St Ives: Coalition victory assured

Two parallel elections take place tomorrow in Cornwall’s most westerly seat. The first is to elect the MP. Will Andrew George be returned for the fifth time? Or will it will be second time lucky for his Tory opponent Derek Thomas? And then there’s the race for third place. The Greens have made this one of their top ten targets and are pushing hard. A few years ago Ukip were doing relatively well in west Cornwall although, as they’ve hunkered down in the far east of England, their support in Cornwall has, relatively, been sliding. And then there’s Labour, which as recently as the 1980s was contesting second place here with the Lib Dems. Those days are gone but a traditional Labour vote still lurks in this constituency, unlike in east Cornwall.

The Greens’ challenge is key to Andrew George’s survival. He must be more than a little peeved as his record is the most progressive of the Cornish Lib Dem MPs, which is not saying a lot admittedly. He opposed the bedroom tax and selling off the forests; he worked with Green MP Caroline Lucas to introduce an NHS Bill and he’s generally on the side of animals, atheists and angels. Andrew might feel he least deserves a serious Green challenge. But if you live by the sword of an antiquated disproportional voting system then you must die by it.

Andrew George - getting worried?
Andrew George – getting worried?

The Greens’ Tim Andrewes is fending off the inevitable Lib Dem squeeze and his success in holding their vote together is key to the outcome. The Greens are calling for people to ‘vote for what you believe in’ and ‘vote positively’. They might also remind people what a certain Nick Clegg said back in 2010 – ‘Vote with your heart; vote for the values and the policies you believe’. The Greens are also appealing to those ‘tired of the same old parties’ who aren’t living up to their responsibility for the planet. With this clearly including the Liberal Democrats, there are signs that Andrew George might be getting worried.

Is the 'Green surge' in St Ives a figment of a fevered imagination?
Is the ‘Green surge’ in St Ives a figment of a fevered imagination?

He also has to resist a less organised effort to siphon off voters on his Cornish flank. Again, he’s been the only Cornish MP to stand up consistently against second homes and oppose the ongoing colonisation of our land and at least he abstained on the Tory/Lib Dem plan to introduce a Devonwall constituency. His presence has succeeded in reducing MK support in the constituency to a rump. But the voting system serves to conceal a potentially much larger pool of support for MK and its active local candidate Rob Simmons. It’s probably fair to say that MK wouldn’t exactly be weeping with sorrow if Andrew George lost, as the longer he stays on, the longer they’re marginalised electorally.

Then there’s Labour. Cornelius Olivier, yet another local candidate, began with a burst of energy, trying to capitalise on the second homes issue, although a difficult area on which to confront Andrew George convincingly. This has since seemed to falter and his presence on social media has tailed off. It’s likely that Labour voters may be more prone than others to fall for the tactical voting ploy now being played to the hilt by the Lib Dems.

Derek Thomas - the Sarah Newton of St Ives?
Derek Thomas – the Sarah Newton of St Ives?

Of course, the Tories could also lose votes to their right – to Graham Calderwood, who’s standing for Ukip. At one stage Derek Thomas, whose public statements are otherwise fairly anodyne and uncontroversial, was posting on social media that a vote for Ukip was a vote for the SNP. He didn’t care to specify the convoluted logic behind that particular nonsense. Thomas’s apolitical politics, taking the Sarah Newton route to Parliament, may not prove that attractive to those toying with voting Ukip however, who may be looking for more red meat.

It will be close, but on the basis of his local record, plus the evidence that sitting Lib Dem MPs are holding on to their vote share much better than others and the possibility of a late swing to the Lib Dems as people fall (yet again – will they ever learn?) for the tactical voting trick, I reckon he’ll sneak it. St Ives will stick with him rather than a relatively unknown Tory who’s reputedly a creationist. Should anyone who thinks the earth is younger than farming be allowed anywhere near the Commons?

Andrew George hasn’t been helped by his leader Nick Clegg and his clear cosying up to the Tories over the last few weeks. When Andrew claimed that ‘I am sure my party would not go for it’ (another coalition with the Tories), he was immediately slapped down by Clegg, whose comments on the SNP and reliance on Tory voters in Sheffield mean he’s more than prepared to go for it again.

So what will Andrew do when the inevitable Tory/Lib Dem coalition emerges from the horse-trading? It could have been so different. If only Andrew had taken one of those many opportunities to resign the Lib Dem whip and build up a base as an outspoken, environmentally aware, Cornish independent MP, he could have made his mark in Cornish history. If he loses this time, he’ll be just a footnote. What a pity.

Postscript As I write this, I’m informed that two Green Party acquaintances in St Ives have decided to vote for Andrew to stop the Tory. How many more times? But I’ll tweak my forecast to give him another percentage point. Perhaps it’ll turn out to be less close than I thought.

1. George (LD) 38%
2. Thomas (Con) 34%
3. Calderwood (Ukip) 10%
4. Andrewes (GP) 8%
5. Olivier (Lab) 8%
6. Simmons (MK) 2%
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