Every now and again there are mutterings about the need for new political party for Cornwall. During these periodic bouts of frustrated self-examination, Cornish autonomists are apt to point to the Yorkshire Party (YP)as a possible example. So, with English local elections next week, do lessons for Cornish nationalists lurk in the English north?
The Yorkshire Party was formed four years ago. At present concentrating on a campaign for a One Yorkshire Devolution Deal which has garnered some cross-party support, its aim is a Parliament for Yorkshire. This would be directly elected by a ‘fair voting system’, with powers similar to those of the Welsh Assembly. Like MK, the party is a member of the European Free Alliance and has familiar centre-left/social-democratic/ environmentalist policies, although calling for more investment in Yorkshire’s infrastructure and a ‘regeneration’; of the region.
In the 2015 General Election the Yorkshire Party stood 14 candidates. Their median vote was 1.0%, with the best being 2.4% in the former mining constituency of Hemsworth. That compared with MK’s median vote at that election of 1.65% and Dick Cole’s 4.1% in St Austell & Newquay.
But unlike MK, which failed to stand, in last year’s snap election the Yorkshire Party expanded its presence to 21 constituencies. Its vote rose significantly, with the best result being 3.8% in Rotherham and its median score 2.1%. This was an impressive result in an election where third and fourth parties were mercilessly squeezed. Moreover, the average age of its candidates was 35, considerably younger than other parties.
In next week’s local elections the Yorkshire Party is putting forward a record 24 candidates, plus one standing for Sheffield City Region Mayor, although this still amounts to just 7% of the 346 council places up for election in Yorkshire this year. Nonetheless, the party will be buoyed up by recently gaining its first District level councillor – in Hambleton – where a former Ukip councillor has switched to the Yorkshire Party.
However, given that its policy portfolio differs only in detail from that of MK, it’s not obvious what lessons, if any, it holds for those proposing a new (or re-launched) party in Cornwall.
But if we look at the North East Party (NEP), also formed in 2014, we find an interesting difference, The NEP also calls for regional devolution and fair funding. But the NEP’s tone is more populist than that of the YP and it seems less explicitly internationalist or progressive, embracing some neo-liberal policies, such as culling the size of local government. In fact, its policies are a mix of regionalism and localism, combining demands for devolution with attention to pavement politics issues.
The NEP has also focused its electoral efforts, rather than adopt the broad approach of the YP. While this may be due as much to its organisational weakness in most of the North East rather than a conscious strategy, its interventions have been largely limited to Peterlee. Here, it controls the town council and won three Durham County Councillors in 2017.
This is a level of success so far unmatched by the more professional-looking YP, which has yet to win representation at the top level of local government. Moreover, the NEP’s sole candidate at the 2017 general election, standing in Easington, which includes Peterlee, won 6.6% of the vote and saved her deposit. She was one of the few fourth party candidates in England to achieve that. In this year’s local elections the NEP is standing just one candidate – in Sunderland. (There are no local elections in Durham.)
The contrasts in tactics between the YP and NEP imply one possible strategic choice for Cornish activists. Do they continue a broad-brush approach or instead focus efforts on a single town or district and work out from there?