Final line-up in Camborne & Redruth confirmed: the Geoffs versus George

We now know the 99% certain line-up for Camborne & Redruth a few hours before nominations close for the general election. After several days of prevarication the Liberal Democrats finally revealed their candidate as Geoff Williams. As predicted here, Illogan-based Geoff was chosen, according to the Lib Dems, at a ‘packed’ meeting. Might have been a small room though. Geoff was a founder-member of the Lib Dems in the 1980s and is described as a ‘veteran’ local politician, having been around since the time of Gladstone.

Farmer/PR man and sitting MP George Eustice, won’t lose many nights sleep over the Lib Dems. Now buoyed up by escaping a spell in prison, George will be even less worried by the Greens’ announcement that their candidate is strangely also called Geoff. Coincidentally, Geoff Garbett (68), who contested the constituency in 2015, is, like the other Geoff, also a retired teacher and lecturer. Even more uncannily, he’s also a founder member of his party in the ‘south west’. And, stretching the bounds of credibility to their utmost, he’s also a parish councillor.

The Greens, having, as implied here last week, eventually decided not to stand in St Ives, will be trusting local Lib Dems might do the decent thing and return the favour. Fat chance. So far Liberal Democrats have displayed not a glimmer of any willingness to reciprocate in Cornwall and indulge in so-called ‘progressive’ allying. They’re sticking to their tried and tested Gilbert and Sullivanesque presumption that anyone who isn’t a little Conservative must be a little Lib Dem. The Greens’ less than startling performance in the local elections is unlikely to alter that.

And sadly, there’s no MK candidate. For a few moments last weekend MK considered standing in St Austell & Newquay and Camborne-Redruth. But instead the party has decided to save its money and go into hibernation for four years. Knackered by the locals, they’ve been wrong-footed by the TMaybot’s evil plan to call a general election merely in order to undermine the chances of Cornish nationalism for another generation. It remains to be seen whether Cornwall will survive this latest blow.

Not that, for the Tories, there can be any Cornish nationalism of course, as there’s no Cornish nation. And if some people, like the Council of Europe, say there is, then they’re European and automatically wrong and deluded and, well, just foreign and can’t be believed. So, you Cornish oafs and mugwumps, clear the road and leave ‘our country’ safe from the separatists and fit for foxhunters, offshore investors, hedge funds, speculative developers and the super-rich.

P.S. There’s also a Labour candidate called Graham.

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.

Cornwall Council elections: no change in prospect

Tomorrow, we’ll vote in the local elections. Or some of us. Those with postal votes will already have. Most people won’t bother. Others will vote along tribal party lines, not knowing or caring what their preferred party is actually saying about the future of Cornwall. And for the most part, they’re not saying that much. Meanwhile the majority of voters are mired in collective resignation.

Few candidates seem aware of Cornwall’s recent past

Whoever comes out of tomorrow’s elections with the largest number of councillors – Tories, Lib Dems or Independents – it matters little. We can be 100% certain that the devoloper-led coalition of chaos that drives Cornwall Council’s unsustainable growth strategy will still be in charge. The Charter for Cornwall campaign was a last-ditch effort to make the future of Cornwall an election issue. It’s fair to say it was a flop.

The Charter got the explicit support of around 250 individuals and organisations, including a handful of parish and town councils. But most parish and town councils ignored its call for a more balanced, sustainable, less developer-led strategy for Cornwall. Moreover, the hoped-for snowballing of support never really took off. Some early publicity was gained but then the announcement of a general election diverted attention from the ongoing transformation of Cornwall.

Around 75 of Cornwall’s 448 candidates at tomorrow’s election did sign up to the Charter pledges, and if you’re interested you can find out their stances here. But we might be forgiven if we ask how many seriously care about the issues of environmental degradation, unsustainable population growth or colonialism in Cornwall. By the evidence of their election leaflets not many. And of that 75, only a dozen or so took the next step and posted something on the Charter website.

Few candidates are demanding some really fair treatment for the Cornish

Moreover, 348 of the 448 candidates couldn’t even be bothered to reply to the politely worded request asking them if they supported the pledges or not. This was a level of boorish rudeness that hardly augers well for the responsiveness of the next Council. Almost 90% of Tory and Lib Dem candidates and almost 80% of Independents and Labour candidates didn’t stir themselves to respond. Around a third of Ukip candidates did, half of the Greens and almost all MK candidates.

What also struck the campaigners was the political illiteracy of many candidates, who seemed to have little clue about how the political system works, let alone grasp the current details of housing and planning policy. Early on one candidate asked if supporting the Charter would mean he was ‘being party political’. Later, it turned out he was a candidate for that apolitical organisation, the Conservative Party.

The most hostile reaction came from some Liberal Democrat candidates. Although one or two Lib Dems have an excellent record of opposing speculative housing and signed up with no qualms, others with equally sound records got extremely defensive when asked to commit themselves in future to oppose the excessive housing target they and the Government have lumbered us with. It’s clear that most Lib Dems are now lining up behind the 52,500 target. Worse, they’re refusing to commit themselves to lowering it in future, thus locking Cornwall into a spiral of unsustainable housing and population growth.

One Lib Dem candidate, in a bizarre example of petty tribalism, told campaigners that one reason she couldn’t sign up to the pledges was because they were ‘not something I or my party have come up with.’ Another sitting councillor aggressively threatened to make a fairly innocuous email exchange ‘public which I feel will harm your campaign more than my election prospects’, unless the Charter group agreed to remove a statement of fact that she couldn’t sign up to the four pledges. They called her bluff. She backed off.

The Tories are no better. All they say is ‘we understand the need for more homes for local people’, while saying nothing about all the housing that is patently not for local people. This is the local equivalent of the robotic parroting of ‘strong and stable’ that we’re seeing at the UK level. It’s basically meaningless drivel. Meanwhile most Independents seem to think they’re fighting a parish council election. They’re about as likely ever to come up with strategic policies for Cornwall’s voters are of giving up electing Tories.

Not much evidence of innovative policies to reduce the number of 2nd (and 3rd, and 4th) ‘homes’

In short, the vast majority of Cornwall’s candidates are ignoring the big issues facing Cornwall. The fact that on current trends our population will be nudging a million by the end of the century doesn’t seem to concern them. Any vision of the kind of Cornwall we should be building, any alternative to developer-led planning, any practical policies that might reverse the growth fetish of Cornwall Council and protect our heritage are, for most centrist and centralist politicians, just absent.

So, whoever you vote for, the planners and developers will still effectively control our future. Until a well-focused and better-organised grassroots opposition emerges, sadly this election is likely to make very little difference to Cornwall’s steady drift into post-democracy. A dumbed-down, resigned electorate will continue to get the representatives it deserves.

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.

What to look for in the Welsh local elections

On Thursday voters in Wales and Scotland will elect their local councillors. By popular demand from the Cornish masses (well, one of them anyway), I’ve been persuaded to do a blog on our Celtic compatriots as they troop wearisomely to the polls. Four times within two years in Scotland! Whatever would Brenda of Bristol say? Poor dears must be exhausted by this surfeit of democracy. How will they possibly get the energy required to go shopping?

Two aspects complicate matters if we want to compare the Welsh with the English local elections. Wales has unitary local government so all, rather than some, authorities are up for election this year. And the last elections were five years ago, not four, as the 2016 elections were postponed so as not to coincide with the Welsh Assembly vote. (The exception is Ynys Môn, which held its previous election in 2013). Because this was a year before 2013, unlike in England there was no surge of support for Ukip last time either.

In terms of seats here’s the results of the four Welsh local elections since the devolved assembly was set up.

1999 2004 2008 2012
Labour 563 479 (-84) 345 (-134) 580 (+235)
Independents 295 321 (+26) 334 (+13) 298 (-36)
Plaid Cymru 205 175 (-30) 206 (+31) 170 (-36)
Lib Dems 98 146 (+48) 165 (+19) 72 (-93)
Conservative 75 107 (+32) 174 (+67) 105 (-71)
Other 34 35 (+1) 40 (+5) 41 (+1)

Labour has a bit of a problem in Wales. In 2012 it was riding high in the polls, scoring its best result for years. Now polling between 15 and 20% lower, it faces certain losses. The only question is how many. Roger Scully of Cardiff University suggests over 100. On the basis of the polls this looks decidedly over-optimistic from the Labour perspective. Kernowpolitico of Redruth expects a performance more like 2008, which could bring as many as 200 losses.

[reproduced courtesy of MrPenguin20 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56783543%5D
In 2012 Labour won a majority of seats in all south Welsh urban and post-industrial authorities apart from Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan. On a bad night they could lose all those authorities save Rhondda and Neath Port Talbot. However, the number of Labour candidates has held up well and they may avoid this scenario. No doubt the tabloids will be sharpening their pencils, ready to plunge them into Jeremy Corbyn if Labour loses more than 100. Of course, if they do a lot better, those tabloids will no doubt ignore the result while srtill plunging their pencils into Corbyn’s back. Basically, the rule is Labour mustn’t win.

The Tories are riding high in the polls and in a local election poll in Wales amazingly came just two percentage points behind Labour. At the least, they must be expecting to regain their 2008 position, get a majority in Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan and make serious gains in places like Newport and Conwy. Their number of candidates is around 10% higher this time, although still well behind Labour. Yet a lot of them don’t seem to be in particularly winnable areas.

If the Tories gain votes and Labour lose, the Lib Dems in Wales might be hoping to sneak through on a minority vote. But a Lib Dem recovery looks less likely than in England. In Wales their poll rating is fairly dismal and a fall of around 15% in the number of Lib Dem candidates doesn’t suggest a party in rude health. Their best hope for gains is probably Cardiff, where they were the largest party before 2012 and where an anti-Brexit stance might bring more dividends.

Plaid has maintained its number of candidates at 583, rather fewer than the Tories but over twice the number of Lib Dems. They’ll be looking to get back over the 200 seat mark, as in 2008. Yet in many authorities their presence is limited. Indeed, in 10 of Wales’ 22 local authorities they have fewer councillors pro rata than MK does in Cornwall. Their strength is still heavily focused on Cymru Cymraeg (with the exception of Caerffili and the Rhondda) and their main hopes lie in their traditional heartland – Caerfyrddin, Ceredigion, Gywnedd and Ynys Môn.

Ukip is standing more candidates this time – 80. But this is many fewer than the other parties, or Independents for that matter, who are contesting more wards than any party other than Labour. In 2012 Ukip won two seats. It’s unlikely to do much better this time. Meanwhile, the Greens have around the same number of candidates as Ukip and will be crossing their fingers desperate to secure their first Welsh local councillor since 1999.

This may be the last local elections under a first past the post format, as the Welsh Government is toying with the idea of introducing PR for local government elections. Although it’s confusing matters somewhat by maybe letting local authorities decide. So can we expect any remaining Labour-run councils to resist PR and stick with the Victorian system? A test of their essential conservatism looms.

‘Progressive’ alliance killed off. Suspects on run – do not approach, may be dangerous

In a few places in England local agreements have been brokered, against central party wishes, whereby one or more anti-Tory parties stand aside in June’s general election. Here in Cornwall hopes for a ‘progressive’ alliance have been cruelly dashed. Yesterday the news emerged that it was a non-starter. And who did this dastardly deed and killed it off? According to Lib Dem social media it’s all the fault of those nasty Greens, who have decided to stand a candidate in St Ives again. The pure cheek of them!

Andrew George now faces Tory/Ukip ‘regressive alliance’ alone

What lies behind this? We hear that on Tuesday last, Lib Dems (including at least one candidate), Labour and Greens met behind closed doors at a secret location amidst tight security to discuss the prospect of some sort of deal for the upcoming general election. But they couldn’t agree on policy issues. On Friday the Greens, meeting at Redruth, decided to stand a candidate in St Ives and also put someone up in Camborne-Redruth. (So much for my suggestion of 48 hours ago, which is a very long time in Cornish politics, almost as long as dreckly.)

Their decision has triggered a veritable storm of outrage from a facebook full of Lib Dems. The Greens were allowing the Tories in, being divisive, selfish, stupid, idiotic and generally being sinful and very bad dudes. In the absence of more accounts of what actually went on at that secret meeting, we’d best rise above this predictable hysteria.

One might have thought it was up to the strongest party in any area to make the first moves in order to generate the level of trust required for any electoral pact. To my knowledge, the Liberal Democrats have made no such public overture in relation to Cornwall. Quite the opposite. Their decision to stand candidates in every single ward in Thursday’s local elections – even paper candidates – looked like tribalism at its worst and was hardly best designed to encourage collaboration with anti-Tory parties. In doing so, they foolishly threw away a golden opportunity to test the ‘progressive’ alliance and take the moral high ground.

Stephen Gilbert’s record of collaboration with Tories didn’t stop him nonsensically claiming in 2015 that ‘only’ a Lib Dem vote was a vote against the Tories

The squeals of outrage from Lib Dems should be ignored. Their calls for ‘unity’ are always in practice calls for people to vote for them. Rightly or wrongly, this is seen by others as arrogant presumption, a cynical attempt to muzzle alternatives and maintain Cornwall’s antiquated two-party system. In similar fashion calls to be ‘patient’ and ‘lend’ them our votes ‘this time’ turn out to be a permanent loan with no interest paid. It’s precisely the same mantra we heard in 2015 and 2010 and in elections before then. And where does patience get us? Precisely nowhere.

Given their record, Lib Dem candidates in Cornwall need to do a lot more to convince voters they’re worth voting for. For a start they could pledge not to support another coalition of chaos with the Tories and if Farron takes them down that road to resign the whip and become an Independent. Or they could apologise publicly for having supported austerity politics.

They also need to calm down. The ‘progressive’ alliance may be dead, but that doesn’t mean tactical voting is. It’s up to individual Lib Dem candidates to convince voters to vote for them rather than their first preference. Some will, some won’t. In some places, this might be a sensible strategy; in others it plainly isn’t. It could be better to leave it to voters anyway, rather than stitching up secret deals behind closed doors. If it’s ever going to work any ‘progressive’ alliance has to be a grassroots initiative, not a top-down decision by party hacks.

Seat predictions for the English local elections: sophisticated modelling or back of fag packet?

Every year Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher at Plymouth University reveal their seat predictions for the local elections in England. This is based on a model which uses ward-level by-election performance to calculate a ‘national equivalent vote’ which is then converted into seats likely to be gained or lost.

However, a bit like the ‘sophisticated’ computer models Cornwall Council uses when forecasting population and household growth, there’s only one small problem, The predictions aren’t necessarily that accurate. The media focus on the predictions but rarely if ever ask the obvious question – how well did they turn out in the past? As we can see from the table below the Rallings/Thrasher model usually gets the direction of gains or losses right, but the actual number of seats won or lost are sometimes well off.

Rallings and Thrasher’s predictions compared to outcomes, 2013-2016

2013 predicted    actual 2014 predicted    actual
Con -310 -335 Con -220 -236
Lab +350 +291 Lab +490 +324
Lib Dem -130 -124 Lib Dem -350 -310
Ukip +40 +139 Ukip +80 +163
2015 predicted actual 2016 predicted actual
Con -450 +541 Con +50 -48
Lab -50 -203 Lab -150 -18
Lib Dem -80 -411 Lib Dem +40 +45
Ukip +400 +176 Ukip +40 +25

Their worst performance was 2015 when they completely missed the rise in Tory seats at the expense of the Lib Dems and badly over-estimated Ukip’s performance. Last year too, they forecast a gain for the Tories, which turned out to be a loss. In 2015 the local elections were combined with a general election, when the polls missed a swing to the Tories, and a higher than usual turnout, which made predicting the results of the locals more precarious. Of course, this year we have the novel factor of local elections taking place while a general election has already kicked off, which may also affect turnout, but to a lesser degree.

Here’s what they are projecting this year.

Rallings and Thrasher prediction 2017

Con       +115
Lab -75
Lib Dem +85
Ukip -105

There are around 2,300 seats up for grabs in the county and unitary elections in England. On past performance we might expect Rallings and Thrasher to be around 200-220 seats adrift over the four parties. This could be critical for party morale as their predictions are often used as benchmarks by both media pundits and political parties. If a party does better than predicted, then morale is boosted, if worse it’s dampened.

There’s no evidence of any systematic party bias in Ralling and Thrasher’s model. However, in three of the last four years they’ve over-estimated Labour’s performance. Doing so again this year will only stoke the feeding frenzy of the Tory press. So is their prediction of a 75 seat loss for Labour in England feasible?

Four years ago, when these seats were last fought, Labour made 288 gains, although it was only an average year for them as in the previous set of elections in 2009 (under Gordon Brown’s leadership note) they had performed abysmally, losing 313 seats. Labour are now running at 25-27% in the polls, compared with 38-41% in 2013.This is much lower so some losses must be expected. So a predicted 75 seat loss looks to be on the low side and is surely over-estimating Labour’s performance based on current polling. This is particularly the case as the rural shire counties are hardly the best ground for Labour.

I would suggest a more realistic forecast would be for Labour to suffer a much higher loss, of around 170 seats,(which is still a couple of hundred better than 2009). With Ukip likely to lose over 100 of the 147 seats it won in 2013, the gainers will be the Tories and Lib Dems. The Lib Dems had a bad year in 2013, losing 130 seats, They may well claw back the majority of those. Which leaves a gain of around 150-160 for the Tories, with the Greens, Independents and others taking the balance.

So here’s my alternative prediction, drawn up on the back of a fag packet. By this time next week we’ll know which method has worked best.

Kernowpolitico prediction 2017

Con      +150
Lab -170
Lib Dem +110
Ukip -120