Constituency review 1: The outliers – South East Cornwall and Camborne-Redruth

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.

The good ship Tory heads for shore

Sheryll made headlines when she celebrated joining the political class in 2010 by indulging in an all-nighter during the budget debate and being allegedly drunk on duty. Last year she endeared herself to many of her constituents when she was accused of filibustering a Disability Capability Training Bill for taxi drivers. She of course voted to slash benefits for disabled and ill claimants, supporting cuts in the Employment and Support Allowance, and only a few days ago managed to enrage some at a hustings by saying she was ‘really pleased we have foodbanks’ and then threatening to have the police eject an audience member who disagreed with her. Not that her fans would think there’s anything wrong with any of that. Her robust response to those misguided wimps who dare to criticise her is that she ‘will not tolerate keyboard warriors and trolls‘. So there.

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.

Graham Winter getting closer at Camborne-Redruth?

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.

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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.