Crushing success for Labour puts question mark over Clegg’s seat

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LABOUR enjoyed crushing success over the Liberal Democrats in Sheffield, gaining nine council seats and sending a warning that Nick Clegg may be under threat at the next General Election.

The Deputy Prime Minister’s home city now has a thumping Labour majority on the city council, with the party holding 59 of the 84 seats.

One of the most high-profile defeats came in the Broomhill ward where Paul Scriven, former leader of the Lib Dem group and the city council itself, was beaten into third place behind Labour and the Greens, who came second.

Mr Scriven, who narrowly lost in his attempt to claim the Sheffield Central Parliamentary constituency from Labour in 2010, said he wasn’t surprised. He said Labour had seen him as a prized scalp and had poured resources into fighting the election in his ward.

The Lib Dems took solace in the party’s ability to hold on to its seats within Mr Clegg’s Hallam constituency but elsewhere the party was humiliated with several candidates receiving fewer votes than the Greens and UKIP.

Labour leader Julie Dore said last year’s gain of nine seats from the Lib Dems bore an element of punishment for Mr Clegg, particularly after the coalition Government overturned a loan for the city’s iconic steel firm, Forgemasters.

But she said this year’s success was borne from voters’ unhappiness over the Government’s austerity measures.

Coun Dore said: “I believe the people of Sheffield have confidence in a Labour administration and feel safer in Labour’s hands with the onslaught of savage cuts from the Conservative and Lib Dem government.

“They know the impact the cuts are having on local services and trust Labour to stand up for the city.”

Each ward on Sheffield Council has three councillors, with one seat up for grabs in each of the three-years in the electoral cycle. Turnout was just under 33 per cent.

Lib Dem group leader Shaffaq Mohammed acknowledged a disappointing set of results but added: “The national trend was against us but I have to remind people that we were defending a high point from 2008. The tide was against us but we need to stay strong as a group in Sheffield for when the tide turns against Labour.

“What we can’t have in Sheffield is a single party state. Yes, it’s difficult to lose some hard-working colleagues but we are still the largest opposition party.”

Asked if he was confident Mr Clegg would retain his Parliamentary seat, Coun Mohammed pointed to the Lib Dems retention of wards in the Hallam constituency but added the party “would take nothing for granted”.

Mr Clegg wasn’t at the count in Sheffield but several of the city’s Labour MPs were, with Paul Blomfield pointing to the damage he believes the Deputy Prime Minister is doing to the Lib Dems.

The Sheffield Central MP said: “The sense of betrayal that people feel about the Lib Dems nationally is writ large in Sheffield. It’s particularly because of Clegg, particularly because of Forgemasters and it’s delivering a humiliating defeat for them. The Lib Dems need to think about Clegg’s leadership of the party, the way they are propping up a very right-wing Tory government.

“We still have a way to go but these results demonstrate we are moving in the right direction and regaining people’s confidence after what was undoubtedly a very poor result in 2010.”

Aside from Labour, the Greens also enjoyed success with an increased majority in the one seat the party was defending and healthy support in other wards.

Rob Murphy, who retained Central ward for the Greens, said: “We don’t get the national profile other parties do but where we are able to publicise ourselves people do see an alternative to the three main parties.”

The Conservatives endured another blank day with the party still having no representation on the council. A determined attempt to win the leafy seat of Dore and Totley from the Lib Dems fell short by more than 400 votes.

The Tories had fielded former Sheffield councillor Anne Smith, who previously represented the ward, but she lost to the Lib Dem group deputy leader Colin Ross, who slightly increased his majority.

University student George Lindars-Hammond, 20, became one of the city’s youngest councillors when he took the Hillsborough seat for Labour from the Lib Dems.