Cornwall’s DUP MPs

For years Cornish nationalists looked with envy at Scotland and Wales and dreamt of the day when Cornwall too would be represented in Parliament by MPs from a party based outside England. That great day has finally dawned. The only problem is that the party in question is not the SNP or Plaid but the DUP.

When people were herded to the polls in 2017 to vote Conservative did they realise they were actually voting for the DUP?

Over the past week or so there’s been eight votes on Brexit in Parliament. Five of Cornwall’s six MPs voted with the DUP in 87.5% of these votes. Sheryll Murray went for the complete DUP ticket, burnishing her anti-European credentials. Messrs Eustice, Mann and Thomas voted identically to the DUP on seven out of the eight occasions. The exception was that these three voted for May’s ill-fated ‘deal’ rather than against it, bravely allowing themselves to be whipped into line.

Three of Cornwall’s DUP MPs

Steve Double also voted for that deal but unlike the other four also against the so-called Malthouse amendment which proposed a ‘managed’ no-deal using mysterious new technology that few understand. Perhaps, given his stated hardline preference for a ‘clean-break’ (aka no deal) this was a compromise too far for Steve. Either that or he got confused by all the amendments.

Only Sarah Newton, representing Cornwall’s only Remain voting constituency, voted four times against the DUP line. But even Sarah voted against the amendment to reject a no deal in any circumstances, against a third referendum and against MPs taking over the process from the hapless Government.

Meanwhile SNP and Plaid MPs voted exactly opposite to the DUP in all eight votes. None of that fenian behaviour in Cornwall however.

Advertisements

Our friends in the north (of England). Do the YP and NEP have any lessons for Cornwall?

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?

The questions the Local Government Boundary Commission refuses to answer

Here’s a letter sent to the Local Government Boundary Commission. Until an answer to these questions is received we shouldn’t be distracted by arguing about ward boundaries.

Dear Sirs,

Electoral review of Cornwall Council

In relation to the above review, on your website I can find no justification for the proposed reduction of 29% in the level of democratic representation on Cornwall Council. In your letter of 13 June to the Council’s Chief Executive you merely assert that a council size of 87 is the ‘most appropriate’ but provide no rationale for this decision. Given its lack of precedent this is entirely unacceptable. Moreover, I can find no answer anywhere on your website to two key questions I posed in my original submission. I’ll restate them here.

a) Why is Cornwall being treated in such a manifestly different manner from Durham UA, the most comparable authority? in its review of Durham UA in 2012 the LGBCE concluded that 126 councillors would still be required in order to provide ‘efficient and convenient local government’. It then rejected local calls to reduce the Council’s size to 85 members. (Incidentally, this decision leaves the people of Durham, the population of which is 29,000 lower than Cornwall, with a councillor for every 4,125 inhabitants, a better level even that Cornwall’s current 4,467 and much superior to the one councillor per 6,315 being proposed by the Commission.)

b) Why is Cornwall being singled out for this unprecedented reduction in its level of democratic representation, one not seen previously anywhere in England?

Until a satisfactory response to these questions is received it would clearly be premature to discuss the technicalities of ward boundaries. Therefore I attach my previous submission about Council size, while awaiting explicit answers to the above two questions.

I look forward to your reply,

The level of representation proposed by the Boundary Commssion in context

Cornwall Council’s boundary review – heading for post-democracy

It may be of limited concern to 95% of people, but the Local Government Boundary Commission is consulting on the size of Cornwall Council. Their proposal involves an unprecedented cut in the number of elected representatives and the consequent ability of communities in Cornwall to influence policy. While no-one is shedding any tears over Cornwall Council, Cornwall is again being singled out for special and unfair treatment. Here’s the start of my submission to the Boundary Commission ….

The Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) claims on its website that it provides ‘electoral arrangements for English local authorities that are fair for voters’. They may be fair in respect of England but the proposal to cut Cornwall Council’s size from 123 to 87 councillors is patently unfair to the Cornish voter. It drastically undermines Cornwall Council’s ability to represent the interests of residents or respond to the concerns of local communities.

The LGBCE is now ‘consulting’ on the future size of Cornwall Council as part of its current boundary review. It asks for local views on its proposal to cut the number of councillors in Cornwall by 36. However, it is the LGBCE that needs to answer some important questions, not the people of Cornwall. These questions are

  • Why is democratic representation in Cornwall being reduced to such a level that it becomes one of the least well represented areas in the UK?
  • Why does the proposal for council size in this review vary so dramatically from recent reviews for similar unitary authorities and county councils?
  • Why did the LGBCE ignore the clear advice of the majority of representations received from Cornwall Council, the two mainstream political parties and others in the first phase of its review?

The above questions are dealt with in turn below before I conclude with some speculation on the context of this review and suggestions for change.

….  you can read and/or download the rest of the submission here.

 

The level of representation proposed by the Boundary Commssion in context

Was this a turning point election in Cornwall? Back to the 1950s? Or forward to a new politics?

This was billed as the election of deference, where a peasantry grateful to ‘have their country back’ would reward the ruling party with a whopping majority so it could ‘lead’ us out of Europe. It was also the election of nostalgia, as Tories painted a beguiling picture of a pre-EU UK, strong and stable, imperial and nationalist. Meanwhile, Labour equally looked back wistfully to a mixture of the 1940s and 1970s, while Lib Dems dreamt of the optimistic days of the 1990s.

Fortunately, it didn’t turn out to be deferential enough for the ruling elite. While smacking of nostalgia the Labour surge took everyone by surprise, especially the media, which had swallowed its own demonisation narrative of Corbyn. But was this election merely a blip? Or does it mark a turning point in Cornish politics, a time future generations will look back to and say ‘ah, nothing was the same after 2017’?

The Tory vote remained very high, only exceeded by the elections of 1970 and the Thatcher victories of 1979-87. Nothing new there then. But for the first time since 1955 Labour displaced the Liberal Democrats as Cornwall’s second party. Their percentage share was actually lower then 1955 (and 1959 and 1966 come to that), but it seems that, politically at least, we’re back to the 1950s and re-entering long-forgotten territory.

The Lib Dems’ vote has slumped to 22-23%, around half of its peak in 2001, although it was no worse this time than 2015. Again, we have to go back more than half a century to 1951 to find the Liberals polling at a lower level. Others too scored their lowest percentage total since 1992.

The question now is whether this is merely a temporary upset in the historic Tory-Lib Dem two-party pattern or the establishment of a new pattern. The 50%+ scored by the Tories in North Cornwall and the failure of Dan Rogerson to make any inroads there might imply that North Cornwall is now on the brink of joining South East Cornwall to become a safe Tory seat. This process in the east is being inexorably driven by demographic change and mass in-migration from the English heartlands. Only in St Ives do the Lib Dems represent a serious challenge and even there, once Andrew George is gone, it should become clear that the current Lib Dem vote level flatters the party,

So, will this election herald a shift towards a two-party Tory-Labour system in Cornwall? Or can the Lib Dems recover? With the disappearance of MK and uncertainty about its future, the Ukip wipeout and the decision of Green voters to vote Labour, we may be witnessing a genuine turning point in Cornwall’s political history.

Pollsters predict another Lib Dem wipeout in Cornwall

Typical. On the very day I confidently pronounced that Labour didn’t have a hope in hell of winning next week’s election, based on polling evidence, YouGov launched its election prediction model with the shock news that we’re heading for a hung Parliament and Tory losses. Their model also provides the first relatively solid evidence for voting intentions in Cornwall (although based on a state-wide methodology).

As of today YouGov is predicting four likely Conservative wins in Cornwall and two safe Tory constituencies. In every seat, the Tories are comfortably ahead by more than ten points. There is however a wide margin of error in YouGov’s estimates, as they admit. Thus on a good day, they’re suggesting that the Lib Dem vote in St Ives could be as high as 41% (an increase of 8% on 2015). But on a bad day for the Lib Dems it could slump as low as 25%. And, given that Derek Thomas’s equivalent range at the 95% confidence level is 38-51% Andrew George needs a very good day to sneak past him.

Here are the current details of YouGov’s predictions for Cornwall (estimated % of support and change on 2015).

St Ives Camborne Truro St Austell North South East
Con 45 (+7) 50 (+10) 45 (+1) 50 (+10) 47 (+2) 56 (+5)
Lib Dem 33 (nc) 11 (-1) 19 (+2) 23 (-1) 33 (+2) 21 (+4)
Labr 23 (+14) 37 (+12) 28 (+13) 27 (+17) 17 (+12) 20 (+11)
Green 3 (-3) 4 (-5) 3 (-2)
Ukip 5 (-7)
May gets out and meets her adoring public in Helston.

The big surprise has to be the rise in the Labour vote, which is very bad news indeed for Lib Dem strategists hoping to squeeze that vote. In fact, in Truro & Falmouth and St Austell & Newquay YouGov is suggesting that Labour will come second and even in South East Cornwall, it’s a very close thing, with Lib Dems and Labour tied on around 20% each. Is this really likely? It’s perhaps possible in Truro & Falmouth, where Labour are well organised in Falmouth and Penryn. It’s difficult to imagine an improvement of 17% in the Labour vote in St Austell & Newquay. And it would be a historic first and a symbolic end to Cornish Liberalism if Labour were to edge out the Lib Dems in the South East.

Nonetheless, however sceptical we might remain and however much weight we might give to the ‘local factors’ that YouGov ignore, there are implications here for those being swayed by the calls to vote ‘tactically’. Keep an eye on YouGov’s model, which they tell us will be updated daily. Things may yet change radically in the week left before the election. If you’re considering your postal vote I should hold off until the last moment possible.

Moreover, there’s another far less scientific ‘poll’ that might give a little more credibility to YouGov’s predictions for Cornwall. More on that tomorrow.

Confessions of a bored psephologist

Is it just me, or is this general election the most tedious on record? Perhaps I’m getting jaded. Maybe the meaningless of the electoral ritual, after which the government always wins, is finally getting to me. But it’s proving difficult to get enthused, or even engaged.

Two weeks before polling day and we’ve had just one leaflet through the door from our complacent Tory MP, grinning like a Cheshire cat at the prospect of an easy return. Things on the streets seem eerily subdued, as if the people are sheep-walking to the inevitable Tory victory. Switch on the TV news and all we find is the BBC transformed into an extended Conservative Party Political Broadcast, wheeling out any old right-wing Labour has-been to fill a spare slot to have a go at that evil softie Corbyn.

As the BBC subtly hammers home the implicit contrast with the ‘strong and stable’ prime ministerial quality of the TMaybot, the only thing of interest left is how big a majority it’ll be. Will it qualify as a landslide? Will Labour survive? Will Tony Blair rise from the dead to reinforce belief in globalisation and greed?

On the right ex-Ukip voters appear stubbornly determined to punish Theresa May by ensuring she sees out the brexit negotiations and ultimately becomes the most reviled British prime minister ever. ‘Strong and stable’ fools nobody but the starry-eyed forelock-tugger.

Meanwhile, in the centre, as the likelihood of a Tory Government passes beyond inevitable, political discourse goes little further than a near hysterical call to the faithful to vote ‘tactically’. No matter whether it makes little psephological sense and ignores the numbers. No matter who the candidates are. No matter if it’s a blatant cover for tribalism or not. Just ‘stop the Tory’! I said ‘STOP THE TORY’!!

In Cornwall things are even more febrile. The number of candidates in this election is – at an average of four per constituency – the lowest since 1987. Furthermore, it’s easily the lowest of all the nations of the UK. In two constituencies the choice is confined just to the three old Westminster parties. Somehow, I can’t get that riveted by the prospect of a return to the 1950s and the politics of nostalgic deference. We seem to be drifting hopelessly towards a Gilbert and Sullivanesque political mind-set where

‘every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative!’

It’s just getting altogether too weird. Recently we saw the Tories win the Cornwall Council elections, gaining 15 seats in the process. But then the same old coalition of incompetents as before – Lib Dems and Independents – end up in theoretical control of the Council, despite losing a combined seven councillors. The winners came second and third, the losers came first. Can we hope the general election gives us the same result please?