Constituency review 3: The Lib Dem chances – North Cornwall and St Ives

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.

Community politics

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.

Voter hurries to polls in St Ives

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.

North Cornwall: Coalition to win

At last, this tedious charade nears its thankful denouement. Soon we’ll be spared the scaremongering, beancounting and ignoring the real issues we’ve had to endure for the last few months. Parliamentarians can then get back to the real business of making cuts and ensuring the most vulnerable pay to keep casino capitalism on the road. Let’s start the final constituency round-ups in the far north, Once upon a time, elections here were exciting as Liberals and Conservatives battled it out in a surrogate battle between church and chapel, booze and temperance, landlord and tenant, town and country. Now we only have the sorry spectacle of two coalition candidates vying for victory. Dan Rogerson and Scott Mann between them are, according to recent polls, attracting around three quarters of those who’ll bother to vote (although this is only half the registered electors in North Cornwall).

Rogerson doesn’t do social media but he’s quietly using the formidable local Lib Dem machine to corral the voters. Among his claims is credit for road improvements which will increase the capacity to continue the high population growth strategy that he seems to be so keen on. Although his majority may have slipped from 6% in 2010 to 2% in the most recent polls, those polls do suggest he’s been able to pick up more votes since last summer than Scott Mann, his Tory rival.

Tory Scott Mann, all rugged and Poldark-like
Tory Scott Mann, all rugged and Poldark-like

Turning from Tweedledee to Tweedledum, we read that Mann’s being getting a ‘great response’ (don’t they always – when’s a candidate going to say ‘crap response in X today’?) in Bude and Marhamchurch, where people were terrified of the prospect of the SNP propping up a Labour Government. Why this phobia should make them more likely to vote Tory is a mystery, unless they’re equally scared of the prospect of Rogerson again propping up a Tory Government. Scott has a small problem as there are now fewer ghost second home voters to rely on here. So to make up for that loss, he’s been turning to visits from top Tories. Such as Grant Shapps, or is it Michael Green, which he unaccountably appears to believe is a vote winner. If one dodgy character wasn’t enough, George Osborne also popped down to assure Scott that he wouldn’t reinstate a pasty tax. Although he doesn’t need to as they haven’t actually got rid of the last one yet.

Dan Rogerson - more pasty-like
Dan Rogerson – more pasty-like

Julie Lingard has watched support for Ukip steadily drift away since last summer, when for an instant Ukip looked to be picking up around a quarter of the vote in North Cornwall. It’s now down to the general GB average and an entirely more reasonable level as Ukip’s flock wanders dozily back to graze greedily on Tory and Lib Dem promises. Julie’s been busy publicising Ukip policies, such as tougher penalties for animal cruelty, which wouldn’t have been so welcome news for a previous Ukip candidate further west. She’s also been having throwbacks to the days when candidates had election meetings rather than hustings, holding a series of local meetings around the constituency. What next? Heckling? The open ballot?

It’s likely that John Whitby for Labour and Amanda Pennington of the Greens will be fighting it out for fourth place and the honour of saving their deposits. They’re presently neck and neck in the polls, although Amanda has the dubious advantage of an endorsement from Kernow King. While the King is going for MK in the rest of Cornwall, his attention was captured by Amanda’s energetic campaign (and her red hair.) When it comes to social media she’s way out in front, with 57 facebook posts last week alone, engaging 2,300 people. However, somewhat sadly, a video of her campaign which appeared in the Telegraph, paints a picture of a one-women campaign strapped for cash, with few posters and with only one leaflet to hand out. Are there no other Green Party members in North Cornwall?

rogerson voting for dcLabour’s John Whitby is also quite active on social media, although nowhere near as frenetic or compelling as Amanda. He’s been providing an admirable public service however, by informing voters of Dan Rogerson’s voting record. He’s also been holding street parties in Bodmin, Bude and Wadebridge, accompanied by a blues singer. Unfortunately, no-one seems to come to them though. Looks like fun, but may not win that many votes.

Not a voter in sight in wet Wadebridge
Not a voter in sight in wet Wadebridge

Finally, we have Jeff Jefferies for MK, a last minute candidate who thinks that Cornwall was ‘effectively self-governing until the 1750s’ and is therefore out-doing even Ukip in the nostalgia stakes, let alone the wishful-thinking zone. Then there’s an even more last minute candidate – John Allman from Lanson – who’s standing because every child needs a father. (Don’t ask me; I don’t know either.)

Without the second home voters, North Cornwall may be safer for Rogerson than it appears. Nonetheless, Scott Mann’s impeccable local roots will do him no harm. I can’t believe that last time around I called for a vote for Rogerson here in order to keep a particularly obnoxious pro-tourist lobby Tory out. How stupid was that? I must have been young and naive. I’m now older, more bitter, cynical and twisted. If this goes on, by 2020 I’ll be a Ukip voter. So this time anyone but Rogerson (oh, but not Mann, Lingard or Allman please).

Here’s my prediction for the seat …

1. Rogerson (LD) 39%
2. Mann (Con) 37%
3. Lingard (Ukip) 14%
4. Pennington (GP) 5%
5. Whitby (Lab) 4%
6. Jefferies (MK) 1%
7. Allman (Ind) <1%