Who needs elected representatives? Not Cornwall!

In 2008 Cornish communities were represented in local government by 331 councillors (excluding town and parish councils). In 2009, when a unitary authority was imposed, this was cut at a stroke to 123. Now, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England [sic] is proposing a further cull of Cornwall’s democratically elected representatives, to just 87. In 2008 Cornish communities were as well represented numerically as most English rural counties. If the Commission’s proposal goes through they will become among the least represented in the UK. Only nine local authorities, all big city, densely populated urban authorities, will have more residents per councillor than Cornwall. How has this amazing turnaround come about?

The Boundary Commission intends reducing democratic representation in Cornwall to the lowest levels in the UK

The Boundary Commission’s proposal to cut the number to councillors by 36 stands out as exceptional. Currently, 16 unitary authorities (including Cornwall) are under review by the Commission. In seven of these no change is being recommended to their council size. The mean reduction of councillor numbers proposed overall is 6%. The proposed reduction for Cornwall is almost five times that – an eye watering 29%. Why is Cornwall being treated so differently than everywhere else?

The Boundary Commission offers no convincing justification for this unparalleled cut in councillor numbers, one not previously experienced by any other top level local authority. Indeed, their report on Cornwall Council’s size (September 2017) is seriously flawed. Before reviewing the factors that might explain the push to de-democratise Cornwall’s communities we should briefly note the flaws in the Boundary Commission’s report. These are threefold. First, it is imprecise and based on assertions with no clear supporting evidence. Second, it is disingenuous in the way it presents the results of the consultation it carried out on council size. Third, it fails to put Cornwall in any wider context. It thus refuses to engage directly with the issue of parity or even admit that the reduction of democratic representation in Cornwall is unprecedented in the history of boundary reviews. It is difficult to escape the impression that the Commission had predetermined the council size and their report is merely a flimsy legitimation of a decision already made.

Assertions rather than evidence
The Commission’s justification for its decision to opt for a 29% reduction in the size of Cornwall Council merely states that ‘the team considers that a council size will maintain an effective representational role for members, with particular consideration given to the geography, infrastructure and electorate distribution of Cornwall, The evidence suggests that a reduction in council size would be sustainable given the level of devolution to parish and town councils, and the implementation of new governance arrangements’.

No explanation is provided for how or why Cornwall’s specific ‘geography, infrastructure and electorate distribution’ leads to its differential treatment. Indeed, its geography, infrastructure and electorate distribution is nowhere identified or compared with comparable authorities elsewhere. No evidence is presented to back up the assertion that this will be ‘sustainable’ and few details are offered concerning the devolution to parish and town councils or the revised ‘governance arrangements’. These will be dealt with further below, but this conclusion offers only a flimsy rationale for such an extraordinary reduction in councillor numbers.

Cornwall Council’s alternative case for a council of 99 elected members is peremptorily dismissed with the airy generalisation that ‘the team do not consider that an effective case has been made to support a council size of 99’. Their reasons are left unexplained, other than 99 was outside the range of 85 to 95 proposed by the Cornwall Association of Local Councils.

Dis-ingenuity
The Commission presents the results of its consultation in a vague and fundamentally disingenuous manner. It concentrates on those who ‘support a reduction’ rather than the number that favoured a reduction to 87 or fewer. Furthermore, by lumping together all 274 submissions the data are skewed towards submissions from private individuals, the only category that supports a reduction to 87 councillors.

In fact, among local authority, political groups, MPs and elected councillors only the Conservative Party and its representatives were in support of a council size of 87. Every other submission from political groups supported at least 99 councillors. The disingenuity of the Commission’s presentation is best illustrated by its table in para 8 that classes former councillor Gary King’s well-argued proposal for a small reduction to 113 councillors as ‘support for a smaller council size alternative to 87 or 99’, while its position in the table below those supporting 87 is clearly meant to imply that this group also supported the Commission’s proposed 87.

An alternative, simpler and less confusing summary of the consultation results would be along the following lines:

Council size Political groups and institutions Parish and Town Councils Individuals
99 or higher All Cornwall Councillors, the Liberal Democrats, MK and the CNP, two Community Network Panels 90 48
87 or lower Conservative political groups and one Conservative MP 23 73
no view Three quangos 5 4

The Commission reports that ‘parish and town councils were split’. In fact 76% of parish and town councils disagreed with the proposal for 87 councillors and called for a higher number. Bizarrely, responding to Cornwall Council’s point that ‘the majority of local councils recommended a council size higher than 87’, the Commission states that ‘the team has seen no evidence to suggest this is the case’. They obviously didn’t look too far, as Cornwall Council provided detailed responses from parish and town councils in its submission. In addition, the results of the Commission’s own consultation clearly show that only 19% of town and parish councils favoured 87 councillors.

The Commission reports that ‘local residents … largely supported a reduction to 87’. ‘Largely supported’ and similar implicit quantifications throughout its report ought to be avoided. In fact submissions from individuals broke down 60-40 in favour of the Commission. Moreover, at least eight of the 73 submissions supporting the Commission’s own position can be easily identified as active supporters, members or candidates of the Conservative Party.

Clearly, apart from the submissions from Conservatives, most of those with a working knowledge of how local government actually works were opposed, many vehemently so, to the proposal for 87 councillors. Yet all these were effectively ignored by the Commission, intent on steamrollering its preference through, despite the evidence of its own consultation.

Lack of a meaningful context
Finally, the Commission fails to set its proposal in any kind of wider context. For example, it highlights some submissions but carefully chose not to include my almost 4,000 word comparison of Cornwall’s council size with other local authorities, even though it was the only submission to explore this issue in detail, based on up-to-date data.

As a result, nowhere does it compare its treatment of Cornwall with other reviews, or compare the level of representation in Cornwall with other places. Therefore, the casual reader will have been left entirely unaware of the exceptional level of reduction it is proposing. It is significant that, in its summary of the Cornwall Council submission, the Commission fails to correct the assertion made by the Council that its proposed reduction of 19.5% was ‘comparable to other (recent) reviews’. This is not the case. The mean reduction proposed in current reviews of unitary authorities is 6%, not 19.5%. Even if we exclude the seven authorities with no change it’s still 15%. Cornwall Council’s own proposed cut was higher than the norm.

The Boundary Commission fails to point out that its proposed 29% cut is far, far higher than the mean for other authorities. Nowhere does the Commission clarify that its proposal means that Cornish communities will be by far the least well represented communities in a rural authority anywhere in the UK in quantitative terms. Nowhere does it care to mention that only a handful of urban authorities will have more people per councillor. Furthermore, nowhere does the Commission make any reference to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. (Articles 4, 15 and 16 would appear to be directly or indirectly relevant).

Given the Commission’s flimsy justifications for a reduction in democratic representation for Cornish communities on this unprecedented scale and its refusal to answer the direct question of why it is treating Cornwall so differently from every other principal authority, we have to look elsewhere for the real reasons why Cornwall is being singled out for special treatment.

A special case?

Cornwall Council’s role
How committed were Cornwall Council’s senior officers and leadership to maintaining councillor numbers at their current level? The Council adopted a very strange negotiating position. By proposing 99 councillors and a reduction of 19%, it effectively ceded the argument that a reduction in council size was necessary in the first place. Instead of sticking to a more robust position of no change and forcing the Boundary Commission to make a case for a cut in more detail, it moved well over halfway towards the Commission’s position. This allowed the Commission to confuse the issue by making it a choice between two cuts. It also undercut those who argued for maintaining parity of democratic representation with other similar local authorities. Why did the Council not make more of the Durham comparison? In 2012 the Boundary Commission review of County Durham’s Unitary Authority concluded that its 126 councillors were still required in order to provide ‘efficient and convenient local government’ and rejected local calls to reduce the Council’s size to 85 members. The Boundary Commission refuses to explain why in Cornwall it’s adopted the opposite stance, with a massive reduction in democratic input apparently being necessary for ‘effective’ governance.

Cornwall Council also undermined its own argument by accepting the importance of a ‘fit’ between new ward boundaries and the Community Network Areas (CNAs). This allowed the Commission to argue that 87 provides the ‘best fit’. However, there is nothing at all sacrosanct about the boundaries of the 19 CNAs. These have no democratic role and were only created as convenient legitimation for the unitary authority in 2009. They have no historical basis. They have no cultural identities. There could as easily be 25 CNAs. Or just 10 CNAs. By fetishizing the CNAs Cornwall Council shot itself in the foot.

The Cornwall Association of Local Councils
Second, if the excessive importance given to CNAs is one strange aspect of this business, so is the stress placed by the Boundary Commission on the Cornwall Association of Local Councils (CALC). This body called for a council size of between 85 and 95 early in the consultation process. It would be interesting to know the precise political make-up of the CALC meeting that adopted this position. For the CALC appears to be entirely at variance with the councils it purports to represent, 73% of which did not agree with the proposed cut in their submissions on council size. Clearly, the Boundary Commission is grasping eagerly at the strawperson provided by the CALC. Just why so much credence is given to this unrepresentative body is unclear and again unexplained.

The ‘governance review and double devolution (+ centralisation)
Third, the Commission puts great faith in Cornwall Council’s ‘governance review’ of 2016. This will supposedly result in ‘new governance arrangements’ in 2021. Cornwall Council in March 2017 stated that it was devolving the management of over 300 public assets to parish and town councils (two thirds of these being public toilets.) However, this ‘double devolution’ has turned out to be another unfortunate accidental (or perhaps not) shot in the foot as, like the role of the CALC, the Commission seized on this to argue that fewer councillors are therefore needed at the Cornwall level.

Yet, details of these new ‘governance arrangements’ are sketchy. In addition, there appears to be devolution to parish councils on the one hand, but an increasingly centralised strategic leadership on the other, both squeezing elected members out of any meaningful role. The Commission focuses on the former but passes silently over the latter. The plan is to retain a strong ‘Leader and Cabinet’ model. In addition, there is now a ‘Leadership Board for Cornwall’, but this body will have no direct democratic input. There is also a vague promise to develop more ‘open and honest relationships’.

Is it really the case that these ‘governance arrangements’ are so spectacularly innovative as to warrant such an extraordinary cut in the democratic component of the Council? Is no other council in the UK doing anything similar? It would appear they are. Cornwall Council, in its latest update, states that ‘similar frameworks are being adopted by other councils across the UK’. If so, then why are those councils not facing similar cuts in their sizes? Moreover, if double devolution really means the devolution of power and decision-making, let alone finances, to parish and town councils then why does the vast majority of parish and town councils remain sceptical and unconvinced by the promised new arrangements? None of this looks sufficient to justify the exceptional nature of the cut in the number of elected voices at Cornwall Council. On the contrary the ‘double exclusion’ of elected members might be seen as an argument to strengthen the democratic component of the Council rather than weaken it.

The devolution deal
So we must turn to a final, less transparent, factor that needs to be factored in. Did Cornwall’s so-called ‘devolution deal’ of 2015 include an explicit or implicit agreement on the part of Cornwall Council to accept a reduction in councillor numbers? Did it also contain an overt or implied instruction to the Boundary Commission to proceed with its extreme plan for Cornwall? This might explain both the Commission’s determination to press ahead with reducing councillor numbers in the face of the evidence of its own consultation and the Council’s rapid caving in and offer to reduce councillor numbers by 19%.

There is nothing explicit that can be found in the Government’s official release about Cornwall’s devolution deal that suggests a reduction in councillor numbers on the scale being proposed by the Boundary Commission. Nonetheless, the Commission reports that Cornwall Council’s Conservative Group believed that ‘it was intended as a result of this deal for councillor numbers to be “much reduced”’. Was it? And did Cornwall Council’s leadership knowingly sign up to this agreement?

The devolution deal and the mysterious ‘agreements’ that did or did not accompany it may be the smoking gun that explains this serious erosion of the democratic rights of Cornwall’s communities. If this is so, then Cornwall is being treated even more unfairly than it first appears. For, in all the other devolution deals, mainly urban areas plus Cambridgeshire, the ‘devolution deal’ requires the establishment of a new layer of government. Part of this is unelected in the shape of Combined Authorities, with representatives from existing local authorities, and part is a directly elected mayor. Cornwall is the only region not to receive an extra level of democratically elected government.

It might therefore be expected that, given the addition of a further layer of democracy in elected mayors, local government authorities in those other regions with devolution deals would be suffering an even greater reduction in their size to compensate. Not so. In fact, quite the opposite. While Cornwall’s elected representatives are being culled by 29% with no additional level of democracy put in place, first-tier local authorities in the other areas with devolution deals and elected mayors and undergoing current reviews are seeing only a mean 7% cut in councillor numbers. While the number of councillors in the two district councils in Cambridgeshire under review are being cut, the cuts are 21% and 28%. (Cambridgeshire County Council is also being cut by 12%). So even the cuts at district level are still below the proposed level for Cornwall. Cornwall is being treated even worse in this respect than lower-tier local authorities in areas which have comparable devolution deals.

Conclusion
This discriminatory treatment of Cornwall’s democratic rights has no parallel, either with comparable unitary authorities such as Durham, or with regions with devolution deals. Behind the scenes pressure from the Conservative Government after Cornwall’s devolution deal appears to explain the Boundary Commission’s determination to impose this anomalous cut in Cornwall’s elected representatives. When we consider this together with other recent developments, such as the Planning Peer Report of January 2016 and attempts to instil a ‘positive Council culture’ among councillors (meaning replacing loyalty to their electors with loyalty to the Council), or Cornwall Council’s plans to become a housing developer in order to meet its ‘target’ for unsustainable housing and population growth, the cut in councillor numbers begins to make more sense.

This unprecedented cull has to be viewed as part of a bigger project to make the local state in Cornwall more efficient by further eroding the existing limited role of elected members in its governance. It’s hardly a coincidence that such an agenda will have the effect of neutering potential future opposition to the state’s plans for Cornwall. These involve the continuation of a hyper-growth agenda that depends on relatively high in-migration, while reserving selected parts of the territory as playgrounds and gentrified environments suitable for the holiday ‘industry’ and the second ‘home’ market. The fundamental drive lying behind the ongoing attacks on what remains of Cornwall’s democracy is to ensure any community resistance to the state’s colonial project is finally quashed once and for all.

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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.

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%