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?


Who needs elected representatives? Not Cornwall!

In 2008 Cornish communities were represented in local government by 331 councillors (excluding town and parish councils). In 2009, when a unitary authority was imposed, this was cut at a stroke to 123. Now, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England [sic] is proposing a further cull of Cornwall’s democratically elected representatives, to just 87. In 2008 Cornish communities were as well represented numerically as most English rural counties. If the Commission’s proposal goes through they will become among the least represented in the UK. Only nine local authorities, all big city, densely populated urban authorities, will have more residents per councillor than Cornwall. How has this amazing turnaround come about?

The Boundary Commission intends reducing democratic representation in Cornwall to the lowest levels in the UK

The Boundary Commission’s proposal to cut the number to councillors by 36 stands out as exceptional. Currently, 16 unitary authorities (including Cornwall) are under review by the Commission. In seven of these no change is being recommended to their council size. The mean reduction of councillor numbers proposed overall is 6%. The proposed reduction for Cornwall is almost five times that – an eye watering 29%. Why is Cornwall being treated so differently than everywhere else?

The Boundary Commission offers no convincing justification for this unparalleled cut in councillor numbers, one not previously experienced by any other top level local authority. Indeed, their report on Cornwall Council’s size (September 2017) is seriously flawed. Before reviewing the factors that might explain the push to de-democratise Cornwall’s communities we should briefly note the flaws in the Boundary Commission’s report. These are threefold. First, it is imprecise and based on assertions with no clear supporting evidence. Second, it is disingenuous in the way it presents the results of the consultation it carried out on council size. Third, it fails to put Cornwall in any wider context. It thus refuses to engage directly with the issue of parity or even admit that the reduction of democratic representation in Cornwall is unprecedented in the history of boundary reviews. It is difficult to escape the impression that the Commission had predetermined the council size and their report is merely a flimsy legitimation of a decision already made.

Assertions rather than evidence
The Commission’s justification for its decision to opt for a 29% reduction in the size of Cornwall Council merely states that ‘the team considers that a council size will maintain an effective representational role for members, with particular consideration given to the geography, infrastructure and electorate distribution of Cornwall, The evidence suggests that a reduction in council size would be sustainable given the level of devolution to parish and town councils, and the implementation of new governance arrangements’.

No explanation is provided for how or why Cornwall’s specific ‘geography, infrastructure and electorate distribution’ leads to its differential treatment. Indeed, its geography, infrastructure and electorate distribution is nowhere identified or compared with comparable authorities elsewhere. No evidence is presented to back up the assertion that this will be ‘sustainable’ and few details are offered concerning the devolution to parish and town councils or the revised ‘governance arrangements’. These will be dealt with further below, but this conclusion offers only a flimsy rationale for such an extraordinary reduction in councillor numbers.

Cornwall Council’s alternative case for a council of 99 elected members is peremptorily dismissed with the airy generalisation that ‘the team do not consider that an effective case has been made to support a council size of 99’. Their reasons are left unexplained, other than 99 was outside the range of 85 to 95 proposed by the Cornwall Association of Local Councils.

The Commission presents the results of its consultation in a vague and fundamentally disingenuous manner. It concentrates on those who ‘support a reduction’ rather than the number that favoured a reduction to 87 or fewer. Furthermore, by lumping together all 274 submissions the data are skewed towards submissions from private individuals, the only category that supports a reduction to 87 councillors.

In fact, among local authority, political groups, MPs and elected councillors only the Conservative Party and its representatives were in support of a council size of 87. Every other submission from political groups supported at least 99 councillors. The disingenuity of the Commission’s presentation is best illustrated by its table in para 8 that classes former councillor Gary King’s well-argued proposal for a small reduction to 113 councillors as ‘support for a smaller council size alternative to 87 or 99’, while its position in the table below those supporting 87 is clearly meant to imply that this group also supported the Commission’s proposed 87.

An alternative, simpler and less confusing summary of the consultation results would be along the following lines:

Council size Political groups and institutions Parish and Town Councils Individuals
99 or higher All Cornwall Councillors, the Liberal Democrats, MK and the CNP, two Community Network Panels 90 48
87 or lower Conservative political groups and one Conservative MP 23 73
no view Three quangos 5 4

The Commission reports that ‘parish and town councils were split’. In fact 76% of parish and town councils disagreed with the proposal for 87 councillors and called for a higher number. Bizarrely, responding to Cornwall Council’s point that ‘the majority of local councils recommended a council size higher than 87’, the Commission states that ‘the team has seen no evidence to suggest this is the case’. They obviously didn’t look too far, as Cornwall Council provided detailed responses from parish and town councils in its submission. In addition, the results of the Commission’s own consultation clearly show that only 19% of town and parish councils favoured 87 councillors.

The Commission reports that ‘local residents … largely supported a reduction to 87’. ‘Largely supported’ and similar implicit quantifications throughout its report ought to be avoided. In fact submissions from individuals broke down 60-40 in favour of the Commission. Moreover, at least eight of the 73 submissions supporting the Commission’s own position can be easily identified as active supporters, members or candidates of the Conservative Party.

Clearly, apart from the submissions from Conservatives, most of those with a working knowledge of how local government actually works were opposed, many vehemently so, to the proposal for 87 councillors. Yet all these were effectively ignored by the Commission, intent on steamrollering its preference through, despite the evidence of its own consultation.

Lack of a meaningful context
Finally, the Commission fails to set its proposal in any kind of wider context. For example, it highlights some submissions but carefully chose not to include my almost 4,000 word comparison of Cornwall’s council size with other local authorities, even though it was the only submission to explore this issue in detail, based on up-to-date data.

As a result, nowhere does it compare its treatment of Cornwall with other reviews, or compare the level of representation in Cornwall with other places. Therefore, the casual reader will have been left entirely unaware of the exceptional level of reduction it is proposing. It is significant that, in its summary of the Cornwall Council submission, the Commission fails to correct the assertion made by the Council that its proposed reduction of 19.5% was ‘comparable to other (recent) reviews’. This is not the case. The mean reduction proposed in current reviews of unitary authorities is 6%, not 19.5%. Even if we exclude the seven authorities with no change it’s still 15%. Cornwall Council’s own proposed cut was higher than the norm.

The Boundary Commission fails to point out that its proposed 29% cut is far, far higher than the mean for other authorities. Nowhere does the Commission clarify that its proposal means that Cornish communities will be by far the least well represented communities in a rural authority anywhere in the UK in quantitative terms. Nowhere does it care to mention that only a handful of urban authorities will have more people per councillor. Furthermore, nowhere does the Commission make any reference to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. (Articles 4, 15 and 16 would appear to be directly or indirectly relevant).

Given the Commission’s flimsy justifications for a reduction in democratic representation for Cornish communities on this unprecedented scale and its refusal to answer the direct question of why it is treating Cornwall so differently from every other principal authority, we have to look elsewhere for the real reasons why Cornwall is being singled out for special treatment.

A special case?

Cornwall Council’s role
How committed were Cornwall Council’s senior officers and leadership to maintaining councillor numbers at their current level? The Council adopted a very strange negotiating position. By proposing 99 councillors and a reduction of 19%, it effectively ceded the argument that a reduction in council size was necessary in the first place. Instead of sticking to a more robust position of no change and forcing the Boundary Commission to make a case for a cut in more detail, it moved well over halfway towards the Commission’s position. This allowed the Commission to confuse the issue by making it a choice between two cuts. It also undercut those who argued for maintaining parity of democratic representation with other similar local authorities. Why did the Council not make more of the Durham comparison? In 2012 the Boundary Commission review of County Durham’s Unitary Authority concluded that its 126 councillors were still required in order to provide ‘efficient and convenient local government’ and rejected local calls to reduce the Council’s size to 85 members. The Boundary Commission refuses to explain why in Cornwall it’s adopted the opposite stance, with a massive reduction in democratic input apparently being necessary for ‘effective’ governance.

Cornwall Council also undermined its own argument by accepting the importance of a ‘fit’ between new ward boundaries and the Community Network Areas (CNAs). This allowed the Commission to argue that 87 provides the ‘best fit’. However, there is nothing at all sacrosanct about the boundaries of the 19 CNAs. These have no democratic role and were only created as convenient legitimation for the unitary authority in 2009. They have no historical basis. They have no cultural identities. There could as easily be 25 CNAs. Or just 10 CNAs. By fetishizing the CNAs Cornwall Council shot itself in the foot.

The Cornwall Association of Local Councils
Second, if the excessive importance given to CNAs is one strange aspect of this business, so is the stress placed by the Boundary Commission on the Cornwall Association of Local Councils (CALC). This body called for a council size of between 85 and 95 early in the consultation process. It would be interesting to know the precise political make-up of the CALC meeting that adopted this position. For the CALC appears to be entirely at variance with the councils it purports to represent, 73% of which did not agree with the proposed cut in their submissions on council size. Clearly, the Boundary Commission is grasping eagerly at the strawperson provided by the CALC. Just why so much credence is given to this unrepresentative body is unclear and again unexplained.

The ‘governance review and double devolution (+ centralisation)
Third, the Commission puts great faith in Cornwall Council’s ‘governance review’ of 2016. This will supposedly result in ‘new governance arrangements’ in 2021. Cornwall Council in March 2017 stated that it was devolving the management of over 300 public assets to parish and town councils (two thirds of these being public toilets.) However, this ‘double devolution’ has turned out to be another unfortunate accidental (or perhaps not) shot in the foot as, like the role of the CALC, the Commission seized on this to argue that fewer councillors are therefore needed at the Cornwall level.

Yet, details of these new ‘governance arrangements’ are sketchy. In addition, there appears to be devolution to parish councils on the one hand, but an increasingly centralised strategic leadership on the other, both squeezing elected members out of any meaningful role. The Commission focuses on the former but passes silently over the latter. The plan is to retain a strong ‘Leader and Cabinet’ model. In addition, there is now a ‘Leadership Board for Cornwall’, but this body will have no direct democratic input. There is also a vague promise to develop more ‘open and honest relationships’.

Is it really the case that these ‘governance arrangements’ are so spectacularly innovative as to warrant such an extraordinary cut in the democratic component of the Council? Is no other council in the UK doing anything similar? It would appear they are. Cornwall Council, in its latest update, states that ‘similar frameworks are being adopted by other councils across the UK’. If so, then why are those councils not facing similar cuts in their sizes? Moreover, if double devolution really means the devolution of power and decision-making, let alone finances, to parish and town councils then why does the vast majority of parish and town councils remain sceptical and unconvinced by the promised new arrangements? None of this looks sufficient to justify the exceptional nature of the cut in the number of elected voices at Cornwall Council. On the contrary the ‘double exclusion’ of elected members might be seen as an argument to strengthen the democratic component of the Council rather than weaken it.

The devolution deal
So we must turn to a final, less transparent, factor that needs to be factored in. Did Cornwall’s so-called ‘devolution deal’ of 2015 include an explicit or implicit agreement on the part of Cornwall Council to accept a reduction in councillor numbers? Did it also contain an overt or implied instruction to the Boundary Commission to proceed with its extreme plan for Cornwall? This might explain both the Commission’s determination to press ahead with reducing councillor numbers in the face of the evidence of its own consultation and the Council’s rapid caving in and offer to reduce councillor numbers by 19%.

There is nothing explicit that can be found in the Government’s official release about Cornwall’s devolution deal that suggests a reduction in councillor numbers on the scale being proposed by the Boundary Commission. Nonetheless, the Commission reports that Cornwall Council’s Conservative Group believed that ‘it was intended as a result of this deal for councillor numbers to be “much reduced”’. Was it? And did Cornwall Council’s leadership knowingly sign up to this agreement?

The devolution deal and the mysterious ‘agreements’ that did or did not accompany it may be the smoking gun that explains this serious erosion of the democratic rights of Cornwall’s communities. If this is so, then Cornwall is being treated even more unfairly than it first appears. For, in all the other devolution deals, mainly urban areas plus Cambridgeshire, the ‘devolution deal’ requires the establishment of a new layer of government. Part of this is unelected in the shape of Combined Authorities, with representatives from existing local authorities, and part is a directly elected mayor. Cornwall is the only region not to receive an extra level of democratically elected government.

It might therefore be expected that, given the addition of a further layer of democracy in elected mayors, local government authorities in those other regions with devolution deals would be suffering an even greater reduction in their size to compensate. Not so. In fact, quite the opposite. While Cornwall’s elected representatives are being culled by 29% with no additional level of democracy put in place, first-tier local authorities in the other areas with devolution deals and elected mayors and undergoing current reviews are seeing only a mean 7% cut in councillor numbers. While the number of councillors in the two district councils in Cambridgeshire under review are being cut, the cuts are 21% and 28%. (Cambridgeshire County Council is also being cut by 12%). So even the cuts at district level are still below the proposed level for Cornwall. Cornwall is being treated even worse in this respect than lower-tier local authorities in areas which have comparable devolution deals.

This discriminatory treatment of Cornwall’s democratic rights has no parallel, either with comparable unitary authorities such as Durham, or with regions with devolution deals. Behind the scenes pressure from the Conservative Government after Cornwall’s devolution deal appears to explain the Boundary Commission’s determination to impose this anomalous cut in Cornwall’s elected representatives. When we consider this together with other recent developments, such as the Planning Peer Report of January 2016 and attempts to instil a ‘positive Council culture’ among councillors (meaning replacing loyalty to their electors with loyalty to the Council), or Cornwall Council’s plans to become a housing developer in order to meet its ‘target’ for unsustainable housing and population growth, the cut in councillor numbers begins to make more sense.

This unprecedented cull has to be viewed as part of a bigger project to make the local state in Cornwall more efficient by further eroding the existing limited role of elected members in its governance. It’s hardly a coincidence that such an agenda will have the effect of neutering potential future opposition to the state’s plans for Cornwall. These involve the continuation of a hyper-growth agenda that depends on relatively high in-migration, while reserving selected parts of the territory as playgrounds and gentrified environments suitable for the holiday ‘industry’ and the second ‘home’ market. The fundamental drive lying behind the ongoing attacks on what remains of Cornwall’s democracy is to ensure any community resistance to the state’s colonial project is finally quashed once and for all.

How the Boundary Commission is treating Cornwall differently

What exactly is the Local Government Boundary Commission up to? Is Cornwall being used as a pilot project to see how far they can get away with cutting back democratic representation in local government? Or is it being singled out in order to smooth the path for its ongoing transformation, as our coastal areas become a safely domesticated bolthole for the rich and our inland towns over-populated, congested rat runs?

In line with neoliberal dogma, there’s a general trend these days to prune back democratic representation in local government with fewer councillors representing more people each so maybe Cornwall is just experiencing the same change as anywhere else. The Boundary Commission’s website lists all the current boundary reviews. Cornwall is one of 16 comparable unitary authorities being reviewed. Let’s put it in context in the following table.

Current reviews

Current size Proposed size Change Proposed residents per cllr
Bath & NE Somerset 65 59 – 9% 3,182
Blackburn 64 51 – 20% 2,883
Cheshire W & Chester 75 70 – 7% 4,795
Cornwall 123 87 – 29% 6,364
Croydon 70 70 n/c 5,461
Hull 59 57 – 3% 4,566
Leeds 99 99 n/c 7,896
Manchester 96 96 n/c 5,638
Newcastle 78 78 n/c 3,801
Redcar & Cleveland 59 59 n/c 2,295
Rotherham 63 59 – 6% 4,439
Rutland 26 26 n/c 1,485
South Gloucs 70 61 – 13% 4,551
Torbay 36 36 n/c 3,719
West Berks 52 43 – 17% 3,647
Windsor & Maidenhead 57 43 – 25% 3,461

As can be seen from this table, its treatment is exceptional. Seven of the unitary councils are seeing no change to their council size. The mean reduction in the other eight (excluding Cornwall) is 15%. The proposed reduction for Cornwall is almost twice that again – at an eye watering 29%. The only authorities that come anywhere close to this in terms of change are Blackburn and Windsor. But in comparison with Cornwall these are very small and their councillors will be asked to represent far fewer residents than in Cornwall. In fact, in terms of the number of residents per councillor Cornwall looks to be treated more like a densely populated urban area. Even here, only in Leeds will councillors represent more people than in Cornwall.

Cornwall’s reduced number of elected representatives will each have to represent more people than their colleagues in Manchester, Hull, Newcastle, Rotherham and Croydon. They will have to represent twice the number of people as councillors will in Bath, Blackburn or Redcar and four times the number in Rutland. Are Cornwall’s councillors particularly energetic? Are they super-human? The Boundary Commission apparently thinks so.

Is this proper? Is it fair? Is it just? We need to ask the Boundary Commission why they’re treating Cornwall so differently from everywhere else. But they’re refusing to tell us.

The questions the Boundary Commission still won’t answer

Following my letter to the Local Government Boundary Commission last week seeking clarification as to why Cornwall Council had been singled out for an unprecedented level of cuts in its democratic representation, today I received the following brief reply from the Commission.

Thank you for your submission. It has been received and will be considered by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England. We will let you know if and when a new phase of consultation for this review opens.

I have replied as follows.

Dear …..,

I think you did not read my communication of the 27th September fully. Here it is again with the most relevant part in bold.

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.

As you can see I would like some sort of response to these two questions from the Local Government Boundary Commission before submitting my views on ward boundaries.

I look forward to an early reply,

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

Forward, together? Or backward, to the 19th century?

Hidden away in the small print of the Conservative manifesto on page 43 is a promise to get rid of the detested alternative vote used for mayoral elections and replace it with the good old, best in the world, system of first past the post. This is in addition to an explicit Tory promise to stick with FPTP for general elections and continue with the boundary review to slash the number of parliamentary seats to 600, while obliterating the odd 1,000 year old administrative boundary in the process. The Tories can now sniff the real possibility, on the back of Brexit, of reinforcing their hold on the political levers and consolidating it for the foreseeable future.

One of the less predictable results (or perhaps not) of calling a general election in the middle of local elections was a general boost in the turnout, as party loyalists woke up and hurried out to vote. Turnout rose across the UK, to the benefit of the old parties and particularly the Tories, as folk seemed under the misapprehension they were voting for that strong and stable Mother May and not some halfwit standing for the council. Cornwall was no exception. Turnout this year jumped from 32.7% in 2013 to 39.7%.

Even then, under our laughably antiquated voting system, not one councillor was elected with more than half the votes of the registered electorate. In fact only four out of 122 managed to get the support of more than one in three of their electorate. Another 18 won more than one in four. Many more – 31 – took their ward with the votes of fewer than one in seven electors. Three of these won with less than one in ten. And at Camborne Trelowarren, where only six votes separated Tory, Labour and MK, the Tory sneaked in with a massive 5.8% of the registered voters of the ward bothering to vote for him. Meanwhile, the average councillor won his or her seat with the support of just 19.9% of the electorate.

As turnout was artificially boosted this time, even this feeble level of legitimacy for our councillors was better than in 2013. Then the mean level of support was 15.3%. In that election no councillor was elected with the votes of more than a third of their electors and only six managed to secure more than a quarter. Sixty, or almost half, were elected by fewer than one in seven in their wards and 22 of those with less than 10% of registered electors.

Instead of looking to make elections more meaningful, increase involvement and reinvigorate democracy, the Tories are determined to set this voting system in concrete. In doing so they can guarantee taking us back to the future and further down the post-democratic road. In a neo-liberal economy where their chums benefit massively for asset speculation, genuine democracy has become an irrelevance. They don’t want an informed electorate – just get on with the sodding shopping and leave the decision-making to us, to the quangos, to the corporations, to the traditional ruling class, while we add a bit of condescending paternalism to keep all you plebs content.

Take back your country? You must be having a laugh.

Cornwall’s election: all change on the right, not much elsewhere

There’s been no little panic outside the Conservative Party over the results of the local elections on May 4th. Suddenly, a Tory clean sweep in Cornwall seems very much on the cards again. But is it?

Superficially, this was a very good election for the Tories. They gained 15 seats and their mean vote rose by 7.5% over 2013. It was even a couple of points higher than in 2009, although they won four fewer seats this time than then. Moreover, as usual, their seat haul benefited from the vagaries of an unpredictable, Victorian voting system. In a proportional system they would still have gained, but got more like 38 seats rather than the 46 they ended up with.

Cornwall Council election 2017 seats under FPTP and PR (d’Hondt system)

Actual result PR result
Con 46 38
Lib Dem 37 32
Ind 30 34
Labour 5 11
MK 4 6
Greens 0 2

That said, they scored some notable successes in areas that should be difficult territory for them. In Camborne’s five wards they won 45.6% of the vote (and four of the five seats). In the St Austell district they stole wards such as St Blazey, Par, St Stephen, Bugle and Mount Charles. This was partly due to the scattering of the opposition vote but not entirely. It seems that the more working class (and Cornish) wards in Cornwall were not immune from the brexit British nationalist dogwhistle.

Overall, Cornish voters split three ways. The Tories got 35.3% of those who voted, Liberal Democrats picked up 29.7%, while Independents and other parties got 35%. So, despite breaking through in some urban areas, the Tories were still far from securing a majority of the votes, even in this ‘landslide’ year.

The other party gaining from the first past the post electoral system was the Lib Dems. However, their vote slipped back slightly from the levels of 2013 and 2009, even though they gained one seat and now have 37 (which will probably become 38 after the Bodmin by-election in June). Their tactics of parachuting paper candidates backfired badly with many receiving a derisory vote. In contrast, the vote for sitting Lib Dem councillors with name recognition held up well. (Interestingly, this bore no discernible relationship to their actual record as councillors, which varied widely). The attraction of the party label proved to be minimal.

The Lib Dems did best in North Cornwall in terms of seats, which must buoy them up there for their general election challenge, even though the personal vote at that level is less important than locally. It remains to be seen whether they can counter the daily drip-feed Tory party political broadcast that the BBC seems to have been turned into.

You’re unlikely to have read this anywhere in the mainstream press but Labour actually performed relatively well in Cornwall when compared with its abysmal showing in 2009 and even its recovery year in 2013. Its mean vote was up a couple of points, although this wasn’t reflected in terms of seats, where it lost three and now has five. But it’s not easy to make a direct comparison with past elections as Labour contests fewer than half the seats and the geography of their contestation varies. They also had fewer paper candidates this time.

MK narrowly failed (by six votes in Camborne Trelowarren) to match Labour in terms of seats. Meanwhile, its overall mean vote fell back slightly, despite fewer candidates this time. Nevertheless, it retained its four seats (although two of them were a bit close for comfort) despite the general election effect. This latter was also visible outside Cornwall, where there was a noticeable shift in the local elections back to the old centr(al)ist parties as tribal loyalties kicked in. It was no doubt a factor in the Independents in Cornwall losing seven seats and falling back to 30.

MK’s organisational weakness became more apparent after the local elections in its inability to field a candidate in the general election. But at least it has some councillors, which can’t be said for the Greens or Ukip, which both lost their sole representatives on Cornwall Council.

The Green mean vote held up but flatlined, with no sign of any major breakthrough. The ‘surge’ in St Ives is now old history and the Greens were unable to pick up votes despite the supposed unpopularity of Labour, now in the hands of ‘marxist saboteurs’ (like Tim Dwelly and Candy Atherton?!) The real change occurred on the far right as the Ukip mean vote went into meltdown. This was clearly associated to some extent with the rise in the Tory vote. It appears that Ukip’s function turns out to have been to act as a bridge from other parties to the Tories.

Are there any lessons here for the general election? Not many. In Cornwall the share of the vote for Independents is much higher, only the Tories and Lib Dems contest all (or virtually all) seats and turnout is less than half what we can expect next month, all of which make the local elections a poor predictor of voting behaviour in the general election. However, sufficient numbers of that 35% or so who take enough interest in politics to vote in the locals were swayed by the ‘strong and stable’ mantra to give the Tories a clear lead. Therefore it looks likely that the third who only bother to turn out for a general election will be even less able to look beyond the Tory soundbites and the personality politics they thrive on. On the basis of the local results we shouldn’t write off a second Tory clean sweep in Cornwall.