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.


Can Labour win? Is St Jeremy on his way to Number 10?

If I was to believe my Twitter bubble over the past few days I’d be thinking something astonishing was about to happen. Labour tribalists are all aquiver. Jaded, dispassionate cynics are waking up and smelling the coffee. Even the BBC’s correspondents, having casually written Corbyn’s Labour off weeks ago, are forced to admit things are getting closer. Too close for Tory HQ, where the apparatchiks are giving headless chickens a run for their money as they press the panic button. Can Labour really pull off the biggest election shock since 1945?

The answer is still a short and simple no.

In 1945 there was no polling. Even though the polls got it badly wrong in 2015 (understating the Tory vote note) they can’t be that wrong. Its true there’s been a dramatic shift since the local elections, and more particularly since the Tory manifesto was launched. The Tory lead has been almost halved, from overwhelming to merely comfortable. Most of the change came in the week after the 18th, when there was a small fall in the Tory ratings but a larger rise in Labour’s.

The average of ICM, YouGov, Opinium and ORB polling

It seems that those who were don’t knows but previous Labour voters at the beginning of the campaign have now overcome their qualms and are swinging back behind Labour. Previous Ukip voters, although still heavily Tory, are slightly more likely now to return to Labour. At the same time Corbyn’s strategy seems to be enthusing younger voters, where Labour support is consolidating.

Policy is less important as an attractor or repellent than image. The superficiality of the Tory reliance on parroting ‘strong and stable’ and contrasting May with Corbyn hasn’t worked. Even through the distorting mirror of the media, people can spot May’s flip-flopping over care for the elderly. She just doesn’t come over as ‘strong and stable’, proving that marketing myths have to have some credible core in order to work.

Tory panic is now displayed in their strategy for the remaining days. All they can come up with is a renewed attack on Corbyn while ratcheting up the abuse. They’re now using their tame press to imply he supports terrorists, re-running the British state’s war with the IRA and ridiculing his personal qualities. The aim is not to convince waverers so much as shore up the Tory vote and prevent further defections. This is a high-risk strategy as it depends on ensuring the same questions aren’t asked of Theresa May.

The key polls come this weekend when we’ll know whether the gap continued to close this week. At present the few polls published with fieldwork since the 25th suggest it’s stabilising. In order to win however, Labour needs, both this week and next, to gain support as it did last week. This is unlikely as it nears its historic recent peak. (Last week it was five points higher than Miliband’s score in 2015).

Therefore, it now depends on the Tory vote slipping. But here Labour faces a long-term problem in the proportion of over-65s who intend to vote Tory. A solid 60% or so of pensioners are sticking stubbornly with the Tories. This lump remains unmoved by May’s U-turns, more expensive social care, the collapse of the NHS and the promised end to safeguarding their pensions, having done relatively well out of recent Tory Governments. Thirty years of neo-liberal conditioning, relentless authoritarian British nationalist brainwashing and the lack of an alternative have done their work well and produced a politics of deference and a collective resignation that results in a perhaps wearisome but nonetheless dutiful Conservative cross on the ballot paper.

Labour’s only chance lies in previous non-voters confounding the pollsters and turning out to vote in larger numbers. Or in tactical voting.

A three or four week election campaign is hardly enough time to convince the poor and dispossessed to stop voting against their own interests. Or to persuade them to give up their cynicism about a political class (Tory, Labour and Lib Dem) that has royally stuffed them for the best part of 40 years. It’s going to take more than the patience of St Jeremy when being savaged by Oxbridge-trained journos to overturn that. Why should they believe that Labour has suddenly changed its spots and offers a credible alternative? Indeed, if the polls can be believed, non-voters in 2015 are as likely to be intending to vote Tory now as Labour.

As for tactical voting, this will only have a marginal impact of a few thousand votes in a handful of constituencies in the absence of any encouragement from the Labour and Lib Dem party leaderships.

Things might have been different. There’s a lot of what ifs floating around. Such as …

  • What if the parliamentary Labour Party had united behind Corbyn last year instead of using the Brexit vote to stab him in the back?
  • What if Labour could have become less arrogant and tribalist, able to move into the twenty-first century and recognise the need for a new politics, one more open to other forces?
  • What if Labour had embraced proportional representation?

But it hasn’t. So it won’t (win, that is). And of course, had it done these things Theresa May would never have been advised to call an election in the first place.

Fair voting – what do the parties say?

If the anti-Tory parties were serious about getting rid of the Tories then surely they would prioritise getting rid of a first past the post system that guarantees the Conservatives healthy majorities on well under half the votes cast. This method, devised for a straightforward two-party system, has long outgrown its usefulness and now merely serves to prevent the incursion into the political mainstream of much-needed alternatives.

Moreover, nobody knows how it’s supposed to work. Apparently, it’s actually all about ‘tactical’ voting. So you have to decide which candidate you dislike the least in order to get rid of the one you hate the most, if your actual preference is unlikely to win. Then you have to decide whether your dislike of the candidate you don’t want to win is sufficient to overcome any qualms about voting for your second choice. Although you must then calculate whether that second choice is really in with a chance of winning. If not, maybe you’d be better to vote for a third choice, but only if you detest a fourth candidate enough to do that. Finally, you have to ponder the implications of helping your originally preferred choice obtain a miserable vote, thus allowing others to belittle and ignore the ideals you hold dear for another four or five years.

It’s all so damn complicated. Far simpler to follow the vast majority of the democratic world and institute a fair voting system where every vote counts and none is ‘wasted’. However, there’s little sign of enthusiasm for that in the manifestos of two of the old centralist parties. The Tories bizarrely want to extend FPTP, doing away with the alternative vote used for mayoral elections. The other conservative party – Labour – makes no mention of PR at all.

Imagine what this diagram would look like if it was Cornwall, not England!

The Lib Dems do include a pledge to introduce ‘fair voting’ and specifically the single transferable vote. But, stuck on page 89 of 95, it hardly seems to be a top priority. And of course, Lib Dems had the chance not that many years ago when they were part of the coalition government and spectacularly blew it. They could then have demanded STV for local elections, as in Scotland, as part of a deal with the Tories, allowing the latter to gerrymander Westminster constituencies. Given that no-one in Parliament cares a fig about local government this might well have had more traction than a pathetic referendum on the alternative vote, plainly chosen to maximise Lib Dem party gains.

The other parties – Greens and UKIP – are both in favour of PR, possibly again for selfish party reasons. Ukip’s suggestion of replacing the House of Lords with an English Parliament elected via the additional member system as in Scotland and Wales, with a UK-wide slimmed down House of Commons elected by PR is actually remarkably innovative and co-exists uneasily with the bulk of its back to the future programme.

When the fish, tin and MK have gone, what is the Cornish nationalist to do?

Manifestos are part of the hallowed ritual of general elections. The media report them, pundits pontificate and nerds (like me) might niggle, but for the vast majority they’re irrelevant, a far away country of which they know little. Moreover, if predictions of a comfortable Tory majority pan out, they seemingly care less. But as a public service let’s dive into the pullulating pit of platitudes that make up the party manifestos and see what they might say about one or two key issues. It’s a filthy job but someone has to do it.

First off, what do they offer the homeless Cornish nationalist?

Forward, you peasants, for our prosperous plutocracy

The Tories laud ‘our precious union’, but betray a serious problem of innumeracy as they go on to say ‘one nation made of four’. Recognising the Cornish as the fifth nation of these islands in 2014 was just a bad dream that’s thankfully been erased from their collective memory. Nonetheless, they’re in favour of devolving power ‘to improve local government’. This extends to giving ‘local government greater control over the money they raise’ (while reducing the money they get and directing lots of other money to unaccountable quangos such as the Local Enterprise Partnerships).

But never let a few inconvenient facts get in the way of a vague promise. The Tories live in their own strange, topsy-turvy universe. This is a place where saying things often enough is the same as actually doing them. When we look at the actual votes of our six, sad Tory MPs, working hard for hard-working folk, we find a very consistent record of voting against handing down more powers and resources to local government, as the West Briton has pointed out in some detail.

Turning to another traditionally centralist party, Labour promises it will set up a convention to consider the option of a ‘more federalised country’. If that looks a little too bland to get the towns and villages of Cornwall ablaze with enthusiasm, the priority they give this, which appears on page 102 of their (admittedly very long) manifesto, isn’t high. The only concrete policy they offer is to ‘restore regional offices’. Will someone please tell them this means re-centralization, not de-centralization, when viewed from Cornwall? Labour is careful to use the formula the ‘regions and nations of the UK’, but, as they ignore Cornwall, it’s not clear which, if either, they consider us to be.

It’s the good old Lib Dems, with Cornwall ‘sort of’ coursing through their veins according to the late Nick Clegg, who daringly utter the word Cornwall in their manifesto. Cornwall pops up as an example of a promise of devolution of revenue-raising powers to regions on page 44. The Lib Dems’ ‘devolution on demand’ is part of a rather quaint package of ‘home rule all round’, harking back to the days of Gladstone. The seriousness of this nostalgic offer remains in doubt however, when we read that they intend ‘greater devolution of powers to councils or groups of councils working together, for example to a Cornish Assembly or a Yorkshire Parliament’. This curious wording reads as if they’re still equating Cornwall Council with a Cornish Assembly. It suggests they still haven’t learnt the difference between devolving powers to an unfit for purpose local authority and creating the new institutions that will help to reinvigorate democracy in Cornwall.

Not surprisingly, Ukip doesn’t mention Cornwall by name either. ‘Our nation’ crops up 11 times but then we read of a promise of ‘a fair deal for all four [sic] nations’ which are to have ‘broadly similar devolved powers’. In Ukip’s utopia Cornwall will therefore be trapped in England. As England’s first colony, any Cornish claims to self-determination are likely to receive even shorter shrift there than within a multi-national UK. Meanwhile, the Green Party’s ‘Green Guarantee’ makes no explicit mention of devolution. Perhaps they think their commitment to localism covers the point.

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?

Corbyn’s crew enter Cornish lists: Labour candidates named

In a brilliant bit of timing and a blaze fizzle of publicity, the Labour Party quietly announced its ‘Cornwall’ general election candidates a week ago. This was just as the TMaybot’s team descended on Cornwall to bark ‘strong and stable’ as much as they could at the travelling media circus while locking local reporters in a small room. Only a few days later Labour’s announcement wasn’t exactly front page news in the press on the day of the local elections. Perhaps it was in the ‘volunteers wanted’ section.

So who are the horny-handed sons and daughters of toil who will lead the ‘Cornwall’ masses to the sunny uplands of Corbynia, a curious mixture of the 1970s and 1940s, a place where everyone is friendly and smile at each other all day while earnestly not making up their minds about Brexit.

Anyone volunteering to be Labour candidate in the two eastern constituencies must have a strong death wish. North Cornwall is the most torrid territory for Labour, which just managed to save its deposit there in 2015. Their candidate this time is Joy Bassett, an Anglican lay minister in Bodmin who works at the family’s solicitors’ firm. She’ll be trying not to get squeezed by the Lib Dems (an awful fate at the best of times.)

The young Labour candidate in South East Cornwall made news last time around by disappearing on holiday with his mum halfway through the campaign. Traditionally, Labour in South East Cornwall has turned to Plymouth as a useful store of potential candidates and this time is no exception. Their more credible candidate comes in the shape of 59 year old Gareth Derrick who lives in Ivybridge. You may remember – well, you probably won’t – that he was Labour’s candidate in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2016.

Gareth’s experience of 36 years in the Royal Navy, where he ended up as a commander, and a subsequent business background in management consultancy, defence contracting and a ‘development’ company should enable him to stand up well to Sheryll Murray, if he gets the chance. Labour in South East Cornwall are actually only 4,000 votes behind the Lib Dems, who have looked on helplessly as the social basis of Liberalism in the constituency – the chapel and the Cornish working class – has disintegrated. The area has suffered large-scale gentrification, which has transformed it into a safe Tory seat.

In St Austell & Newquay and in St Ives, Labour also came fourth in 2015 and with very similar proportions of the vote – 9-10% – as in the South East. Kevin Neil in St Austell & Newquay is described as a ‘former resident’ who’s been back working in Cornwall since 2016. Kevin believes in democratic socialism and is working with Momentum trying to introduce such ideas to the Parliamentary Labour Party.

In St Ives Labour has chosen Chris Drew, a Cornish born and bred community worker and scion of a well-known Penzance family. Chris says he will offer a ‘real alternative’. It’ll be interesting however to see how much effort Labour puts into this seat, in the face of Lib Dem Andrew George’s desperate pleas for a ‘progressive alliance’. There are still 4,500 Labour votes up for grabs and George needs as many of those as possible to stand any chance at all against the fundamentalist-Brexit margins of Cornish politics.

Labour’s best two performances in 2015 came in Truro & Falmouth, where they scored 15% and almost beat the Lib Dems into second place, and Camborne and Redruth, where they did beat the Lib Dems (into fourth place) and got 25% of the vote. In Truro & Falmouth Jayne Kirkham is their candidate. She moved to Falmouth in 2006 and is a Labour member because she ‘believes in equality’. For her sake, let’s hope there are some redistributive policies with real teeth in their manifesto then.

Camborne and Redruth is Labour’s only realistic hope, but it’s still a very slim one. Trailing George Eustice by 7,000 votes in 2015, they need to ruthlessly squeeze every last Lib Dem vote, given the 7,000 Ukip voters who will, it’s reliably reported, have no Ukip candidate to vote for and will turn like sheep to what they think is a ‘strong and stable’ sheepdog but which turns out to be a ravenous wolf that’ll eat them alive.

Labour’s candidate has to be an improvement on Michael Foster, who they cruelly inflicted on the long-suffering local citizenry last time. This time they’re putting up a local resident who, to my knowledge, doesn’t have a second home. Graham Winter works as a senior advisor in waste management, a useful training for the House of Commons one might have thought. Born in Barnsley, he moved to Camborne in 2005 and is involved in various local activities.

Postscript: the Liberal Democrats in Camborne and Redruth are still keeping the identity of their candidate under wraps, while their websites seem to have been last updated in 2010. Here’s a suggestion for them – save your money and don’t bother.

Reports of death of ‘progressive’ alliance in Cornwall greatly exaggerated?

This morning confusion surrounds the whereabouts of the ‘progressive’ alliance floated for St Ives constituency in the general election. Last Saturday it was revealed that Green Party members meeting at Redruth had decided to stand a candidate in St Ives, thus dealing a cruel blow to those who’d been hoping for a ‘progressive’ alliance. The news was broke by Milo Perrin of Cornish Stuff.

No source was given, although a quote from Tim Andrewes, the Greens’ sole Cornwall Councillor, that he was not putting himself forward, implied that the story was based on a Green Party source. However, there was no actual Green Party news release or, indeed, any kind of official comment, just an uncorroborated facebook account of a secret meeting between unknown Lib Dem, Green and Labour participants last Tuesday at which agreement was not reached.

Since Saturday morning, after a predictable outburst of spleen from Lib Dem supporters in St Ives, things have been surprisingly quiet on social media about this purported development. Nothing seems to have appeared in the old, anti-social media either. We remain in the dark as to what may have happened to change Green Party minds since this appeared on the Progressive Alliance for Cornwall website on Thursday, the 20th.

It’s fair to say the supposed decision also came as a surprise to Green Party members themselves, judging by comments on the West Cornwall Green Party facebook page, which were not exactly favourable about the decision to stand.

More interestingly, Jacqueline Merrick, Green council candidate in Camborne, rather cryptically stated on that site on Saturday evening ‘stop jumping to conclusions, please’. Last night Amanda Pennington, Green candidate for Truro & Falmouth, followed that up by tweeting ‘nothing decided yet’. An official Green Party statement on who stands where will follow the local elections.

So was Saturday’s report fake news? Were the Greens bluffing? Or have they blinked and changed their minds in the face of a generally hostile reaction? Perhaps, just perhaps, electoral pacts in Cornwall shouldn’t be written off just yet. Perhaps also, more open discussion and fewer secretive meetings might be a good idea.