Sheffield’s Brexit, Hard Evidence and Anecdotes

Vote remain: placard on window sill

For weeks I’ve been feeling an inarticulate kind of anger. No one cared to canvas in the former heartlands.

The current post is prompted specifically by the “anecdotal evidence” in Charles Pattie’s contribution to The Conversation. In the footnotes to what follows, you will find some additional information Sheffield’s demographic extremes. The main post provides direct anecdotal evidence from someone who works for the University of Sheffield (like Pattie), but lives on the city’s north eastern fringes.

In the run-up to Brexit, I regularly ranted about my frustration with the Labour Party. I was part of the ‘third surge‘, joining Labour the day Corbyn became leader because I wanted to give his politics a chance. I may not agree with all his political values, but I recognised him as the sole anti-austerity voice, the one candidate ready to refute the narrative that punished the poor to cling to a triple A rating.1

Why was I angry? Several times a week I received emails about the Referendum, soliciting my participation. I wanted to join in. I set a weekly reminder on my phone, checking details of the events as they became available late on Mondays. I particularly recall the following email, courtesy of Alan Johnson MP:

Alan Johnson email: The referendum will be decided in Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough


Buoyed up by the title, I opened and read this message with keen enthusiasm, clicking the link to volunteer. But where were the events in Brightside & Hillsborough? I scanned the list, scrutinised the postcodes. There were events in Walkley [5.5 miles], Crookes [6 miles], and South East Sheffield [6 miles], a phone bank in Heeley [4.8 miles]—Sheffield but not Brightside.2 Just as every earlier time, there was nothing near my neighbourhood.

Was it because our MP wanted to “Leave”? (The O/H’s suggestion. I was unconvinced.)

Was this because the local team were tired? There’d been some intense campaigning in the run up to May 5th, as a by-election coincided with elections for the council and South Yorkshire PCC, the sitting MP, Harry Harpham, having died of cancer in January. I had joined in, spending a couple of hours phoning postal voters to quiz them on their voting intentions and reassure them the ballot papers were on the way. Tiredness could have been part of it. But I had energy to give, and scant opportunity to give it.3

To offer no campaigning opportunities in a constituency identified as having “a high number of Labour supporters still unsure of how they’ll vote“… It felt at the time like a bad idea. And in hindsight?

Having heard my frustrations–what’s the point of being asked repeatedly to join a campaign that isn’t happening, and why wasn’t it happening?!–a couple of weeks pre-Referendum my better half asked a colleague, known to be a party activist. The answer: The Party was limiting its constituency campaign to “the posh bits of Hillsborough”.4

But they gave him a poster for asking.

That same day, another poster arrived in the post, addressed to me. So as a paid up Party member I had a poster to display; and for knowing a young activist our house had two. But if, anecdotally, there were fewer posters to be seen in my part of town, perhaps it’s because these were only available to paid up members or the well-connected.5

Truthfully, in my comings and goings, which pass through a limited part of Wincobank (better known to the average Sheffield incomer as “near Meadowhall”) ours are the only posters I’ve seen–for either side.

That’s my “anecdotal evidence”.

Meanwhile, Labour campaigned in the South and West, areas of the city not all so loyal to their party, but perhaps ones where the doorsteppers felt less resistance to their message. Yet were we/they/you really meant to be preaching only to the almost converted?

Now? I wait and watch from the sidelines while the Party implodes, and the country wretches. Feel angry that Labour left me watching from the sidelines as the Referendum came and went.6 Record anecdotes. Too late to campaign.

Map showing comparative deprivation in Sheffield c/o Church Urban Fund)
Map showing comparative levels of deprivation around Sheffield, courtesy of the Church Urban Fund. Pin is on Wincobank.

[1] And what a hollow laugh Osborne’s efforts now prompt . . .

[2] For the benefit of those unfamiliar with Sheffield’s geography, the areas named fall to the south or west of the city centre. As explained in today’s piece on The Conversation, and illustrated above by a map from the Church Urban Fund, the south west of Sheffield is very very different to the north east. The height of contrast would be Fulwood (where Nick Clegg lives) and Fir Vale (where Brightside & Hillsborough MP Gill Furniss lives) which out of England’s 12,599 parishes hold places 12,564 and 186 respectively on the index of least to most deprived. (That puts Clegg’s immediate neighbourhood as 36th wealthiest in all England.)
Data courtesy of the Church Urban Fund:

[3] As a city of seven hills, getting in and out of Sheffield means mainly relying on arterial roads, which–especially as I’m a non-driver–is part of why I care about campaigning being local. But also because my community had votes. I voted remain with every sinew. But my heart aches for those that Labour didn’t even care to canvas. Judge people not worth talking to, and we’ll all count the cost.

For the direct benefits of actually campaigning somewhere, see this piece also by Pattie.

And on tiredness, this is of course why the Referendum ought not to have followed so hard on the heels of May’s elections.

[4] When I mentioned this to colleagues, one marvelled that such a place existed; another could point to a few qualifying addresses. An indication, perhaps, of how the different generations are forced to familiarise themselves with different geography as house prices rise.

[5] There were, however, plenty of England flags. Did no one foresee the potential backlash, the accidental nationalist propaganda effect of running this Referendum during Euro 2016?

[6] The photograph at the head shows a placard. In a slightly redeeming tale, I was offered (by email) a garden stake. But the delivery volunteer came when no one was home and emailed to advise we had no garden. I promptly emailed back: we have a garden, and explaining how to get at it. And on my return home received a handwritten note: there’d been nowhere suitable for the stake (i.e. sufficiently visible) but the placard was in our back garden, and might we display it in our front window? We put it in the back, because as with many Sheffield terraces, that’s the bit some neighbours see. (And we already had posters in the front.)

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