In 2010 Camborne & Redruth was a Tory-Lib Dem marginal. In fact it was the fourth most marginal seat in the UK. A mere 66 votes separated the Tories’ George Eustice, who won, from the then sitting MP, the Liberal Democrats’ Julia Goldsworthy.
The constituency stretches across Cornwall. The bulk of its voters live in the north, in the relatively urbanised band from Hayle in the west to St Day in the east. Here, in the 18th century dynamic mining communities emerged, centred on the twin towns of Camborne and Redruth. This district was the epicentre of the steam technology that drove Britain’s industrial revolution.
Nowadays, the descendants of those proud communities are as likely to be living in over-priced rabbit hutches as old miners’ cottages. No longer miners and bal maidens, they are may be found stacking shelves at the local supermarket and struggling to find the rent, leaving little to spend at the fast-food outlets that the planners deem to be the most suitable ‘gateway’ to the district.
On the other hand, away from the teeming masses of the north, the constituency reaches across country, past Stithians to the fashionable waters of the Helford estuary. This is the location for some of the priciest properties in Cornwall. Nevertheless, the constituency remains the most ‘Cornish’, with more people claiming a Cornish national identity here than anywhere else. But it also boasts the highest proportion of severely deprived households, just beating the St Austell/Newquay and St Ives constituencies to that dubious accolade.
But if anyone is looking for a good old Cornish boy or maid from Camborne-Redruth to vote for next May they’re in for a disappointment. True, half the six candidates declared so far are Cornish. But their experience is not exactly typical. In fact, we have to choose from two who are firmly embedded in the parliamentarian class, someone hot from the London luvvie scene and three over-qualified doctors.
George Eustice (43), the Tory MP, is always keen to emphasise his roots in the family’s fruit farming business at Gwinear Road. He’s less keen to dwell on his time as PR lobbyist for Portland Communications or as David Cameron’s Press Secretary in 2005-07. George has a record of opposing renewable energy and supporting euroscepticism, being a former Ukip member. He’s voted very strongly to reduce welfare benefits, strongly, against a bankers bonus tax and moderately for reducing corporation tax. He’s been voting very strongly for ‘reforming’ the NHS, very strongly for reducing funding to local councils and strongly against giving more powers to Scotland and Wales.
This record is convenient, as it makes him difficult to distinguish from his main rivals in the polls – Ukip – which he should be able to compete with in any race to the far right. However, as under secretary of state at DEFRA, responsible for animal health, he presumably wouldn’t share too much common ground with Ukip’s former candidate in Camborne & Redruth, north Cornwall farmer David Evans.
The 71 year old Evans was selected by Ukip in October but then promptly de-selected a week later when it emerged he was being prosecuted for animal cruelty. He was later jailed for four months for causing the death of 119 sheep. His defence claimed that he suffered from Aspergers and ‘struggles to interact with other people’. All of which must raise some doubts about Ukip’s selection criteria if they were happy with having a 71 year old recluse as their candidate in a seat which looks to be a Tory/Ukip marginal.
After this omniukipshambles their replacement candidate is Dr Robert Smith. Smith, 62 years old and originally hailing from Coventry, was a Ukip founder-member and a child psychiatrist. He can’t be any worse than Evans. Can he?? At least Ukip hope not.
Camborne-Redruth may actually be a three-way marginal, if we stretch the definition of marginal a bit. Although Labour trailed badly here in 2010 the constituency still gave the party its best result in Cornwall. Now, they’ve adopted a new, though curious, strategy to wean the Camborne-Redruth toiling masses back from the Lib Dems and Tories (having lost them in the 1980s). (But not the shirking classes as their candidate has no sympathy for ‘people who sit at home and do nothing’.)
To achieve this miracle they’ve selected a businessman from London. And no common or garden businessman. This is Michael Foster, who built a ‘literary and showbiz empire‘ in London around his entertainment PR companies MF Management and the Rights House agencies. Although it’s an unlikely vote-winner, Foster was agent for Chris Evans and a co-owner of Virgin Radio. He was described by Evans as “a very small Jewish man as equally proud of his heritage as he is unphased [sic] by his lack of height”.
He’s certainly energetic, flooding the constituency with rather well-designed Labour newsletters and even a 2015 Labour calendar. I’m waiting for the offer of a Labour re-decoration of the house before thinking of voting for them though. There’s also a website, although the huge pictures make it frustratingly slow to load, which is probably symbolic in some way.
Foster, who is 56, claims to be ‘new kind of politician’, being a ‘successful businessman’. Apparently, no-one has seen fit to tell him that actually all four centre-right and right parties are in hock to corporate policies and have been since the 1980s. So it’s a struggle to see how being a businessman, even a celebrities’ entrepreneur, is anything very new. Especially as his politics seem to boil down to just promising to create more jobs. Whether a policy-lite Blairite entertainment entrepreneur from London is the answer to the Labour Party’s dreams in Camborne & Redruth, or the continuation of its long drawn-out nightmare, remains to be seen.
While anyone who threw a mobile phone at Sheryll Murray, Tory MP for South East Cornwall, can’t be all bad, Michael Foster made a massive mistake when he bought a house and started living at Porth Navas when he came to Cornwall. It’s no good claiming ‘I live here too’ in his campaign literature. Well-heeled Porth Navas is as remote to the voters of Camborne-Redruth as one of Saturn’s moons. A pity he didn’t buy a place in Illogan.
Meanwhile Julia Goldsworthy (39) was re-selected as Lib Dem candidate in March. Born in Camborne, she attended private school in Truro, just like George Eustice. But unlike George, she then went on to Cambridge. It was presumably there that she acquired some expensive tastes. In the expenses scandal of 2007-09 it emerged that she’d spent £999 on a TV and £1,200 on a Heals rocking chair. Although she later repaid the expenses claimed from the taxpayer, this didn’t go down so well with those who have to shop at Furniture World, Redruth.
The impression of being one of them hated politicians with their snouts in the trough was exacerbated when Julia walked straight into a job as special adviser to Danny Alexander and the Lib Dem wing of the austerity (for everyone else) coalition at the Treasury. Trailing badly in the polls and with no activists visible on the ground, it’s unlikely she can make a comeback.
Greens and MK
Which leaves us with the Greens’ Geoff Garbett and MK’s Loveday Jenkin, the final two docs to have entered the fray. Camborne & Redruth was actually the Greens’ worst result in Cornwall in 2010. It doesn’t have the requisite middle classes who vote Green. On the other hand, it does have the lowest number of older voters, who don’t vote Green. Geoff is a 60 year old biology teacher and now FE lecturer and OU associate lecturer. Originally from Epsom, he’s lived in Cornwall for 25 years although working in South Africa and Germany from 1982 to 1992. Geoff was a founder member of the old Ecology Party and rejoined the Greens in 2013.
In the meantime, MK has also been having its own selection problems. Their original candidate Mike Champion pulled out after various complicated allegations involving Camborne Town Council and a workshop in Redruth. MK has now turned once more to Cornwall Councillor Loveday Jenkin to wave the flag. Loveday is a scion of one of Cornish nationalism’s royal families.
While the Greens are now showing some progress at around 6% in the most recent Camborne & Redruth poll, MK remains invisible. After weighting the vote, the poll found just one voter likely to vote for Loveday. This was a woman aged over 55 who lived in the rural part of the constituency. Was it her mother?