs. Whatever happens across the country on May 2, Labour will still be in control of Sheffield town hall.

A by-election is being held in the Fulwood ward because of the death last March of Lib Dem councillor Janice Sidebottom. The well-respected councillor lost a fight against cancer at the age of 65.

Fulwood was taken over by the Lib Dems in their ousting of Conservatives from the Hallam constituency. All three ward seats are held by the Lib Dems, and their candidate in the by-election, Cliff Woodcraft, has declared: “I aim to make sure Janice’s work continues.” Mr Woodcraft, aged 63, lives in Fulwood and is a volunteer delivering lunches to vulnerable people for St Luke’s Church, Lodge Moor.

The party won in Fulwood last year with an 800 majority and is campaigning on the basis that the local Labour council has “neglected this part of the city over many years”.

Second was Vonny Watts, aged 46, who describes herself as a “mum, small business owner in the city, ex-teacher, Fulwood resident and governor of Beck Primary School”.

In particular, she has been at the forefront of campaigns to improve road safety and to highlight the “crazy” school allocations system in the city.

Labour’s candidate is Olivia Blake, a Sheffield University microbiology and medical biology PhD student, who is campaigning on ‘issues facing young people’.

Given the animosity among students towards Nick Clegg over tuition fees, and a high proportion of public sector workers in the ward, Labour aims to give the Lib Dems something to think about.

Two polling stations are in student villages - a consequence of long queues at Ranmoor station at the last general election. (Others are Christ Church Hall, Canterbury Avenue, the Community Room, Westminster Crescent, The Beacon at Nether Green Methodist Church and St John’s Ranmoor Parish Centre).

The effect of Government spending cuts on Sheffield - and the way the Labour council is responding - is one of the main issues. Specifically, Labour finds itself defending cuts such as the proposed closure of Don Valley Stadium.

In the county council elections across the country, one of the key factors is being seen as the level of impact of the UK Independence Party. Will Tories switch their allegiance? In Fulwood, UKIP are represented by John Greenfield, a charge nurse for the Macmillan cancer unit in Sheffield.

Brian Webster, aged 24, another Sheffield University PhD student, is standing for the Green Party. He says: “We’d like to highlight that there are choices to be made at local level about cuts.”

Under normal circumstances, a Fulwood by-election would not attract much attention. But Nick Clegg being the constituency MP will always add a little spice, and the performance of the Lib Dems will be monitored closely.

2012 election: Lib Dems 2,144, Conservatives 1331, Labour 1026, Greens 731, UKIP 318. The turnout was 38.62%.