This is Cornwall’s largest constituency. It sprawls from Morwenstow in the far north, remembered for Parson Hawker and the ‘Song of the Western Men’, better known as Trelawny, to St Merryn in the west, with its reputation for meat and holiday homes. In the past the north echoed merely to the wind soughing across its empty acres. Now the wind makes North Cornwall an ideal spot for turbines, inducing apoplexy in many of its inhabitants.
Meanwhile, the empty acres are fast being built on as the once small towns of Lanson, Bude, Camelford, Wadebridge and Bodmin ‘enjoy’ some of Cornwall’s fastest population growth rates. Gone too is the tradition of Cornish rural radicalism, gaining its strength from the small Methodist chapels dotted across the landscape and now converted into bijou houses for a new population.
The invisible man
Supposedly representing that radical tradition is Liberal Democrat and sitting MP, 38 year old Dan Rogerson. Founder and Chair of the All Party Group for Cheese from 2005 to 2014, Dan has a reputation for being a slightly left of centre Lib Dem. If this is true it shows just how far the Lib Dems have shifted rightwards.
If we look at his voting record we find that he voted in favour of the bedroom tax and reducing welfare spending, and against a banker’s bonus tax or increasing taxes on the rich. He was strongly pro lower corporation tax and for ‘reform’ of the NHS that opens the door wider to privatisation. He was strongly in favour of selling off the forests and supported the privatisation of Royal Mail. All in all, his voting record is very much in line with the mainstream Tory/Lib Dem position. The only major rebellion came early in the Parliament when he voted against raising tuition fees in 2010.
On Cornish issues Rogerson introduced a bill for a Cornish Assembly back in 2009 (hooray), but then voted for the Equal Constituencies bill in 2010 (boo). This latter would have given a whole new meaning to Hawker’s line in Trelawny – ‘We’ll cross the Tamar, land to land’, as the result would have been a cross-border constituency fatally compromising any future case for special treatment for Cornwall as a distinctive unit.
Dan found himself in an unaccustomed high-profile position a year ago as ‘floods minister’ for the coalition government. This was at a time when a lot of Somerset was under water. But, while David Cameron donned his wellies and commiserated with the locals at their inability to drive their 4x4s and stoke up global warming thus indirectly making the floods worse, Dan was nowhere to be seen. He was promptly dubbed the ‘invisible man‘. Word was put about that Number 10 had no confidence in their floods minister and he was being restricted to the high ground.
Presumably confidence was regained when Dan Rogerson refused to sign up to a letter of complaint to Euro Commission President, the evil Jean-Claude Juncker. A dozen or so other EU environment ministers were whinging at the Commission’s plans to ditch the EU’s recycling target of 70%. Interestingly, such a target would be most inconvenient for the profits of SITA’s brand new waste incinerator at St Dennis. This depends on a regular throughput of waste that’s not recycled. SITA’s incinerator was a pet project of the then Lib Dem controlled County Council.
The invisible issues
The big issue in North Cornwall that few care to address is climate change and the looming prospect of disastrous global warming. This is presumably because of the fear aroused locally by those nasty wind turbines. When it comes to this issue Dan has sat on the fence, a tried and tested Liberal Democrat practice. However, when it comes to wind turbines, the fence is somewhere you won’t find the Tory or Ukip candidates anywhere near.
Climate change and the rather urgent need to move rapidly from fossil fuels to renewables is not an issue giving Tory candidate Scott Mann or Ukip hopeful Julie Lingard too many sleepless nights. Scott thinks there are ‘far too many wind turbines in north Cornwall’, which may be because there’s far too much wind in north Cornwall. Meanwhile, Ukip’s Julie keeps repeating what she thinks is the killer question – would wind turbines get built without being subsidised? Ah ha; the answer is plainly no. Some might think this is the reason they have to be subsidised in the first place. But not Julie. Turning a blind eye to the £700 million in tax breaks for North Sea oil or the £400 million of public money used annually to fund fossil fuel exploration, Julie is horrified merely by the smaller subsidy for renewables.
The Tories used to select members of the landowning class as their candidates. In the late twentieth century we saw St Aubyns at Truro and Boscawens at Falmouth-Camborne, while it wasn’t so long ago that Bolithos (albeit nineteenth century arrivistes) represented St Ives. And very fine chaps they were too. But now they’ve decided on a new tack.
In North Cornwall they’ve selected a postman who lives in that rare thing in Cornwall, an ‘affordable home’. Scott Mann (36) from Wadebridge enjoys darts, flyfishing and Xbox, and has spent his ‘whole life growing up in Cornwall’. In his off-moments from that onerous and time-consuming task, Scott tells us he’s working for all those ‘struggling’ folk who would appreciate the extra money ‘for that Chinese meal at the end of the week or the gym membership’. These two desires neatly cancelling each other out in some sort of Zen Buddhist way. Scott was at one time deputy leader of the Tory group on Cornwall Council, not a group known for its Buddhist tendencies. He resigned in 2012 in protest against the possibility of using public money to fund a sports stadium for Cornwall.
But for a whole new level of mesmeric mysticism we have as usual to look to Ukip’s members in north Cornwall. Julie Lingard, like Scott Mann a resident of Wadebridge, was selected over two locally born and bred candidates last October. At the hustings Ukip’s North Cornwall chairman said ‘they were fortunate to have the luxury of three credible candidates to choose from‘. Indeed, most unusual.
Julie hails originally from Gloucestershire and came to Cornwall in 2009. She says that Ukip is ‘stronger than Lib/Lab/Con. We are driven by conviction and belief in factual arguments’. She can’t therefore spend too much time reading the blog entitled ‘UK Independence Party North Cornwall’. If you scroll well down you find a disclaimer that ‘this site isn’t an official Ukip website‘, despite its very misleading name. It might be interesting to get Julie’s take on the blog though, with all its ‘news about the real world’. Because it opens a window into the Ukip soul.
It’s a cross between North Korea and the more bizarre reaches of redneck America, truly unsettling and brain-cell curdling. Nigel Farage is the ‘World’s Greatest leader‘ while every possible conspiracy theory is rolled out, laced by plentiful exclamation marks in case we’ve somehow missed the point. Chemtrails are an elite plot to engineer the weather! Agenda 21 is forcing vaccination on us in the name of sustainable development!! Global warming is not happening and in any case is a trick foisted on us by the Club of Rome to ‘cull humanity‘!!! Ebola is a ‘genetic bioweapons attack strategy‘!!!! And probably orchestrated from Brussels!!!!! Welcome to the wilder fringes of Ukipworld.
Now there’s a possibility for a new tourist theme park venture in North Cornwall – UkipWorld. Julie Lingard kindly informs us ‘how important tourism is to Cornwall’. Here’s a perfect opportunity to boost it.
Julie’s keenness on tourism may be a result of her relatively short time in Cornwall and time spent as a property manager at Cornish Horizons (Holiday Lets). She’s also a private landlord and property developer. The Rogerson family are keen supporters of building a lot more houses, especially in Bodmin. And Scott Mann, while dutifully voting for a Tory amendment to reduce Cornwall’s housing target at Cornwall Council in January, ended up supporting the 47,500 house target.
He says he wants to ensure ‘new housing means affordable housing‘. A laudable aim but you’d think a postman in the Camel estuary district would know that it clearly doesn’t mean anything of the kind. In fact North Cornwall is Cornwall’s second home mecca, with easily the highest proportion of second and holiday homes in Cornwall. Over 50% of the housing stock is unavailable to permanent residents in some parishes around the Camel. This has triggered accusations that the Tories have in the past manipulated this ghost second home vote. The argument is that they persuade second home owners to vote in marginal North Cornwall rather than the safe Tory Home Counties where they have their first home. But now the Tories face Ukip competition for the second home vote.
The Greens have declared their candidate. Amanda Pennington, also from Wadebridge, is director of the Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network. This presumably means she doesn’t share the consensus north Cornwall view of wind turbines. Her awareness of the invisible issue of climate change and the environment thus marks her out as a bit strange. She reminds us of the World Wildlife Fund’s finding that globally we’ve lost half our wildlife in the last 40 years. A good proportion of those were presumably victims of the Chelsea tractors heading for their second homes at Rock. Amanda optimistically asks the voters of North Cornwall to ‘get rid of the government who put corporate profits above all else’.
There are several invisible candidates in this constituency, yet to declare. One is an Independent who I’m reliably told will throw his hat into the ring this month. This will be on a platform that includes opposition to excessive unaffordable housing in the countryside, which should distinguish him from the three conservative candidates above.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party and MK have yet to declare candidates. They may still be searching for someone in Wadebridge to represent them. Labour in North Cornwall has the proud record of winning some of the lowest vote shares for the party anywhere in the UK. This is slightly more surprising when we consider that North Cornwall actually has the highest number of working class voters of any Cornish constituency. Remorselessly squeezed by the Lib Dems, Labour lost its deposit here in 2010 and was beaten into fourth place by Ukip.
In fact, in the two east Cornish constituencies (North and South East) in 2010 Labour went through four different candidate in the course of four months prior to the election. So there’s still plenty of time for movement in that respect.
If MK stands, it’s likely to be a paper candidate like last time. Probably a better idea to save their money and leave the sad remnants of North Cornwall’s once vibrant radical vote to be shared between Green and yet to be declared Independent candidates.