Speaking in Sutton before the 2010 general election, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, said to an audience of young voters: “The opportunity is immense this time. The cross you put on the ballot paper might be small, but the opportunity is big.”
Back then – during the height of “Cleggmania” – there was the opportunity to change politics for the better by voting for the Lib Dems. But today, it’s the chance to unseat the Deputy Prime Minister and rid parliament of one politician who has done more than any to disillusion young voters.
Make no mistake – Clegg’s home seat of Sheffield Hallam is most definitely in play. Clegg is three points behind Labour’s parliamentary candidate, Oliver Coppard, in the latest Ashcroft polling. And the long-running trend is decisively against the incumbent. Back in May 2014, ICM polling showed Labour up by ten points in Sheffield Hallam. On February 5 this year, Survation showed Clegg losing by the same margin. A Labour victory isn’t only likely; it’s probable.
That’s why this Saturday the Young Fabians, the youth wing of the Labour-affiliated Fabian Society, are helping to co-ordinate a national campaign day in Sheffield. We’re travelling from far and wide to join friends from Labour Students and Labour members in the constituency in a united effort to #kickNickout of front-line politics once and for all. Around 70 activists are expected on the ground. Many of them are young people who feel betrayed by Clegg and let down by the promise of the Lib Dems.
And they are right to feel this way. On that sunny day in Sutton in 2010, Clegg railed against the fact that one in five young people between 18 and 24 were out of work. Five years on, young people are still three times more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population.
In 2010, he promised to close “the grotesque loopholes at the top of the tax system”. Five years on, the tax gap (the difference between the amounts of tax that should be collected by HMRC against what is actually corrected) stands at 6.8 per cent – up £1 billion from April 2012.
In 2010, he said “never again” to the obscene bankers’ bonuses seen prior to the global financial crisis. Five years on, bankers’ bonuses have grown at double the rate of the average UK worker.
This is to say nothing of his complicity in passing the Tories’ bedroom tax, cutting funds to local government, scrapping the education maintenance allowance and, of course, tripling university tuition fees.
Coppard has worked wonders in a seat that Labour hasn’t won once since its creation in 1885. He’s mobilised students from across Sheffield and across the country to take on their nemesis on his own turf. The campaign is punching above its weight financially and creating an irresistible buzz that is now drawing a broader range of young people – from secondary school pupils to young professionals – into the fight. Coppard’s policies are proving popular, particularly his petition calling for local estate agents to scrap letting fees, which echoes Labour’s national housing policy.
But Coppard will need all the troops he can muster to win on May 7th, and I, for one, intend to provide them.