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Monday 7th March 2011 | 12:42
Staging the Lib Dem spring conference in Sheffield must have seemed like a nice idea at the time.
With a shiny new Government and the party's first ever Deputy Prime Minister, what better place to host the event than in Nick Clegg*'s own backyard?
But as this weekend's gathering approaches, it could prove to be more than a tad tricky in more ways than one for the DPM.
The party has decided to undertake a programme of "community outreach" in the city, with thousands of activists canvassing local voters. Away from the main conference hall, conference favourites Chris Huhne and Sarah Teather will hold "surgeries" with local activists, we're told.
With the May local elections looming, it will be worth seeing whether any of this activity has any impact: Labour are just one seat behind the Lib Dems and look on course to sweep back to power in the Steel City.
The thorny issue for the Lib Dems is whether their leader is now a vote loser, even on his own manor.
I've been told that a local private polling shows Clegg's popularity has plummeted in Sheffield Hallam from 51% to 31%. Of the 20% who have fallen out of love, most have gone to Labour, although some voters are peeling off to the Tories.
The nightmare scenario for Clegg is that he develops a kind of 'reverse Midas touch'.
If Sheffield turns red in May, the ridicule will be piled on thick and talk will inevitably begin that he faces the loss of his own seat, should he decide to stay on as an MP in 2015 (though some suspect that he will be kicked upstairs to the Lords or Europe by then).
*FOOTNOTE: Clegg has also been confronted with something that has long caused irritation to Tory and Labour activists: those infamous 'newspapers' put out by the Lib Dems.
The Herts Advertiser has pointed out the apparent contradiction between Clegg's crackdown on council publications which pretend to be newspapers and his own party's publication of campaign leaflets which..er..pretend to be newspapers.
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