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Clegg shrugs off Labour challenge

Nick Clegg has shrugged off suggestions that Labour is pumping resources into winning his Sheffield Hallam seat at the general election.

The Liberal Democrat leader held the constituency with 53% of the vote in 2010, but Opposition strategists reportedly believe he could be vulnerable after his U-turn on tuition fees and the cancellation of a government loan for local firm Sheffield Forgemasters.

Tom Watson, Ed Miliband's former election coordinator, told The Times Labour's candidate Oliver Coppard had built up a formidable group of volunteers.

"This seat is winnable for Labour," the Labour MP said. "I have never encountered such animosity on the doorstep against an incumbent MP - particularly one as high-profile.

"There are two issues that come up time and again: his position on tuition fees and Sheffield Forgemasters, which has not been forgotten."

But a spokesman for Mr Clegg said: "Other than Tom Watson ostentatiously knocking on a couple of doors in Crookes one afternoon, we haven't seen much evidence of Labour making progress in Sheffield Hallam.

"Labour are kidding themselves as much with this as they are with their shambolic economic policy.

"A total reliance on big money from the trade unions and nasty, personalised attacks are not going to win over the people of Sheffield Hallam.

"We look forward to any debate on the doorstep about the mess Labour left the country in and the Liberal Democrats record of a stronger economy; a fairer society and tax cuts for low and middle earners in Hallam."

A poll in Sheffield Hallam last month by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft gave Mr Clegg a lead of only three points.

Bookmaker William Hill made Mr Clegg 1/3 odds-on favourite to retain his seat, well ahead of Labour at 7/2, the Conservatives at 6/1 and Ukip on 10/1.

"As yet we haven't seen significant betting support against Clegg in his constituency," said Hill's spokesman Graham Sharpe.

"But there is little doubt that he will face a fight to hold on to the leadership of his party if they lose a significant number of their current total of 57 seats at the general election - and we predict they will end up with only between 21 and 30."


From Belfast Telegraph