Prospective Parliamentary Candidate Laura Gordon hopes to be the first Liberal Democrat to become its custodian after her party’s ex-leader and former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, was dumped from the seat in 2017 at the hands of Jared O’Hara.
Despite that electoral shock, Ms Gordon quite naturally says it is the latter politician – then of Labour, now an independent – who is most on the lips of constituents on the doorstep.
“A lot of people are concerned about Jared and the situation there. That’s by far the most common issue people raise,” she says, even more so than core debates about the NHS or Brexit.
Of the MP’s time in office, the mother-of-one said: “I think it’s very challenging and it does raise a number of other issues (but) people are incredibly frustrated about his poor voting record.”
Sheffield Hallam is “very pro-Remain”, she said – but Mr O’Mara has missed a number of key votes on the subject of Brexit.
While he has previously spoken about missing votes on health grounds, on other occasions Ms Gordon said he had cited “other commitments”.
She said: “That’s not really good enough. Your primary job is to represent your constituents in Parliament.”
Mr O’Mara resigned from Labour nine days after the party reinstated him following a suspension amid controversy over online comments the politician, now 37, made in his early 20s. At the election his majority was just 2,125 – 3.8 per cent – so the Lib Dems will be eyeing the constituency keenly as the potential for a snap General Election looms.
Ms Gordon denies Mr Clegg’s loss at the 2017 election was purely about mistakes which, she concedes, were made during her party’s coalition government with the Conservatives.
She said: “I think there were factors in 2015 which saw a lot of Conservative voters vote tactically to keep Nick as the MP instead of Labour and a lot of that unravelled in 2017.”
Part of the Green vote also moved to Labour ahead of its success in 2017, she said, as well younger people backing Jeremy Corbyn, voters who may now not feel the same because of his reticence over Brexit.
Ultimately, she continues, “we held the seat in 2015”, but adds: “I think the story that a lot of people tell is that it’s about young people and tuition fees. There’s is absolutely a truth to that. We made mistakes and there was some dissatisfaction.”
She also claims that the Lib Dems being in coalition with the Tories helped to prevent Brexit from happening earlier.
“When the Liberal Democrats were in government, we did not leave the European Union. I hope we won’t leave the European Union.”
She added: “We prevented that explosion of populism that we’ve seen since.”
Ms Gordon said that the party “curbed some of the worst excesses of what the Tories were proposing”.
And policies driven by her party also led to the UK becoming a world leader in offshore energy, she says, after the work of former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Davey.
It is Mr Davey she is currently leaning towards voting for in the Liberal Democrat leadership race, but she has not made up her mind.
She feels that Mr Davey and Jo Swinson both have lots of experience and agrees with their call for a “Government of unity”.
Ms Swinson this week called for a “devolution revolution”, another subject Ms Gordon is keen to put forward.
Currently, she’s in favour of the Sheffield City Region model.
She said: “I’m a very big supporter of the Sheffield City Region. That model’s about infrastructure and skills and supporting business in the local economy. For me, that’s the right model, for the powers that are being devolved.
“I don’t think that means we can’t explore other models of devolution generally.
“If we’re looking at devolving a wider range of powers I think that means, at that point, the One Yorkshire model would be a better model.”
She added that Sheffield City Region is on the table, and One Yorkshire is not.
“We need to take what’s on offer” and “show that it can work,” she said.
Originally from Kent, Ms Gordon and her junior doctor husband, David, moved to Sheffield in 2012.
The plan was to stay for two years, but she says they loved it so much they decided to settle there, and now have a nine-month-old daughter, Elizabeth.
Ms Gordon previously worked in humanitarian roles for charities such as Oxfam and Save the Children in countries affected by conflict, Ebola and natural disasters, and in roles concerning climate change.
Speaking about witnessing droughts, she said: “I really did feel of my career that I was watching climate change happen.”
Ms Gordon said it hit home the urgency of the climate crisis.
And of her chances in a General Election, she said: “There’s a real appetite in Sheffield for change. At the last election every single MP was wearing a Labour rosette. There is a sense that the region has been represented by one party for too long. That is unhealthy. They’re finding the Lib Dems are different and dynamic.”
Response from Mr O'Mara
Jared O’Mara’s chief of staff Gareth Arnold responded to Ms Gordon’s criticisms.
Referring to Ms Gordon as “Litterbug Laura” of the “Leaflet Democrats” because of her keen doorstep pamphleteering, he said that indicative Brexit votes have been missed due to his boss’s mobility issues. Mr O’Mara has cerebral palsy and hemiparesis.
The system is “weighted against him”, he said, and called for better proxy voting rules – something Ms Gordon also touched on herself.
Of the “other commitments”, Mr Arnold said these related to a “wealth” of activity such as meeting constituents. He used the example of a visit to Sheffield Children’s Hospital, where he pushed for reevaluated policies.