The Labour Leadership: Voters satisfied as public image marries passion: Jonathan Foster visits the grassroots in Sheffield and finds activists glowing with pride and hope, but wondering about the 'hows'

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The Independent Online
MODERNISERS changed the face of Sheffield Labour last year, anticipating the Blair image, when most city and constituency party officials moved out of dusty Victorian rooms into plush, hi-tech headquarters.

They watched the results yesterday in suites just over the road from a branch of the John Lewis partnership and, amid the glow from computer screens, felt a hopeful glow of pride after the new leader's speech.

'Very moving,' Pam Roddis said. 'I agree with every word. I understand the whys, I just want to know about the hows.'

Steven Barnard, a 27-year-old candidate at the May local elections, thought the election result had struck the right balance. 'We have Blair with the right public image, and Prescott with the passion to improve organisation. It was good to hear a Labour leader use the s-word - socialism,' Mr Barnard said.

A young researcher was struck by Mr Blair's roots in fashion and oratory. 'I can't get over the fact that, for the first time, we have a party leader who once wore loon pants,' he said.

South Yorkshire was not one of Mr Blair's power bases. The Prescott campaign was run by Richard Caborn, the Sheffield Central MP. But an 80-year era when the Sheffield machine could guarantee a left-wing vote has passed. Local party members were severely demoralised after a fourth general election defeat and the great steel and engineering workforces are depleted and no longer swayed by union leaders.

Pete Smith, information technology expert in the offices, said he voted for Mr Blair as 'the best in terms of prime ministerial material' and John Prescott for the deputy leader the party needed.

'The party needs urgently to be moved in the direction of increased membership and an organisation which is more efficient and responsive,' he said.

The Prescott campaign won converts in South Yorkshire, where 14 out of 15 seats are safely held by Labour.

A group of eight former miners drinking yesterday in Barnsley split three ways between Blair supporters, Prescott voters, and abstentions. Four were unemployed.

Mr Blair was the sensible vote, an able, principled and educated man, they said, the only chance Labour had because he was the only one of the candidates who could swing the south of England to Labour.

The Prescott campaign, they said, had hit the right note. 'I was going to vote for Tony Blair because he was the best thing for the party, but I voted for Prescott because his policies are actually what people around here want,' one man said.

What was the point of voting Labour in South Yorkshire if it was not committed to full employment? And what was the point of voting for a Labour party that would never win votes down south?

Only one doubt lurks in the mind of Labour in the 'Socialist Republic of South Yorkshire'. Has the electorate been modernised?