The real election issues – cuts, construction, Cornish devolution and carbon costs

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED APR 25, 2013

I received my first, and so far only, election leaflet the other day. From Labour, it promised to ‘safeguard public services’, ‘campaign for the NHS’ (not actually something Cornwall Council runs though), ‘protect and improve public transport’ and ‘protect the elderly and vulnerable’. While stopping short of promising to save Christmas, it did recognise that local government is providing fewer services ‘due to cuts imposed’ by the Tory/Lib Dem Government. Encouragingly, it called on voters to ‘collectively act’ and ‘stop these attacks … on our quality of life’. But I was left distinctly frustrated as it didn’t say how.

Given Labour’s pretty feeble record in the big English cities, where its councillors have meekly passed on the cuts, we can’t look there for much inspiration. But even if unable to provide a solution, at least the leaflet mentioned one of the four major issues we face and which should be (but aren’t) debated daily in these elections. They are

  • how do we fight the cuts and avoid the Hobson’s Choice between transferring public services to the private sector or shutting them down altogether?
  • what do we do about the failed housing and population-led growth project that is suburbanising Cornwall and destroying our heritage?
  • how do we best demand the devolution of powers to Cornwall, the only way to obtain the tools required to reverse the centralisation of planning and local budgeting on Whitehall?
  • what can we do locally to reduce carbon emissions and set an example to avoid catastrophic global climate change?

The Tories, MK, the Green Party and Labour have produced specific manifestos for Cornwall. Ukip has a general ‘Local elections manifesto’ but nothing directly aimed at Cornwall. The party says that its candidates are effectively ‘independents on local issues’, which leaves us in the same quandary as we are with the real Independents in knowing what the hell they stand for. The Cornish Liberal Democrats launched’ their campaign locally in March and at the time promised a ‘detailed manifesto’. Either this has yet to appear or it’s been so cleverly hidden away I can’t find it anywhere.

Cameron tries to persuade reluctant voter in Polzeath to vote Tory
Cameron tries to persuade reluctant voter in Polzeath to vote Tory

While the Lib Dem manifesto goes awol, replaced by a set of pavement politics promises (cleaner streets, repaired roads, cheaper parking, cutting waste and the like), the Tory manifesto is also extremely vague. The fact that it actually praises Cornwall Council’s record as a ‘Can-Do Council’ and ominously makes ‘A promise of more [in its] plan for the future’ is enough to send shivers down your spine. Despite its glossiness, a typo or two give the distinct impression of being rather a casual and rushed job.Contrasting with the absent or superficial manifestos of the right-wing parties, the others have all produced clear and thoughtful offerings. Labour’s ‘A Fairer Future for One and All’ is a bit difficult to find and the opposite of glossy. But it does contain a whole raft of carefully considered policies relevant to this level of government. Overall, there’s an awful lot of well-meaning tinkering at the edges, as befits a centrist party like Labour.

The general tone is timid and anodyne and lacks a coherent narrative that might tie the rather disparate policy list together. Even sensible suggestions suffer from unnecessary hedging – for example Labour promises to ‘look at the continued funding of Newquay airport and assess ways to make the airport self-sustaining without a council subsidy in the long run.’

The Greens and MK have better presented and organised policy documents, with MK’s being particularly coherent, containing a mix of practical short-term policies which are less imprecise than the Greens, balanced with longer-term campaign priorities which would begin to tackle the structural constraints within which local government in Cornwall is imprisoned. If you don’t believe me, look for yourself.

More on the meat in these documents will be coming very soon in some of the rest of these blogs.

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