By Elliot Morgan
“Nick Clegg, shame on you, shame on you for turning blue” and “Cleggy, Cleggy, Cleggy, Out, Out, Out” were some of the chants ringing around Barkers Pool this weekend, as people from all over South Yorkshire voiced their opinions about their local MP and Deputy Prime Minister as the Liberal Democrat Party Conference was held at Sheffield City Hall.
A large scale Police operation, reportedly costing around two million pounds, saw metal barricades erected and roads closed off all around City Hall with over one hundred officers deployed around the city centre, in response to the Metropolitan polices lack of preperation during the London protests a few months ago.
Hundreds of protesters turned out to put leaverage on the Lib Dems, who initially promised to scrap tuition fees and avoid heavy public sector cuts but have since U-turned in the Tory coalition government. Protesters included students, union representatives, charity organisations and supporters of other political parties.
As supporters of the Lib Dems passed the crowds, they were met with a barrage of taunts such as “shame on you” and “is this what democracy looks like?” but despite the frustration of protestors, violence was kept to a bare minimum with only one arrest being made over the entire weekend. PC Caroline Cooper of the South Yorkshire Police said “It’s been calm. Besides the arrest yesterday [Friday] there’s been no trouble.”
In the space of one year, Clegg has gone from being a student favourite and one of the most likeable politicians in many years, excelling in his public image during the televised debates, to having people young and old calling for his head just 10 months into his job as Deputy PM.
Luke Barrett, 19, from Sheffield is a student at University of Sheffield who voted for the Lib Dems in the 2010 general election, he was with a group of young protesters at the barriers voicing his opinions to the Lib Dems through a megaphone. I asked him why he was there and what he hopes the efforts of the protest would do for them.
The high profile event which saw the Liberal Democrats have their first party conference since the general election, attracted groups from other political parties hoping to gain some supporters looking for alternatives to what Nick Clegg branded as “The Alternative” party, in the Lib Dems.
Sean Webster and Jean Booth are both Green Party activists and were at City Hall looking to capitalise on the negative attention of the Conference in a bid to enlist more people to join the Greens. Mr Webster said “At the end of the day the Lib Dems are exactly like Labour and the Conservatives, they offer no substantial change which we can all see and benfit from, Mr Clegg has a lot to answer for in his home town but today we’ve had a lot of support, a fair few have signed up, people are just getting fed up of the lies.”
Ms Booth said “We [The Greens] are a party which offers genuine change from the mainstream parties, were recruiting more and more people every year, especially youngsters. It’s time someone else had a go instead of the constant let downs of the main parties.”
Over 500 Liberal Democrat Party members attended over the course of the weekend but all those I asked refused to comment. Nick Clegg recieved a standing ovation on Sunday night when he ended the Conference with his speech, the reception however, would have been much different had it been an outdoor affair. Despite the rowdiness of those rallying outside, the public safety was not compromised and the protest was altogether a peaceful one. Just ask this guy.