How the Boundary Commission is treating Cornwall differently

What exactly is the Local Government Boundary Commission up to? Is Cornwall being used as a pilot project to see how far they can get away with cutting back democratic representation in local government? Or is it being singled out in order to smooth the path for its ongoing transformation, as our coastal areas become a safely domesticated bolthole for the rich and our inland towns over-populated, congested rat runs?

In line with neoliberal dogma, there’s a general trend these days to prune back democratic representation in local government with fewer councillors representing more people each so maybe Cornwall is just experiencing the same change as anywhere else. The Boundary Commission’s website lists all the current boundary reviews. Cornwall is one of 16 comparable unitary authorities being reviewed. Let’s put it in context in the following table.

Current reviews

Current size Proposed size Change Proposed residents per cllr
Bath & NE Somerset 65 59 – 9% 3,182
Blackburn 64 51 – 20% 2,883
Cheshire W & Chester 75 70 – 7% 4,795
Cornwall 123 87 – 29% 6,364
Croydon 70 70 n/c 5,461
Hull 59 57 – 3% 4,566
Leeds 99 99 n/c 7,896
Manchester 96 96 n/c 5,638
Newcastle 78 78 n/c 3,801
Redcar & Cleveland 59 59 n/c 2,295
Rotherham 63 59 – 6% 4,439
Rutland 26 26 n/c 1,485
South Gloucs 70 61 – 13% 4,551
Torbay 36 36 n/c 3,719
West Berks 52 43 – 17% 3,647
Windsor & Maidenhead 57 43 – 25% 3,461

As can be seen from this table, its treatment is exceptional. Seven of the unitary councils are seeing no change to their council size. The mean reduction in the other eight (excluding Cornwall) is 15%. The proposed reduction for Cornwall is almost twice that again – at an eye watering 29%. The only authorities that come anywhere close to this in terms of change are Blackburn and Windsor. But in comparison with Cornwall these are very small and their councillors will be asked to represent far fewer residents than in Cornwall. In fact, in terms of the number of residents per councillor Cornwall looks to be treated more like a densely populated urban area. Even here, only in Leeds will councillors represent more people than in Cornwall.

Cornwall’s reduced number of elected representatives will each have to represent more people than their colleagues in Manchester, Hull, Newcastle, Rotherham and Croydon. They will have to represent twice the number of people as councillors will in Bath, Blackburn or Redcar and four times the number in Rutland. Are Cornwall’s councillors particularly energetic? Are they super-human? The Boundary Commission apparently thinks so.

Is this proper? Is it fair? Is it just? We need to ask the Boundary Commission why they’re treating Cornwall so differently from everywhere else. But they’re refusing to tell us.

Advertisements

The questions the Boundary Commission still won’t answer

Following my letter to the Local Government Boundary Commission last week seeking clarification as to why Cornwall Council had been singled out for an unprecedented level of cuts in its democratic representation, today I received the following brief reply from the Commission.

Thank you for your submission. It has been received and will be considered by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England. We will let you know if and when a new phase of consultation for this review opens.

I have replied as follows.

Dear …..,

I think you did not read my communication of the 27th September fully. Here it is again with the most relevant part in bold.

In relation to the above review, on your website I can find no justification for the proposed reduction of 29% in the level of democratic representation on Cornwall Council. In your letter of 13 June to the Council’s Chief Executive you merely assert that a council size of 87 is the ‘most appropriate’ but provide no rationale for this decision. Given its lack of precedent this is entirely unacceptable. Moreover, I can find no answer anywhere on your website to two key questions I posed in my original submission. I’ll restate them here.

a) Why is Cornwall being treated in such a manifestly different manner from Durham UA, the most comparable authority? in its review of Durham UA in 2012 the LGBCE concluded that 126 councillors would still be required in order to provide ‘efficient and convenient local government’. It then rejected local calls to reduce the Council’s size to 85 members. (Incidentally, this decision leaves the people of Durham, the population of which is 29,000 lower than Cornwall, with a councillor for every 4,125 inhabitants, a better level even that Cornwall’s current 4,467 and much superior to the one councillor per 6,315 being proposed by the Commission.)

b) Why is Cornwall being singled out for this unprecedented reduction in its level of democratic representation, one not seen previously anywhere in England?

Until a satisfactory response to these questions is received it would clearly be premature to discuss the technicalities of ward boundaries. Therefore I attach my previous submission about Council size, while awaiting explicit answers to the above two questions.

As you can see I would like some sort of response to these two questions from the Local Government Boundary Commission before submitting my views on ward boundaries.

I look forward to an early reply,

The questions the Local Government Boundary Commission refuses to answer

Here’s a letter sent to the Local Government Boundary Commission. Until an answer to these questions is received we shouldn’t be distracted by arguing about ward boundaries.

Dear Sirs,

Electoral review of Cornwall Council

In relation to the above review, on your website I can find no justification for the proposed reduction of 29% in the level of democratic representation on Cornwall Council. In your letter of 13 June to the Council’s Chief Executive you merely assert that a council size of 87 is the ‘most appropriate’ but provide no rationale for this decision. Given its lack of precedent this is entirely unacceptable. Moreover, I can find no answer anywhere on your website to two key questions I posed in my original submission. I’ll restate them here.

a) Why is Cornwall being treated in such a manifestly different manner from Durham UA, the most comparable authority? in its review of Durham UA in 2012 the LGBCE concluded that 126 councillors would still be required in order to provide ‘efficient and convenient local government’. It then rejected local calls to reduce the Council’s size to 85 members. (Incidentally, this decision leaves the people of Durham, the population of which is 29,000 lower than Cornwall, with a councillor for every 4,125 inhabitants, a better level even that Cornwall’s current 4,467 and much superior to the one councillor per 6,315 being proposed by the Commission.)

b) Why is Cornwall being singled out for this unprecedented reduction in its level of democratic representation, one not seen previously anywhere in England?

Until a satisfactory response to these questions is received it would clearly be premature to discuss the technicalities of ward boundaries. Therefore I attach my previous submission about Council size, while awaiting explicit answers to the above two questions.

I look forward to your reply,

The level of representation proposed by the Boundary Commssion in context

Cornwall Council’s boundary review – heading for post-democracy

It may be of limited concern to 95% of people, but the Local Government Boundary Commission is consulting on the size of Cornwall Council. Their proposal involves an unprecedented cut in the number of elected representatives and the consequent ability of communities in Cornwall to influence policy. While no-one is shedding any tears over Cornwall Council, Cornwall is again being singled out for special and unfair treatment. Here’s the start of my submission to the Boundary Commission ….

The Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) claims on its website that it provides ‘electoral arrangements for English local authorities that are fair for voters’. They may be fair in respect of England but the proposal to cut Cornwall Council’s size from 123 to 87 councillors is patently unfair to the Cornish voter. It drastically undermines Cornwall Council’s ability to represent the interests of residents or respond to the concerns of local communities.

The LGBCE is now ‘consulting’ on the future size of Cornwall Council as part of its current boundary review. It asks for local views on its proposal to cut the number of councillors in Cornwall by 36. However, it is the LGBCE that needs to answer some important questions, not the people of Cornwall. These questions are

  • Why is democratic representation in Cornwall being reduced to such a level that it becomes one of the least well represented areas in the UK?
  • Why does the proposal for council size in this review vary so dramatically from recent reviews for similar unitary authorities and county councils?
  • Why did the LGBCE ignore the clear advice of the majority of representations received from Cornwall Council, the two mainstream political parties and others in the first phase of its review?

The above questions are dealt with in turn below before I conclude with some speculation on the context of this review and suggestions for change.

….  you can read and/or download the rest of the submission here.

 

The level of representation proposed by the Boundary Commssion in context

The 2017 general election – not all doom and gloom for minor parties

The recent general election was quickly categorised by the media as a bad one for minor parties. That was certainly the case for Ukip, which saw its vote collapse and its status decline from temporary major party back to minor. The Green Party’s voters also deserted en masse, lured by the siren call of Corbynism and so-called ‘tactical’ voting. Yet, tucked away in the small print of last week’s election results were a few that ought to give food for thought to those wanting to see more devolution/autonomy/independence for Cornwall.

Because it wasn’t all doom and gloom for minor parties. For instance, the 21 candidates of the Yorkshire Party doubled their average vote. Admittedly, that was from a very low base and it’s still pretty feeble at 2.1%. Moreover, none of their candidates saved their deposit with the highest vote (at Rotherham) being 3.8%. Nonetheless, put that in context. In almost half a century of fighting parliamentary elections MK has never achieved a median vote higher than 2.1%. In addition, it’s only taken the Yorkshire Party two elections and three years to almost match MK’s highest ever vote of 4%.

The Yorkshire Party now claims it’s the third party in Doncaster and Wakefield. In seven of the 19 constituencies where they encountered Lib Dem opposition, the party came out on top. They also beat the Greens in five of the 12 contests where both were present, although they were unable to edge out Ukip in the 10 constituencies where they came head to head. The party did relatively well in Richmond, North Yorkshire and Barnsley in South Yorkshire, two very different areas, while its worst results noticeably occurred in the cities – Leeds, Sheffield and Huddersfield.

Meanwhile, the North East Party in Northumberland and Durham has adopted (or been forced to adopt) a different strategy. Instead of standing candidates across Durham and Teesside as in 2015, it focused on fighting just one seat at Easington, which includes its power-base of Peterlee. This turned out to be a successful strategy as the party almost tripled its vote, scoring 6.5% and saving its deposit, a first for a regionalist/nationalist party outside Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

The election also saw a couple of other very creditable performances by Independents that are worth a mention. Jim Kenyon stood in Hereford and Herefordshire South and easily saved his deposit, gaining 11% of the vote and coming ahead of Lib Dem, Green and Ukip candidates. Kenyon, mayor of Hereford, is a well-known local councillor for It’s Our County (Herefordshire).

However, by far the most inspiring result was achieved by Claire Wright in East Devon. She increased her vote by 8,000 from 24% in 2015 to 36% this time, coming a clear second in a crowded field of seven candidates. Her key policy stance was a pledge to amend the National Planning Policy Framework so that it becomes less about growth and more about balanced communities. She backed this up by demanding more funding for local infrastructure, protection of the countryside and doing more to comply with climate change targets. She was supported by the progressive alliance locally and managed to do so well with a campaign team of just 12 and a fraction of the resources available to the sitting Tory MP.

Strong, localist campaigns for a more balanced approach to the environment and alternatives to the headlong rush to gobble up resources in the name of growth and greed can clearly resonate with voters. The relative success of these Independent candidates and the solid showing for the northern regionalist parties surely have some lessons for Cornish autonomists and nationalists. But will we bother to learn them?

Mixed fortunes for regionalist parties in French elections

Was there anything for micro-nationalist and regionalist parties to cheer about in the elections across the French hexagon on Sunday?

Most disappointingly, just as in the Cornish case, Breton regionalism still fails to make an electoral impact. The 33 candidates of Oui la Bretagne (OLB), led by Christian Troadec and bringing together L’Union Démocratique Bretonne (UDB) and the Mouvement Bretagne et Progrès (MBP), achieved a poor median vote of 1.2%, no better than the UDB’s performance on its own back in 2002. For the UDB, this was the worst result for 20 years, with a median score of just 1.0%. The MBP did better, with a median score of 2.2%. Troadec himself came third with 13.9% of the vote in his Finistere heartland. But this was considerably down on his vote in 2012, when he obtained 19.9%. Meanwhile, former UDB member and ‘autonomist’ Paul Molac, now standing for President Macron’s La République En Marche!, was the sole candidate in the region to be elected on the first ballot.

Spurning the left. Breton voters showed no greater inclination to vote for the centre-right Parti Breton (PB). Its 26 candidates averaged under 1%. More generally, La République En Marche! confronts 16 candidates of the left and 21 from the right in next Sunday’s second ballot in Brittany and looks set to sweep up the majority of Breton seats. Yet turnout in Brittany, as elsewhere, was low, between 50 and 60%. The centrist revolution doesn’t appear to be galvanising huge enthusiasm.

In the rest of the hexagon, there were some brighter spots for regionalist parties. Not particularly in Occitania however. Although the Partit Occitan improved its median score, it continues to poll relatively dismally, at under 2%, while the number of candidates it stands has fallen from 42 in 2002 to just five this year.

The Ipparalde (northern Basque Country) presents a more encouraging picture. There, the leftist Euskal Herria Bai steadily progresses, increasing its vote for the fourth election running, as did the Parti Nationaliste Basque, although the latter remains well behind. Basque nationalists are now winning around 10% of the vote in the three Basque constituencies.

For many years Catalan nationalism in France has been weak, struggling to win over 1% of the vote in the department of Pyrénées-Orientales. This time it was boosted by a regional reform last year that united the former Languedoc-Rousillon region with Midi- Pyrénées to form a new mega-region of Occitanie. This recentralization spurred resentment in French Catalonia and the formation of Oui au Pays Catalan to demand recognition of the unique status of Pyrénées-Orientales, decentralization and the protection of the Catalan identity. It managed to win a mean vote of just over 3%, still fairly feeble but a big improvement on the previous Catalan nationalist vote in the region

Regionalism in Alsace was formerly associated more with the far right. That’s now changed. Unser Land in Alsace also benefited from the state’s regional redrawing, which abolished the region of Alsace and lumped it in with Lorraine and Champagne-Ardennes. Unser Land was founded in 2009 as a progressive party fighting for recognition of Alsace, replacing the Union du peuple Alsacien (UA). The UPA had struggled to capture over 2% of the vote in this right-leaning region. Nonetheless Unser Land managed a mean 8.1% on Sunday, with one candidate making it to the second ballot.

While the clumsy and insensitive restructuring of France’s regions by the previous Socialist Government has re-ignited Alsatian regionalism (and to an extent Catalan) the biggest regionalist success was again seen in Corsica. There the nationalist movement, for years split between moderate and radical wings, came together to win a historic victory in the regional elections of 2015. Pè a Corsica (For Corsica) continued that alliance into these elections, which saw the vote for Corsican nationalism grow to almost 30%, a steady rise since 1997. In three of the four Corsican constituencies Pè a Corsica will be present in the second ballot next Sunday, in two instances against the right-wing Les Républicains and one against En Marche!.

Median vote of regionalist/nationalist parties in French legislative elections, 2002-2017

2002 2007 2012 2017
Brittany UDB/OLB 1.2% 1.5% 2.1% 1.2%
PB 1.2% 1.5% 0.8%
Occitania PO 0.4% 0.7% 0.7% 1.9%
Basque Country EH Bai/PNB 6.5% 6.3% 8.1% 9.9%
Catalonia 1.2% 1.0% 3.4%
Alsace UPA/UL 0.7% 1.8% 5.7%
Corsica 5.1% 12.0% 22.4% 29.8%

Was this a turning point election in Cornwall? Back to the 1950s? Or forward to a new politics?

This was billed as the election of deference, where a peasantry grateful to ‘have their country back’ would reward the ruling party with a whopping majority so it could ‘lead’ us out of Europe. It was also the election of nostalgia, as Tories painted a beguiling picture of a pre-EU UK, strong and stable, imperial and nationalist. Meanwhile, Labour equally looked back wistfully to a mixture of the 1940s and 1970s, while Lib Dems dreamt of the optimistic days of the 1990s.

Fortunately, it didn’t turn out to be deferential enough for the ruling elite. While smacking of nostalgia the Labour surge took everyone by surprise, especially the media, which had swallowed its own demonisation narrative of Corbyn. But was this election merely a blip? Or does it mark a turning point in Cornish politics, a time future generations will look back to and say ‘ah, nothing was the same after 2017’?

The Tory vote remained very high, only exceeded by the elections of 1970 and the Thatcher victories of 1979-87. Nothing new there then. But for the first time since 1955 Labour displaced the Liberal Democrats as Cornwall’s second party. Their percentage share was actually lower then 1955 (and 1959 and 1966 come to that), but it seems that, politically at least, we’re back to the 1950s and re-entering long-forgotten territory.

The Lib Dems’ vote has slumped to 22-23%, around half of its peak in 2001, although it was no worse this time than 2015. Again, we have to go back more than half a century to 1951 to find the Liberals polling at a lower level. Others too scored their lowest percentage total since 1992.

The question now is whether this is merely a temporary upset in the historic Tory-Lib Dem two-party pattern or the establishment of a new pattern. The 50%+ scored by the Tories in North Cornwall and the failure of Dan Rogerson to make any inroads there might imply that North Cornwall is now on the brink of joining South East Cornwall to become a safe Tory seat. This process in the east is being inexorably driven by demographic change and mass in-migration from the English heartlands. Only in St Ives do the Lib Dems represent a serious challenge and even there, once Andrew George is gone, it should become clear that the current Lib Dem vote level flatters the party,

So, will this election herald a shift towards a two-party Tory-Labour system in Cornwall? Or can the Lib Dems recover? With the disappearance of MK and uncertainty about its future, the Ukip wipeout and the decision of Green voters to vote Labour, we may be witnessing a genuine turning point in Cornwall’s political history.