Does the Labour Party in Cornwall have a point?

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED MAY 17, 2014

As the media continue their frenzied and demented dance of death with the barmy and boozy or brainy and brilliant Farage, depending on your point of view, let’s turn the spotlight for a (thankfully brief) moment on another irrelevant political force in Cornwall.

What exactly is the point of the Labour Party in Cornwall?

Or anywhere else for that matter? When the party jettisoned social democracy in the 1990s in order to embrace neo-liberalism it created a problem for itself. By doing so it abandoned its traditional base to the tender mercies of ‘flexible’ labour markets, creeping privatisation of the health service, the scapegoating of benefit claimants and the poor, and the politics of inequality (aka austerity).

As their policies converged with their Tory/Lib Dem chums at Westminster, Labour politicians turned to the same crowded terrain in a search for votes. This is that journalists’ dream-land – ‘Middle England’. Unfortunately for Labour, it appears the Middle Englanders either prefer to have a pint in the village pub with the Little Englanders or rather logically decide to vote for the real thing rather than austerity-lite.

Labour in Cornwall has selected an entertainment and media entrepreneur, Michael Foster, as its candidate for the most (but not that) winnable seat in Cornwall. A Londoner, Michael has lived in Cornwall for seven years.

Although there’s no sign of any Labour campaigning for the Euros, a rather smartly put together Cornwall’s Labour Voice newsletter landed on my door mat last month.

In it, the dapper Mr Foster tells us how privileged he is ’to be involved fully with [the] amazing local community’. Sure enough, Mr Foster lives in the constituency – just. He has a house at Porth Navas, perched on the extreme southern edge of the constituency on the Helford. Although this is oddly omitted from the otherwise factual and level-headed newsletter which manages to avoid the normal strident and hysterical idiocy of past Labour and Lib Dem propaganda material.

In a letter to the West Brit this week, Michael Foster says Cornwall ‘needs good people influencing Westminster on behalf of local people’. Oh dear, not more of them. In contrast, MK has confidence that local people could make their own decisions in a National Assembly for Cornwall. But this is far too radical for Michael.

He asks how a Cornish Assembly will pay the bills of the families in Camborne-Redruth (and Porth Navas?) who have to resort to food banks. Clearly, not having read paragraphs 51 and 52 of MK’s consultation document on a National Assembly, Michael doesn’t think a Cornwall Assembly will help.

Maybe it won’t; maybe it will. But how peculiar that Michael Foster appears to be unaware of two key facts.

First. decisions about Cornwall have been made outside Cornwall for around 1,000 years now. So why are there still families in Camborne-Redruth ‘struggling to make ends meet’? FFS, we’ve given centralists a millennium to get their act together. How much longer do they want?

The legacy of centralism
The legacy of centralism

Second, I seem to remember that his party ‘ran’ things for 13 years from 1997 to 2010. So why was Cornwall firmly stuck at the bottom of the wages and income league tables at the end of that period? We even had a Labour MP for some of the time. She was presumably ‘influencing Westminster on behalf of local people’. To no discernible effect.

If an Assembly isn’t the answer then what is? Mr Foster doesn’t care to tell us. Closely scouring the newsletter and the newspaper letter, all we find are the usual vacuous platitudes. ‘More investment’ is needed. In fact ‘anything that can help bring prosperity to Cornwall is a good thing’.

Has Michael thought that one through? Anything at all? Really? This open invitation to every shyster and hedge-fund investor to come and make their pickings in Cornwall seems a mite rash.

On the other hand, we know that in practice Labour in Cornwall is keen on ramping up the number of unaffordable houses that are being built. Despite the evidence of the past half-century, boosting the profits of upcountry developers and the old landed class is miraculously supposed to result in enough ‘affordable’ houses for local people. So we’re going to be saved by even more population growth and suburbanising our countryside (although probably not near Porth Navas) at an even faster rate. Thanks, but no thanks.

So what will be best for those guys at the food banks? More austerity politics and even greater inequality? More tight spending caps from an iron shadow chancellor? More PFI schemes? More rule from Westminster?

Or could it be the devolution of powers so that we can make far better use of the millions of £s of grant aid currently being wasted on ‘iconic’ projects such as the Eden Project, Newquay Airport or Heartlands for example? Or a fairer tax regime that targets developers of unaffordable housing in order to fund genuine social housing? Or that ensures that those who benefit from the ‘Cornwall life style’ by having a second home or, dare I say it, living in places like Porth Navas, pay their proper dues to the rest of the community?

The sad fact is that, having casually discarded its working class and trade unionist base, Labour has no idea what to do about the politics of inequality. It’s as much in hock to the bankers and the corporations as the other centr[al]ist political parties. In Cornwall, there seems precious little point in wasting a vote on an old, tired, pale version of the Tories and Lib Dems, one whose sole purpose is to deflect us away from supporting genuinely progressive parties such as MK or the Greens.

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