‘Lesser of two evils’: voters in Sheffield Hallam look to Labour with reluctance

<span>The Crookes area in the Sheffield Hallam constituency.</span><span>Photograph: Andrew Fox/The Guardian</span>
The Crookes area in the Sheffield Hallam constituency.Photograph: Andrew Fox/The Guardian

On the high street of Crookes, a leafy hillside suburb of Sheffield with a large student population, there were plenty of people saying they would vote Labour at the next general election – but most weren’t too happy about it.

“It feels like the lesser of two evils – it’s definitely better than going back to what we’ve got,” said Amy Pattison, a 24-year-old occupational therapy student at Sheffield Hallam university. “All I know is I won’t be voting Tory. And whatever I do vote will be tactical.”

“Both the main parties at the moment are pretty shocking, as far as a young person’s views are concerned,” added her friend and coursemate, Lucy Hull, 26.

“I don’t trust the Tories at all, but I also don’t think Labour has really prioritised young people. This year the two main parties seem a lot closer together.”

Crookes sits at the edge of Sheffield Hallam, Nick Clegg’s former seat, which was won by Labour in 2017 after being held by the Liberal Democrats for a decade.

It is seats like this which experts have now suggested Labour could be at risk of losing as liberal voters turn away from the party over its stance on issues such as net zero and a ceasefire in Gaza.

“I just feel like Keir Starmer has gone back on a lot of policies that he’s had and I don’t like how he’s handled Palestine,” said Hull. “I don’t agree with how he’s conducted himself in a few things. It just makes me worry that he essentially wouldn’t stand up for the working person.”

Although there was palpable disillusionment with the Labour party, the Guardian didn’t speak to any voters who said they would place their vote elsewhere, and some were very enthusiastic at the prospect of a Labour government.

“I can’t wait until the election. I have long been a Labour voter – other than briefly drifting off towards other parties like the Lib Dems – but I’ll be voting Labour this time and I can’t wait. I really think they’ll win,” said Chris Gilmartin, a 69-year-old retired nursing sister.

Most people said they would vote Labour for one simple reason – to get the Conservatives out of power.

“I’ll be voting for Labour. But I’m more anti-Conservative than I am pro-Labour,” said Chris Macdonald, a 30-year-old teacher. “If our voting system was different I would be tempted by other parties, but it feels like it’s Labour or Tories, and I want them out.”

He said that while he likes Starmer – whom he described as a “grownup politician” – the party aren’t offering the “structural change” he would like to see.

“I would prefer Labour to be more bold; I think we need big change and I can’t see them really doing that. But I think it’s important for the country to have a change in government, and once they’re in power, maybe they can start being bolder.”

The Liberal Democrats, however, fancy their chances in places like Sheffield Hallam, with a series of local elections results suggesting their support is growing.

The party won every seat in Hallam at the last local election and comfortably won a byelection in January by more than 1,000 votes. In Ecclesall, Labour came third behind the Green party last year.

They believe national issues, such as Starmer’s refusal to back a ceasefire in Gaza, could push voters their way at a general election too.

“Keir Starmer has been the problem, with all his flip-flopping. Some voters are very upset with him,” said Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of the Sheffield Lib Dems, who will be vying to take back Sheffield Hallam for the party at the next general election.

“It is things like the two-child benefit cap, which was seen as very much a Tory policy, and [which Starmer] has now embraced. The Conservatives aren’t really in the running around here, so we’re one of the only options for an alternative vote.”

He added that he felt Labour was too pre-occupied with taking back votes in the “red wall” seats, which were won by the Conservatives in 2019.

“They think they’ve got places like Hallam, and many other places, in the bag. They’re taking people for granted,” he said. “They think Sheffield will all vote Labour, and the only places that might not are these red wall seats that have gone Conservative, so let’s just concentrate on those. Actually, every vote matters.”