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.
This election has been a very strange one. Not just because of the most incompetent Tory campaign ever waged. Or the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. Or the fact the polls are all over the place, from a hung Parliament to a Tory majority of around 100. It’s also been strange because it’s the first time for many years when I’ve experienced the joys of being a floating voter. Ever since 1997 I’ve been one of that small band of stalwarts who’ve voted MK. So I could remain detached but hardly objective about the ebb and flow of London politics.
This time I have to admit I’ve been changing my mind. And not just once. My first thought was to revert to an anarchist vote and spoil my paper. Whoever you vote for the government gets in! I still think that elections are fundamentally superficial, a way of legitimating an unequal society geared to maintaining the wealth and power of a few rather than the needs of the many. Real democracy needs community-based, bottom-up organisation that can build institutions and networks and challenge statist and private hierarchies.
Then it began to look as if Labour was in with more than an outside chance in Camborne-Redruth, my constituency. The Labour surge began to make George Eustice’s demise a real possibility. Should I therefore vote Labour and help this process along? It would have been a lot easier had the Labour Party not foisted regional centralization on Cornwall, if Labour in Cornwall had signed up to a democratic Cornish Assembly, if the party came out in favour of PR, if its leadership hadn’t spurned the possibility of a progressive alliance, if its policies on things such as climate change and Trident were more consistent.
All these made me hesitate. But live by the numbers, die by them. So I decided that if the YouGov election model was showing Labour within 5% of Eustice today, then I’d vote for them. If not I’d vote Green, which would be my preferred choice, as the big issue is climate change and their candidate in this constituency appears to be intelligent and sensible, as far as I can make out. The prediction has now just appeared and Eustice is still 6% ahead. As this is the most-Labour leaning poll it makes it extremely unlikely that they can unseat him. Therefore I’m voting with my conscience and not succumbing to tactical voting. Phew, what a harrowing process – much simpler to have a system of PR and no ‘wasted’ votes.
But if I lived elsewhere in Cornwall I’d be voting differently. It would be nice if we could decide how to vote at least relatively rationally, taking in the context, rather than fall for blanket (and more often than not tribalist) calls to vote for this or that party to ‘stop the Tories’. Therefore in St Ives and North Cornwall I’d vote Lib Dem as Andrew George and Dan Rogerson have a real chance of beating the Conservatives. In Truro and South East Cornwall I’d vote Green as the Tory is too far out in front to be caught. In St Austell there’s no Green candidate so I’d end up voting Labour or spoiling my paper.
Anyway, enjoy one of your few opportunities to partake in the democratic ritual tomorrow before they abolish it.
There’s another pair of politically similar constituencies at either end of Cornwall. St Ives, the most westerly, in some respects looks remarkably like North Cornwall, the most northerly. Both have high proportions of second homes, elderly voters galore and few students. Moreover, they are both among the handful of seats which the Lib Dems might have expected to gain at this election.
In both constituencies Labour is well behind. In both Lib Dem success hangs on convincing Labour leaners to vote tactically. In North Cornwall the gap between the sitting Tory MP and challenging Lib Dem appears to be narrowing as polling day focuses people’s minds, but it’s perhaps happening too slowly to give the Lib Dems’ Dan Rogerson the win.
Dan is lumbering back into the fray for a second joust with the Tories’ Scott Mann. Neither candidate is over-endowed with charisma, however. The Tories long ago stopped the practice of importing grandees from upcountry to command the peasants to give them their vote and in North Cornwall have an impeccably local and working class MP. Scott Mann claimed he’s ‘spent his whole life growing up in Cornwall’, a task clearly requiring all his concentration, before getting elected in 2015.
On the Lib Dem side, Dan Rogerson is equally anodyne. He was a little bit rebellious but not too much so during the Lib Dem/Tory coalition, although he did vote against his party’s U-turn on tuition fees. Any further tendencies to rebellion were tamed by becoming a junior minister. During the floods crisis however, he was confined by the Government to the high ground while David Cameron stanked around in his green wellies looking business-like. Rogerson was promptly dubbed ‘the invisible man’ by the media.
Dan presents the familiar although frustrating Lib Dem enigma of soundbites for Cornwall but precious little concrete achievement. In 2015 I was so irritated by this I called on people to vote for anyone but him (or the Tory, Ukip and Independent candidates some to that). I’ve now changed my mind. He’s preferable to a Tory cipher who will act as uncritical voting fodder for his plutocratic masters (and mistresses). Moreover, Dan Rogerson has categorically stated that if elected he will not support another coalition with the Tories. That’s a promise that, if broken, will surely be his last.
For Rogerson to succeed however, he’ll need to convince those intending to vote Labour in North Cornwall to vote tactically yet again and not for Bodmin’s Joy Bassett. And in large numbers.
Unusually for Cornwall in this election, other candidates are standing here. Rob Hawkins is flying the flag for Arthur Scargill’s (yes, he’s still alive) Socialist Labour Party and is probably their sole member west of Bristol. In 2015 John Allman stood because every child needs a father. He’s a bit less cryptic this time, standing for the Christian Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) on a platform of Christian values, pro-Brexit, traditional family and anti-abortion.
If the CPA seems to be a more evangelical version of the Conservative Party in North Cornwall, in St Ives there’s little space for it. In the far west, Andrew George is also whipping up election fever and portraying the battle as one between good and evil. Here Manichean politics blurs into manic politicking as efforts are made to push the idea of a progressive alliance. The problem is that local Labour supporters are proving surprisingly resistant to it.
In St Ives the choice does appear to be clear. This is an election between Christianity and Cornishness, between the politics of fear and the politics of hope, between deference and freethinking, between authoritarianism and freedom. Or at least Andrew George would like us to believe so.
Sitting Tory MP Derek Thomas has denied his evangelical Christianity affects his voting, although as his record loyally toes the party line, it’s difficult to know. In 2015 he was already prefiguring Theresa May by bemoaning the absence of the ‘leaders’ needed to create ‘healthy and stable communities’. He must now be squealing with delight as Theresa May offers him both strength and stability. Over and over again.
While Thomas should appeal to the deferential ex-Ukip vote in St Ives, George has the Cornish patriotic vote sown up, having a long record of standing up for Cornish causes. He’s also making the NHS an issue and has been regularly involved in local campaigns against the consequences of austerity politics.
At present the polls are suggesting St Ives is too close to call, although the YouGov model has shown the gap closing and George now slightly in the lead. The bookies are less sure but nonetheless their odds against Andrew winning have shortened significantly from 7/2 against a week ago to 15/8 yesterday (meanwhile Dan Rogerson is stuck on 4/1). To win however, Andrew George has to convince the one in five voters in St Ives who are still leaning towards Labour’s Chris Drew to vote for him. The choice seems a clear one. Stick with a loyal Tory cheerleader for Theresa May with some very illiberal ideas or restore a Lib Dem MP who was one of their more rebellious MPs before 2015.
Andrew’s vulnerability still lies in the fact he’s tied to the rusty old tub of Liberal Democracy. That put paid to his chances last time around. Can he avoid going down again with the rest of the ship’s crew or will he thrown a lifebelt this time by local Labour voters? A pity he’s not a fully fledged independent but beggars in St Ives can’t be choosers.
The two mid-Cornwall constituencies are very different but at the same time deceptively similar. Different in that Truro & Falmouth was the only constituency to have voted Remain last year while St Austell & Newquay was the most inclined to Brexit. Different too in that Truro & Falmouth has the highest number of well-paid, public sector workers and the electorate with the highest qualifications. It’s also the one part of Cornwall which has benefited from globalization, although paying the price for this with mounting capacity issues and environmental pressures. Meanwhile, St Austell & Newquay has the lowest number of highly educated voters and economically has … well, Newquay.
But they’re also similar. Both have a solid bedrock Tory vote of near half the electorate on current predictions, but with some uncertainty about who’s in the best position to challenge the incumbent. Both have Tory MPs who might not be all they appear to be.
In St Austell & Newquay Steve Double comfortably won the seat in 2015 by over 8,000 votes. Part of his appeal lay in his evangelical religious background, attracting those who pray for a return of strong family values. That didn’t last too long though, as a year after the election Steve’s affair with his young case worker came to light, triggering much outrage and shock from some of his constituents.
Nonetheless, this doesn’t seem to have harmed his chances. Quite the opposite in fact, as his support has grown faster than any of our Tory MPs if polls are to be believed. There may be a lesson here for those who believe in traditional family values. Or more likely he’s getting the benefit of the large Ukip vote (the highest in Cornwall) in St Austell & Newquay in 2015. With no Ukip candidate this time, these voters will most likely swallow any doubts and swing behind him.
Among the predictable platitudes, Steve Double is working to bring a spaceport to Newquay, handy for all those Martians who might fancy a holiday and snap up a second home on the coast while they’re about it. In similar science fiction mode, he promises us that all EU money will be replaced by Westminster. If you believe that, then you’re presumably already letting out your spare room via Airbnb to those same Martians.
Previous Lib Dem MP Stephen Gilbert is in a fight for second place but has zero to little chance of unseating Double. Gilbert’s campaign got off to a rocky start when he cocked up the date of the election, thus confusing the folk of St Austell & Newquay even more than usual. Then it was alleged he’d called the two thirds of voters in the constituency who’d voted for Brexit ‘fuckwits’ in a tweet just after last year’s referendum (in the bargain doing it from Greece, just to make the EU obsessives go really apeshit).
In any case, the ‘independent analysis’ is no such thing. It’s a quick guess by TacticalVoting 2017 based purely on the results last time. Given that the pollsters are informing us that Labour’s Kevin Neil is vying with Gilbert for second place, with both at least 20 points behind the Tory, the blanket tactical voting zealots are merely succeeding in sowing even more confusion.
As they are in the other mid-Cornwall seat of Truro & Falmouth. Here, Labour’s Jayne Kirkham looks to have momentum (!) and be firmly established as the clear alternative to the sitting MP Sarah Newton, the thinking person’s Theresa May. The latest YouGov prediction has Kirkham a full 11 points ahead of the Lib Dems and an equal amount behind Newton. Yet, bizarrely, TacticalVoting 2017 is still ‘advising’ people to vote Lib Dem in Truro & Falmouth and thus waste their vote. The Labour surge in Truro & Falmouth (mainly the latter) comes despite a far more competent and convincing Lib Dem candidate than last time in the shape of local Truro councillor Rob Nolan.
During the last election, I wrote that Sarah Newton floated serenely above the political fray, living in an Alice in Wonderland world where Tories never lied and where cutting disability benefits was a shining example of ‘improving people’s lives’. Little has changed. She still utters vacuous nonsense at regular intervals and gives every impression of actually believing it. Yet somehow I can’t shake off the impression that, behind the bland Stepford-wife exterior, lurks something darker and far more menacing. Anyway, she looks to be the perfect Tory for this most middle class and academically qualified of Cornwall’s constituencies, one where most folk moan about the developer-led destruction of their environment but do little about it as long as they can get parked at Waitrose.
There are a couple of other candidates here. The Green Party’s Amanda Pennington should have been looking to capitalise on the student and heart-on-the-sleeve liberal vote in this constituency. But that’s been dashed by the Labour surge and the mindless rush to vote ‘tactically’ for the wrong candidate. Although, oddly for a Green candidate, she’s in favour of expanding Newquay airport, Amanda is worth considering as, realistically, Labour won’t win here. Or at least, not in this election.
A vote for the Greens would also be a good idea in order to outpoll Ukip’s sole candidate in Cornwall, Duncan Odgers. He promises to fight ‘for the rights of the electorate’ who of course now have their country (and ours) back. Worryingly however, Duncan appears to think Ukip’s Paul Nuttall is ‘agenda setting’. Those whom the Gods … etc. At least he appeared on the Sunday Politics show wearing a Cornish rugby shirt and advertising Tribute. Pity about the accent though.
In short, in both the mid-Cornwall constituencies the Tory is too far ahead to be seriously threatened. Calls for ‘tactical’ voting are misplaced and serve merely to confuse. They can be safely ignored as the real battle is to claim bragging rights as the best placed challenger at the next election.
The two constituencies of South East Cornwall and Camborne-Redruth may be far apart. But they share the distinction of being the weakest Liberal Democrat prospects in Cornwall. South East Cornwall is now a pale shadow of the constituency that once gave us Isaac Foot and Peter Bessell. It’s been transformed by in-migration into one of those Surrey seats that in the 1960s and 70s always had huge majorities for a red-faced, complacent, fat Tory, with Labour and Liberals left hopelessly floundering for second place thousands of votes in arrears. With a very large bunch of Ukip votes now up for grabs the swashbuckling Cornish fisherwoman Sheryll Murray should again reach harbour very safely with well over 50% of the vote.
She’s opposed by the Lib Dems’ nice but interesting Phil Hutty. Last time Phil erroneously claimed South East Cornwall was ‘very close’, just before losing by a stonking 17,000 votes. So this time take what he says with a large dose of salt. He faces a much more credible Labour opponent in Gareth Derrick, who may even threaten his second place. Meanwhile, the Greens’ Martin Corney has just posted a photo of his first new potatoes of the year on his Facebook page. Better things to do, Martin?
While there’s no point in voting ‘tactically’ in South East Cornwall to get rid of Sheryll Murray (it just won’t happen), there’s every reason to consider doing so in Camborne-Redruth to unseat George Eustice. Despite help from the Tories’ dubious practice of bussing in activists to marginal seats, resulting in a close encounter with prosecution for breaking electoral law, George sits on one of Cornwall’s lower Tory votes – 40% in 2015. Yet he still has a healthy majority of 7,000 to play with. Moreover, there’s another potential 7,000 homeless Ukip voters waiting in the wings and presumably very willing to vote for this former Ukip member with a long-standing eurosceptic record. All this should have made Camborne-Redruth, like the South East, a safe Tory seat. Until, that is, the recent Tory poll wobbles.
Labour is in a clear second place here. Yet, on the streets Camborne and Redruth haven’t been exactly pulsing with excitement at the prospect of losing its smooth PR lobbyist/earthy local farmer [delete as appropriate] Tory MP. At first, Labour appeared to be running a strangely lackadaisical and not a little shambolic campaign. A scattering of Labour posters were popping up in windows and odd people with dogs were spotted wandering the streets doing some canvassing. And then it suddenly dawned on Labour supporters a week or two backalong that they may have a bit more than an outside chance.
Their candidate, Graham Winter, provides a big contrast to their 2015 campaign, which was fronted by an abrasive second-home owner with anger-management issues. This time, their candidate appears calm and collected, with more than a passing resemblance to a competent if slightly boring local government officer. Whether this is a good thing or not is of course debatable.
The Tory campaign also seems pretty low key and a little complacent, perhaps over-confident, with George playing the local card as always, but again as always, not entirely consistently. For instance, a few years ago he was supporting campaigners who were appalled at the massive housebuilding and population growth targets being foisted onto the district, calling the targets ‘bonkers’. But then he enthusiastically supported a link road which would ‘unlock’ lots of lovely land for …. massive housebuilding and population growth in the district.
Meanwhile, there are two candidates called Geoff. Geoff Williams has been a local Liberal activist since the days of Lloyd George but is likely to see the Lib Dem vote here follow the Welsh wizard into the history books. According to the West Briton he also has a ‘MBW for services to local government’. This is presumably a typo for ‘BMW as a present for agreeing to step up for the Lib Dems in this lost cause at such short notice’.
Geoff Garbett is again standing for the Greens and must be getting used by now to George Eustice’s arguments on the hustings. Hopefully he’s retained his sanity. But at this election he’s vulnerable to serious squeezing by Labour. Even those rejecting tactical voting as the devil’s work are reputedly having second thoughts.
You won’t find too much in the British press about the other parliamentary elections our neighbours are having. No, not Devon and the English south-west, but Brittany. The first round of the French hexagon’s legislative assembly elections takes place in a week’s time, just three days after the UK general election. So what’s going on over the water?
Our electoral system is designed to prevent the emergence of challenger parties and reinforce the dominance of a two-party system. The electoral system of the French Fifth Republic – first past the post but over two ballots – was designed to prevent the emergence of centrist parties and give a clear choice between right and left. Both mechanisms are creaking under the pressure of a more diverse and multi-party society.
In Britain (although not Northern Ireland) the disassociation between the voting system and the party system is starkest. The 2017 general election is taking us temporarily back to a Victorian two-party system (with different parties involved in England and Scotland) and the possibility after a Tory victory and subsequent boundary changes of a permanently entrenched Conservative majority. In France the victory of Macron in the recent Presidential elections has accompanied the rise of an entirely new centrist party – En Marche!. In the UK the move towards a more diverse party system that better reflects society is being quashed; in contrast in France, despite the electoral system, diversity is flowering.
While in the UK there’s an average of five candidates per seat, in France the average is 14 as 7,882 candidates compete for 577 seats (contrast our 3,303 for 650). Voters can hardly complain there’s no choice. Parties are on offer from the Trotskyite left (sometimes two of them) to the royalist far right with all complexions in between. This contrasts with the pallid policies and the unchallenged assumptions (income tax is a burden, growth is always good, Trident must be renewed etc.) around which British elections are fought.
In Brittany of course, we have the extra dimension of Breton regionalism. While MK has gone AWOL in this election, in most of the 37 Breton constituencies voters have a choice of not one but two regionalist candidates.
On the left, the alliance forged for the regional elections in 2015 between the Union démocratique bretonne (UDB) and Christian Troadec’s Mouvement Bretagne et Progrès (MBP) is maintained. Its candidates are standing under the banner Oui la Bretagne (OLB). OLB describes itself as a coalition of regionalists, autonomists, greens and of the left. It’s putting forward 34 candidates. Of these at least 22 are UDB members, while at least seven are from the MBP. The latter are found mainly in the west, where Carhaix-Plouguer in Finistere provides the core of Troadec’s personal vote. It’s here where the OLB will probably score its highest vote.
The UDB’s first ever legislative assembly member Paul Molac is standing again in Ploermel, but not as a UDB candidate. Molac was given a free run in the 2012 elections by the Parti socialiste (PS) and the Greens. Since then he has drifted away from the UDB although, reflecting the UDB’s disenchantment with the Greens, he joined the Socialist group on the Regional Council. In March he declared his support for Macron and this time he’s standing for En Marche! Nonetheless, Molac is not being opposed by OLB.
Neither is he facing opposition from the other regionalist grouping led by the Parti Breton (PB). The PB, created in 2002, denies the right-left label and positions itself as a catch-all, centrist party with a long-term aim of an independent Breton Republic within the EU. For this election it has allied with the Mouvement 100% la force éco-citoyenne. Led by the Alliance écologiste indépendante (AEI), this consists of several citizens’ movements, green groups and micro-parties across the hexagon, as well as a few small regionalist parties. Like the PB (and Macron) it claims to transcend the old right-left divide, although its economic policies look distinctly Blairite.
In Brittany the coalition, headed by the PB, is standing under the label 100% Bretagne. It brings together the PB with the Parti Fédéraliste Européen (PFE) and two even smaller movements – Alliance Fédéraliste Bretonne and En Avant Bretagne. Two thirds of its 31 candidates in Brittany can be identified as PB members, with five from the PFE, while four have not been identified.
No candidate from either the OLB or 100% Bretagne is likely to make the second round. Instead, the two formations will be seeking to improve on past performances at legislative elections, which have been similar to that of MK, a fairly miserable 2% or less. But with the familiar soft regionalist option of the PS in meltdown, does this election offers some novel opportunities?
All praise President Trump. News that he was pulling out of the Paris climate agreement meant that the yawning absence of this election (and previous ones) at least got a mention. While journalists focus on the minutiae of who will lose out from taxing the top 5%, the costs of this or that policy and whether or not politicians are ‘strong’ or not, we can carry looting the planet and its natural resources with impunity.
A BBC journalist, when reporting the unsurprising Trump decision, inadvertently described dangerous climate change as ‘arguably, the most important issue we face’. Arguably? It’s only ‘arguable’ because the media allowed themselves to be duped by the lobbying of fossil fuel and some other corporate interests. These poured millions of dollars into climate change denial, effectively and maybe disastrously delaying action for decades. All to give themselves another generation of profits.
And yet little is heard of this in the election. As George Monbiot points out, politicians of all hues run scared of confronting capitalism’s central conundrum – how to square environmental damage and economic growth. No-one dares to suggest that there are limits to our right to consume. No-one (apart from the Greens) question the ‘presumption that there are no limits’… ‘they build their economic programmes on a fairytale’, refusing to admit we live on a finite planet.
The Tories’ stance is one of the better examples of their habit of saying one thing and doing the exact opposite while hoping no-one will notice. The rest of us tend to call this lying through their teeth. Climate change gets five explicit mentions in their manifesto. No actual policies to prevent it are cited but the UK is apparently a ‘world leader’ in combating it. Meanwhile, the word ‘growth’ appears 30 times, clearly informing us where their priorities lie.
Both Labour and the Lib Dems at least pledge to oppose fracking and recognise that reliance on shale gas will lock us into fossil fuel dependence well after 2030, by which time we’re supposed to be virtually carbon-free. But both complacently persist in pursing the chimera of environmental protection AND never-ending ‘growth’. Both mention ‘growth’ positively in their manifestos about the same number of times as they mention ‘climate change’ negatively.
Two former Lib Dem MPs standing again have positive records on climate change, although still not 100%. Dan Rogerson voted for measures to prevent climate change 75% of the time and against 25%. Andrew George was 60% for and 40% against. Meanwhile, as on other issues, Stephen Gilbert’s record was closer to the Tories. He voted 40% of the time for measures to prevent climate change and 60% against. What a pity there’s no Green standing in St Austell & Newquay.