General election: the return of the Liberal Democrats?

This snappiest of snap elections seems to have caught everyone on the hop. Why were we all fooled by Theresa May’s carefully crafted image as a latter-day Thatcher, given the number of U-turns she’s performed since taking over? But we were. Sage statements about fixed five-year terms and being too busy to be distracted by an election, while having absolutely no intention of cutting and running for a grubby power grab, lulled us into a false sense of security.

Just as we were concentrating on worrying how soon Trump and his generals would blunder into a nuclear holocaust, the Tories took our minds off that little problem by calling an election. The temptation of a 20% poll lead in the end proved too much for them, as the Conservative Party responded like Pavlov’s dogs to the one thing it always prioritised. Power. And as much of it as possible.

They also start their snappy election with a huge advantage over the opposition generally. At this stage of the Parliament there are few prospective candidates in place. If you’re not a sitting MP you won’t have the usual time to ease yourself into a constituency, pester the local media with unctuous press releases and generally glad-hand the great unwashed at fetes and festivals for all you’re worth. Instead, there’s just 22 days left to get selected and then another four weeks before the electorate exercises its measured and thoroughly considered decision.

Candidates who are already locally known could however narrow the gap to sitting MPs. The most exciting point for me on Tuesday, when the election was announced, was the news via twitter that Kernow King was going to stand for Talskiddy Treacle Mine. Sadly this turned out be one of those fake news items, a bitter disappointment to all and sundry. In the absence of KK, we have to make do with Liberal Democrats. You might not have realised it, but because Cornwall is one of their few obvious targets, that party has got its potential candidates lined up in five of the six seats.

In South East Cornwall, Phil Hutty is standing again against the redoubtably seasoned Sheryll Murray. Although her massive 17,000 vote majority two years back, over 50% of the poll, plus a decent Ukip vote to mop up, means it looks like more of a case of curtains again for Phil, who any rational observer would say hasn’t the proverbial cat’s chance in hell.

Dan Rogerson will have a lot more chance in North Cornwall. He’ll be relieved his constituency has been accidentally reprieved by the Tories’ casual binning of the fixed-term parliament act and the consequent boundary changes which bring a devonwall constituency with them. That horrendous prospect has not gone away, note, just been postponed, to hang like Damocles’ sword over the Tamar as it peacefully snakes its way to the sea.

Further west are two constituencies where the Lib Dems have put Cornwall Councillors in place as candidates. In St Austell & Newquay Joanna Kenny is attempting to follow the Tories’ Steve Double and Scott Mann and make the leap from local government to the Commons. According to the Lib Dems’ website her current campaigns ‘include upgrading her local playground and dealing with the perennial problem of irresponsible dog owners.’ Which should get the assorted plutocrats and madmen who try to run things these days quaking in their boots. ‘Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump, have you got your poo-bags with you?’

In Truro & Falmouth Rob Nolan carries the Lib Dem banner and looks a more credible MP. Rob has an excellent record of striving, often against the direction of his own party, to moderate Cornwall Council’s mad infatuation with housing and population growth as it rushes to transform Cornwall into a replica of everywhere else as quickly as possible. His only problem is that Sarah Newton had a huge 14,000 vote majority last time around, converting Truro & Falmouth into a safe Tory seat. Except that, with its relatively high number of public sector professionals in Truro and its Guardian-reading intelligentsia and student voters at the universities at Penryn, the constituency doesn’t feel like a bog-standard safe Tory haven in the shires. There’s also a sizeable Labour and Green vote to try to squeeze.

The Lib Dems’ best hope of winning a seat back from the Tories clearly comes in St Ives. Andrew George has been pushing hard for a ‘progressive alliance’ between Lib Dems, Labour, MK and Green people since being beaten in 2015 by Derek Thomas. Cynics might say he would, wouldn’t he. But, as the most independent of Cornwall’s Lib Dem MPs during their disastrous 2015 coalition with the Tories he can distance himself somewhat from any toxic fall-out that may linger among voters. Moreover, most of them seem to have distressingly short political memories.

However, for his call on members of other parties to support him, the Lib Dems surely need to make some reciprocal gestures. Having spurned the chance to do so at the local elections, what are they now proposing? For starters, how about offering to stand down in Brighton and give Caroline Lucas a clear run in return for no Green in St Ives? As Green Party overtures to Labour and Liberal Democrats seem to be being rejected out of hand, there looks little chance of this. The opposition unionist parties are stubbornly determined to prefer suicide to any hint of official collaboration or new thinking. Strange.

Let’s not forget the final constituency – Camborne-Redruth. Here, the Liberal Democrats have no candidate that I can spot, but neither does Labour, although this is supposedly one of their target seats and the only one in Cornwall where they have any chance at all. Nor is George Eustice’s 7,000 vote majority by any means the safest. With no obvious well-known local Labour figure in the frame (or Lib Dem come to that) developments must be awaited. The only thing there is general agreement on is, whatever you do, please, please don’t inflict Michael Foster on us again. (Or Julia Goldsworthy come to that.)

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