The Liberal Democrats used to have some difficulty deciding whether they favoured the retention of institutions in Cornwall or their amalgamation in Devon and Cornwall bodies. Back in 1991 a Cornish Liberal Democratic parliamentary group paper called for a Cornish Development Agency, to be ‘placed under the democratic control and direction of Cornwall’s strategic regional government’. They were fine words, but ones that kept being unaccountably forgotten over the next decade. Within a year Lib Dem councillors on Cornwall County Council were supporting a Devon and Cornwall Development Bureau. Five years later, in January 1996, the then Lib Dem controlled Economic Development and European Committee at County Hall refused to support the principle of a Cornish Development Agency, preferring to work with Devon.
In February 1997, Lib Dems contradicted their own de-facto Devonwall policy by again voting in favour of a Cornish Development Agency. But a few months later, the majority of Lib Dem councillors made a complete volte face and voted for the seven-county Regional Development Agency imposed by the new Labour Government. Having earlier enthusiastically participated in the construction of new Devonwall institutions, the Lib Dems were yet again shamelessly twisting with the prevailing wind, this time supporting a wider, top-down regionalization. While all the while loudly proclaiming their support for Cornish institutions.
Some Lib Dems in the 1990s – Robin Teverson, the then MEP for example – were persuaded to throw their weight behind the campaign for the Cornish regional level status that eventually unlocked EU Objective 1 grant funds. But others at County Hall dismissed this as ‘impractical’ and instead continued to urge closer working with Devon-based bodies. Once Cornwall’s enhanced European regional status became an inevitable fait accompli in 1999, we were not spared the frankly distasteful spectacle of the same Lib Dem councillors clambering hastily aboard the Objective 1 bandwagon. Since then, history has been re-written and the stubborn lobbying by citizens over many years in the 1990s quietly erased, as was the sad record of Liberal Democrat support in the early and mid-1990s for new Devonwall institutions.
According to Nick Clegg in 2010, the Lib Dems have ‘Cornwall sort of coursing through its veins’. The uncertainty implied by ‘sort of’ betrays a lack of conviction. This is hardly surprising when we consider that their party has still not got around to organise itself on the basis of the Cornish region it claims it favours. Instead, we still have the Devon and Cornwall Liberal Democrats, a symbolic organisational shape that helps to explain long-running Devonwall preferences.