Ian Walker is an engineer, and is PPC for Sheffield Hallam.
It is fair to say that Conservatives in Sheffield and South Yorkshire have not had the most successful few years – but there are a team of committed members, activists and supporters who have been doing a huge amount of work here in recent years to get our message out. I stood as a candidate last October in the by-election for the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire. It was interesting to see that the Lib Dems were nowhere in that election – and came fifth in Sheffield in the European elections earlier in the year.
I am delighted to have been selected to contest the constituency for the Conservatives this May, and take on the Deputy Prime Minister. Sheffield is my city: it is where I was born and bred, where my children have grown up, and where I have grown a business. There is nowhere I am more passionate about and I want our city, and its residents and businesses, to thrive and prosper.
It is worth looking closely at the history of the Sheffield Hallam. It was in Conservative hands from when it was formed in the First World was until the Liberal Democrats won it in 1997. The Conservatives came second to Nick Clegg in 2010 when he was on a high. Now the latest polls put us neck and neck.
Matthew Parris’s assessment in his Times column is that it looks as though Nick Clegg will lose, since his support is “haemorrhaging”. This is partly because the large student constituency, which makes up almost one in five voters in the seat, feels betrayed by the Lib Dems.
The second reason why we have a chance to regain the seat is that Labour have spotted Nick Clegg’s vulnerability and, for the first time ever, have been making an effort in Hallam. Ed Miliband has stated that Clegg’s U-turn on tuition fees “left a whole generation doubting politics – doubting anyone can be believed or trusted”. This is splitting the left-wing vote – giving us a chance in what has become a three-way marginal.
There has been speculation that the Conservatives are not serious about Sheffield Hallam. My response is quite simple: we are – and they are wrong. On the doorstep, the mood is changing. People realise that the choice is between David Cameron and Miliband in Number Ten. Each of their parties has made their very different approaches and policies clear, and voters have an important choice to make.
On the whole, they are trusted to pursue the policies that they put forward. But voters are finding it difficult to see what the Lib Dems actually stand for (last time it was the abolition of student fees; now they say they will veto any reduction!) and, more importantly, how they can be trusted.
In 2010, the Lib Dems represented an ideal home for “protest” votes, but they have been rumbled. I stood for election in the local elections in May, and the Lib Dem vote collapsed in the polling districts where students live: they voted Green en masse.
There is also concern about how hard Nick Clegg has fought for the people of Sheffield. EU funding for Sheffield, allocated by the Lib Dems, has halved and a much expected Government loan to support Sheffield Forgemasters was also cancelled.
My career has been in engineering and manufacturing where I have started two export-led businesses in the city. I spent ten years as a non-executive director of Sheffield’s Strategic Health Authority and its successors, ending up chairing the audit committee for NHS North of England. I was Chairman of Sheffield’s Training and Enterprise Council supporting businesses and training apprentices, and lobbied for the establishment of Sheffield first University Technical College.
Yorkshire folk are a straight-talking people inherently suspicious of career politicians, which is why I, as a non-career politician, decided it was time to put my hat in the ring and to fight for Sheffield and for Conservative values and policies.
My vision is that MPs should ideally be members of the community, chosen by the electorate as someone who understands them and will fight hard for them. Labour has also sensed the Lib Dem’s vulnerability in this area as they, too, have selected a candidate born & bred in the constituency.
My children go to local schools. My wife and I use the local GP surgeries and hospitals. My family has benefitted from the excellent district nurses, and have used local care homes. I commute every day on our local roads – so I know where all the pot holes are!
I will be fighting the election on issues of integrity and authenticity, as well as pledging to secure a fair share for Sheffield from the extra investment promised to the North, so that we can grow our economy, and create more skilled jobs.
While he may have taken a brave decision for the future of country five years ago – one for which I personally respect him hugely – the right person to represent Sheffield Hallam for the next five years is not Nick Clegg.