TWENTY years ago the Attercliffe area of Sheffield was the most industrial constituency in Western Europe. Attercliffe was at the heart of British heavy industry, with British Steel and General Electric plants, together with coal mining and iron foundries all supporting communities in the surrounding area.
Now Sheffield has the largest percentage of unemployment in the country. Among men in Attercliffe it is heading for 30 per cent.
Local Labour MP Patrick Duffy stared dejectedly and described the scene in Attercliffe today. "It is deserted. Twenty thousand have left from our ward alone. There hasn't been as dramatic a change in any constituencY in Western Europe as in Attercliffe" he said.
Patrick Duffy has represented the Attercliffe constituency since 1970 and has been a consistent spokesman for the depressed areas of the north, claiming that it does not always get the attention it deserves.
He recently warned the Commons about the gulf between those in the north and those in the south.
"A nation now divided will be more divided. The rich will get richer and the poor will be lucky if they only stay as poor as they are," he implored.
He is defending a majority of more than eleven thousand, and he said he believed that the overwhelming issue in the next election will be jobs. However, he has warned Labour supporters that they must get their message across, something which he felt they had failed to do in the recent by-elections.
He leaned forward and gestured forcefully with his hands. "If Labour is not careful, it will hand the election to the Alliance", he said.
He feared that the next parliament could see between 40 and 50 "loony Left extremists" as he put it, and has been known to clash with some sections of the Left before now.
Yet despite this, he has never once been censured by his local party, with which he enjoys excellent relations. His most pressing problems are not those of political in-fighting, but of the economic state of his constituency.
The depression in the north, he said, was not rooted in the vindictiveness on the part of the Conservative Government, but rather in its.underestimation of the seriousness of the situation.
He accused Tory ministers of simply not realising the extent of the north-south divide. "Those who represent southern constituencies cannot appreciate just how serious is the neglect of the north and the widening gap Patrick Duffy between the north and the south" he said during an employment debate in parliament last month.
Although often closely identified with these "bread and butter" issues, Patrick Duffy has also taken up the issue of AIDS with greater vigour than many of his colleagues. He has called for a significant change in behaviour patterns as the best defence against the disease.
"We need to get back to the fundamentals like the importance of marriage, the family, faithfulness and the proper upbringing of children", he said. He has urged his own city council in Sheffield to take a greater lead in the fight against AIDS, and cited the claims of many parents in his constituency who believe that there is a need for more pastoral help on the subject, and voiced his fears that AIDS may be a greater threat than it is currently perceived to be.
Of all the issues which confront an MP, however, Mr Duffy explained that abortion is the one which generates the most mail. He is a long-time antiabortionist, and has felt pressure from many quarters to modify his position. Such attempts have met with little success.
He shook his head defiantly and said: "At a time of decline, especially in those values which touch on morality, it becomes more difficult for those who insist on fighting for their preservation. But I've never shirked that responsibility, whatever the political dangers".
Although he has always been ready to campaign on behalf of those worried about matters like abortion and AIDS, he concluded by hoping that Catholics would take on more political responsibility "where it matters", as he said, in their trade unions, on their local councils and in their local parties.
"Then things will really start to change", he said.