Constituency review 2: Mid-Cornwall – Truro/Falmouth and St Austell/Newquay

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.

Steve and friend

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).

Gilbert, memorably described in 2015 by a miffed Steve Double as a ‘master of half-truths and misrepresentations’ is now desperately pleading for ‘tactical’ voting. This could be a joke, but he cites ‘independent analysis’ that shows that ‘voting Labour in St Austell & Newquay will lead to a Tory’. Which is a bit of an odd claim as voting Lib Dem in 2010 also led to a Tory, namely himself. His voting record in 2010-15 was in fact pretty indistinguishable from the Tories and he was even rumoured at one stage to be considering deserting the Lib Dems for the Tories.

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.

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St Austell round up: coalition candidates in mud-flying spat

Only a few weeks ago, the Tories’ Steve Double seemed to be cruising to a comfortable win in St Austell & Newquay. But now he’s let himself get a bit rattled. Steve has discovered that the Lib Dems are ‘masters of half truths and misrepresentations’. Really? What’s taken him so long to realise this? At the 2010 election the Lib Dems’ Stephen Gilbert fought a cynical campaign, draping himself in the Cornish flag in the clay country and then doing the same with the St George’s flag in Newquay.

wainhomes £300kThis time, with all the pundits predicting he’ll lose, Gilbert is pulling out all the stops by publicising the £300,000 that Wainhomes director, William Ainscough, has given the Tories and accusing the Tories of planning to institute regional pay, in other words a pay cut for Cornish workers.

Rather endearingly, the other Steve has resisted the obvious riposte, which is to ask about the closeness of links between Wainhomes (and other developers come to that) and some Lib Dem councillors, who seem as keen to ramp up the ongoing colonisation of Cornwall as their Tory counterparts, with their fondness for the mass housing targets being proposed for Cornwall. Steve Double has however dug out a letter that proves that Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander was also supporting regional pay.

Joanna Kerry
Joanna Kerry

Of course, little things like facts aren’t going to stop Gilbert, who’ll stoop to any desperate measure to retain his seat. For instance, there’s a very curious message of support on his website from a Joanna Kerry of Newquay, described as a ‘local resident and campaigner’ in Newquay. But Joanna Kerry bears an uncanny resemblance to Joanna Kenny, Lib Dem Newquay councillor and the person in whose name large donations have flowed into local Lib Dem constituency coffers over the past year or two. Must be a strange coincidence.

Joanna Kenny
Joanna Kenny

Also on his website, Lib Dem Cornwall Councillor Malcom Brown claims that Gilbert ‘will put Cornwall first’. As in putting Cornwall first in the last Parliament by voting for a Devonwall constituency that is. Gilbert claims he’s blocked a snooper’s charter and secured an EU referendum in law, but strangely he doesn’t claim credit for being one of the most loyal supporters of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government, with a voting record difficult to tell apart from his Tory MP neighbours.

All this means the mud being thrown around St Austell & Newquay is an awful lot of sound and fury that signifies precisely nothing. When it comes down to it, the two Steves are as close as you’re likely to find in a pair of coalition candidates. And as disingenuous. As Steve Double says, people should choose a candidate ‘based on fact not misinformation’. So that presumably means he can’t possibly agree with Cameron and Osborne’s completely fabricated and misinformed narrative about the role of Labour’s ‘high spending’ in causing the crash of 2008 then.

Moving on from this pair and trying to ignore the slightly nasty taste left in our mouths, who’s left? We have David Mathews of Ukip. Not exactly fitting the stereotypical mould of Ukip candidate, David’s share of the vote seems to be holding up better than that of his Ukip colleagues north and west. This is presumably because of the baleful presence of Newquay. He was still within touch of Steve Gilbert according to a poll taken in March but the Ukip organisation on the ground, or lack of it, will probably let him down.

Labour and the Green will be battling with MK for fourth place here. MK’s Dick Cole is the best known and most ’embedded’ candidate and is likely to pick up a personal vote in the clay country. Whether this will be enough to give him the extra percentage point he needs to save his deposit we’ll have to wait to see on Friday. However, Dick is hampered in two ways. First, there’s the declining but still persistent appeal to vote tactically for the Lib Dems in order to dish the Tories. This increasingly ridiculous call is being hysterically promoted by Gilbert’s campaign. A Lib Dem volunteer told me that Dick was making a good impression on the hustings but added that this wouldn’t gain him a single vote. The somewhat arrogant and condescending implication being that nobody would be daft enough to waste their vote on MK when they could vote for the fine Mr Gilbert.

For the Greens we have Steve Slade and for Labour Deborah Hopkins. Both have Newquay connections although Green and /or Labour voters in Newquay must be a relatively rare breed. Deborah has a lively social media presence and is not surprisingly against the evils of tactical voting. Let’s hope she tells that to her fellow Labour candidate in Camborne-Redruth.

For what it’s worth, here’s my prediction. Despite his recent wobbles I still expect Steve Double to take this seat, although Gilbert’s aggressive campaigning may make it closer than it once looked.

1. Double (Con) 34%
2. Gilbert (LD) 30%
3. Mathews (Ukip) 18%
4. Hopkins (Lab) 8%
5. Cole (MK) 5%
6. Slade (GP) 5%

Party donations in Cornwall update

Back in February I revealed the sources of local party donations received in 2014. I’m updating that blog here and extending the coverage back to January 2011, although that earlier piece contains some information not repeated here, for instance about individual donors in Cornwall. All donations to a constituency party above £1,500 have to be reported to the Electoral Commission. The following analysis is based on details of donations provided on the Commission’s website for the period from 1st January 2011 to now.

Here’s the headline picture by party.

Donations of £1,500+ Jan 2011-Jan 2015

Type of donor Conservative Liberal Democrat Labour Ukip Greens MK
Local individuals £16,287 £64,858 £2,500 none none none
External donors £38,436 none none none none none
Companies £14,188 £2,000 £119,121 none none none
Total £68,911 £66,858 £121,621 none none none

While the Greens and MK turned to crowdfunding to fund their campaigns we can see why the three Westminster parties didn’t need to bother with such small stuff. Nonetheless, there are interesting differences between the three neo-liberal, centr[al]ist parties. For instance, 44% of Tory donations came from outside Cornwall. The United and Cecil Club gave £5,000 to Steve Double’s campaign in St Austell and Newquay, another £5,000 to Derek Thomas at St Ives and £2,100 to George Eustice in Camborne and Redruth.

This organisation is described as ‘low profile’ and is registered at a stables in Iver, Bucks run by a former tobacco lobbyist. It’s also the bunch that organised a Tory fundraising bash in Knightsbridge, estimated to have raised at least £100,000 from the assorted super-rich who attended. Basically, it’s a conduit for channelling cash to Tory marginals, in the process providing some anonymity for its donors. Steve Double has also been boosted by another £4,187 from the Tandridge Club, another shadowy organisation based in Surrey and one with presumably the same function as the United and Cecil Club.

Nevertheless, the Tories receive the bulk of their local donations from local party organisations, although this was heavily concentrated in just two constituencies – St Austell and South East Cornwall. The rest came from companies. George Eustice at Camborne and Redruth was presumably grateful for £2,000 from FalFish, of Cardrew Industrial Estate, Redruth. Meanwhile, the Offshore Group of Newcastle (north of Bude), a firm involved in offshore oil and gas and renewable energy gave £10,000, split evenly between Sarah Newton at Truro and Sheryll Murray in South East Cornwall. With no obvious connections with Cornwall the fact that this compnay chose to support the two Tories best placed to retain their seats may be interesting. Not much chance of getting Sarah and Sheryll voting to stop further public subsidies for offshore oil and gas exploration then. Sarah was also given £2,188 by the local branch of London investment company FC Fund Managers.

What about the other wing of the coalition Government, the Lib Dems? Only Andrew George at St Ives has received a donation direct from business. He got £2,000 from the Chadwick brothers of Falmouth, who own the fashion firm Seasalt. The other Lib Dem candidates, while rather surprisingly funded overall almost as well as the Tories, seem to be dependent on individuals rather than businesses or organisations. But the vast bulk of the money collected for the Lib Dems was in just two constituencies – St Austell and Newquay and Camborne and Redruth. Rather curiously, in marginal North Cornwall neither Lib Dem incumbent nor Tory challenger seem to have been recipients of any donations since 2011.

But the really big money locally has been flowing to the Labour Party. Or more precisely one Labour candidate – Michael Foster at Camborne and Redruth. His campaign has benefited from £119,121 of donations over the past year, £42,727 to pay for ‘administrative services’ and £76, 392 described as ‘other’, maybe including payment for the rather well-produced newspapers which have been regularly falling onto local doormats over the past year.

This money all comes from Fostermco Ltd, whose sole director is – you’ve guessed it – media entrepreneur and millionaire Michael Foster. The company appeared to have had a paid up capital of ten pence in June 2014. This self-proclaimed ‘new’ sort of politician actually seems to have reverted to the rather old 18th century practice of buying your constituency. Fostermco has also given £191,766 in cash donations to central Labour Party funds in the last couple of years, as well as £4,000 to Enfield North and £1,000 to Finchley CLPs.

Public warning: conmen out and about in Cornwall

Hardly a day passes without either Cameron or Clegg popping across the Tamar for a quick photo-opportunity. A weekly hour of Poldark plainly isn’t enough to satisfy these boys. Yesterday it was the turn of Clegg to descend on us bringing the usual sack of gifts from the east but unaccompanied by any visibly wise men.

This time he was in St Austell trying to shore up the sagging campaign of sitting Tory Lib Dem Stephen Gilbert. We were promised cheaper petrol (greenest government ever?) and a doubling of the rate of council tax on second homes. Of course, as Clegg also yesterday ruled out a formal coalition with the SNP he’s left with only option, which is to prop up his old mate who leads the party of second home owners. So this is another promise that we can confidently add to the essentially meaningless list then.

It’s more about ratcheting up an apparent difference between the Glib Dem and Tory wings of the coalition Government as Clegg suffers terrible amnesia when it comes to the actual record of the past five years. In Cornwall, he calls on Labour voters to vote tactically for the Lib Dems. But of course, with the usual astonishing impudence, up in Sheffield where he’s defending his seat from Labour, he’s calling on Tories to vote tactically for the Lib Dems.

Mind you, to prove that it’s not that difficult to fool most of the people most of the time, especially in Cornwall, Lord Ashcroft happened to be conducting a focus group in St Austell and Newquay this week. Apparently, ‘most’ of those present thought Stephen Gilbert was a reincarnation of David Penhaligon. One proudly referred to his actions on the pasty tax. “He sorted that out. They wanted to charge you extra for a pasty!” The only tiny problem with this great success in saving us from the demonic pasty taxers is that most bakeries ARE charging the pasty tax. The notion that it was binned must rank as one of the biggest myths in Cornish history, up there with visits from the Phoenicians and the whisht hounds of Goss Moor.

Pasty
Pasty
Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg

Amazingly, Ashcroft concluded on the basis of this soul-destroying evidence of the political perspicacity of St Austell voters that for ‘the Cornwall [sic] participants’ local factors were pulling them towards the Lib Dems while ‘national’ factors pulled them towards the Tories. Which explains why they’re perfectly happy to go on voting for someone whose voting record in the last Parliament was the same as the Tories 98% of the time. Let’s see.

He voted strongly for

  • slashing welfare benefits
  • reducing corporation tax
  • raising tuition fees
  • privatising the Royal Mail

and strongly against

  • increasing taxes on those (hardworking) folk ‘earning’ more than £150,000 a year.

Not to mention being willing to sacrifice Cornwall’s 1,000 year old border in return for a lost referendum on the pathetic alternative vote.

Is there really no-one in St Austell supremely indifferent about which one of the Two Steves, the Liberal Tory one or the Tory Liberal one, actually wins the seat?

Constituency polling: Coalition still set to win all Cornish seats

Ashcroft’s polling organisation yesterday published poll details from eight constituencies described as Tory-Lib Dem marginals. While the joyous prospect of Clegg losing his Sheffield seat has not surprisingly grabbed the headlines, four of Ashcroft’s polls were taken in Cornwall. This gives us a unique snapshot of the intentions of voters in Cornwall as of last week.

Here are the headline shares of the poll, with the change since the last Ashcroft polling done back in June (Camborne-Redruth) and August (the other three seats). Truro is now deemed to be safe for Sarah while everyone is assuming the Tories have South East Cornwall stitched up.

Constituency voting intentions, March 2015, Ashcroft polling

North Cornwall St Austell & Newquay Camborne & Redruth St Ives
Con 36% (+4%) 32% (+5%) 37% (+8%) 33% (+2%)
Lib Dem 38% (+5%) 26% (nc) 13% (-1%) 36% (+4%)
Labour 6% (-4%) 10% (-3%) 24% (nc) 10% (-1%)
Ukip 13% (-7%) 20% (-5%) 14% (-12%) 11% (-7%)
Green 6% (+3%) 6% (nc) 8% (+3%) 7% (+1%)
Others 1% (nc) 4% (+1%) 3% (+1%) 3% (+1%)

Since last summer there’s been a swing back to the old familiar territory of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The bar chart shows the average change in the four seats.

poll change cornish seats

The Tories are up across the board. It’s a somewhat more mixed picture for the Lib Dems. Their vote has risen in St Ives and North Cornwall, but in Camborne-Redruth it’s fallen slightly (through within the margin of error) and in St Austell it’s stagnating. It seems that while Andrew George can hold on to a personal vote and Dan Rogerson rely on North Cornwall’s Liberal voting tradition to fend off the Tories, in St Austell Tory Tory Steve Double is doing a lot better than Lib Dem Tory Stephen Gilbert.

It’s bad news for Ukip as across all four constituencies their support of last year is fast crumbling away. From being the main challenger to the Tories’ George Eustice in Camborne, they’ve slipped to also rans and only in St Austell does there remain a sniff of a possible upset.

Labour are also suffering from the squeeze. Even in Camborne-Redruth, where their candidate has thrown a truckload of cash at the seat, they remain well behind Eustice, although now positioned to be the main recipient of any anti-Tory tactical voting here.

As a protest vote for Ukip becomes increasingly pointless, voters might as well cast around for other more radical options. On paper the Greens look to be doing well, pushing up their vote since last summer. However, as the ‘Green surge’ peaked in mid-January and then turned into a Green slide, it’s likely that something similar has happened in Cornwall and been missed by these polls. They must be disappointed that there’s no evidence at all of any Green surge in St Ives, one of their ten target seats. In fact the Greens are somewhat surprisingly doing better in neighbouring Camborne-Redruth. Nonetheless, the party enters the election campaign proper with a solid base to build on and can look forward to saving their deposits.

There’s even some cheer here for MK, ignored and marginalised in the grand carnival of Westminster elections. In all seats except North Cornwall (where they’re presumably not standing) the vote for Others has consistently risen. This is likely to understate potential MK support as polling organisations do not prompt with their name, unlike Ukip and the Greens. Indeed, when voters mention ‘another party’ the secondary prompt includes the BNP. Yet the BNP is not standing and only had one candidate in Cornwall last time around, whereas candidates for ‘the party that must not be named’ have been in place for over a year now.

Overall then, from this it looks like four Tory/Lib Dem coalition MPs and two Lib Dem/Tory coalition MPs in May. No change basically. Although the share of the poll for the coalition parties has slumped from 83% in the 2010 general election to 62-63% now in these four seats, the majority of the great Cornish electorate prove they can be comprehensively fooled yet again. Even now. Exit stage left, muttering.

Vlad the Impaler, flip-flops and fair play: the election in mid-Cornwall

It’s still ominously quiet in the two constituencies of Truro & Falmouth and St Austell & Newquay. In Truro, Sarah Newton curiously thought it was a vote-winner to ask Iain Duncan Smith to visit. This took place in that strange ToryWorld where £12 billion more welfare cuts is an example of ‘improving people’s lives’. As a shiver of fear ran through the disabled and vulnerable across the land, Radio Cornwall interviewed Duncan Smith about ‘welfare support’, which is a bit like asking Vlad the Impaler for his views on blood transfusion.

Sarah and Vlad visit a centre for the jobless
Sarah and Vlad visit a centre for the jobless

While Sarah was hosting Vlad, Ukip’s John Hyslop was inviting Paul Holmes, leader of Cornwall’s equally long-dead Liberal Party, to address Ukip’s Truro constituency AGM. The Liberals were formerly supporters of a Cornish Assembly but presumably now feel, like their new chums, that it’s all a European plot. Strange times.

The Green Party’s new candidate Karen Westbrook was down at Falmouth joining a demo by University of Falmouth students against cuts in contemporary arts courses. All the protesting students assured Karen they were going to vote for her. So now all she has to do is persuade them to register and then get up before the polls close.

Meanwhile, what about the others, the (five) dwarves to Sarah Newton’s Snow White? They’ve all been too busy doing other stuff (or perhaps some of them are actually out leafleting and canvassing instead of producing an avalanche of old-style paper-pleading) to dent this media image. Simon Rix for the Lib Dems can’t be bothered with Facebook any more. But he still found time to pop up on Spotlight calling for the abolition of Police Commissioners. This couldn’t possibly be the same Police Commissioners our hapless three Cornish Lib Dem MPs all voted to introduce in 2011 could it?

While Simon was frantically flip-flopping in time-honoured Lib Dem tradition, Labour’s Stuart Roden, wearing his UNISON hat, was ‘pragmatically’ supporting the amalgamation of police services with Dorset while drawing the line at privatisation. As yet it’s unclear whether, wearing his Labour hat, he’ll also draw the line at something his party was quite keen on from 1997 to 2010.

MK’s Stephen Richardson was asking for money. Unlike Labour, MK has no millionaires or East End actors to call on; unlike the Tories it has no shady organisations in the Home Counties funnelling hedge fund money their way; unlike the Lib Dems it has no idiots willing to dig into their pockets for a lost cause. Ex-MK candidate Loic Rich, now Independent via a detour among the Tories, was too busy being mayor of Truro while Rik Evans of the National Health Action Party also has a surprisingly subdued online presence, given the steady drip feed of news about a disintegrating NHS.

Moving east to neighbouring St Austell & Newquay, sitting Lib Dem MP Stephen Gilbert was enthusiastically re-tweeting a tweet from a new member.
maynard tweetExcept that it would have been more convincing evidence for a huge turn to Stephen in order to ditch the dastardly Tories if only Mr Maynard hadn’t been a Lib Dem candidate at the Mevagissey by-election last November. Perhaps he left and then re-joined. Stephen followed this patent act of desperation with a fierce attack on Labour’s record on privatising the NHS.
gilbert tweet nhsIn case voters in St Austell are forgetful, at this point we have to perform a public service and remind them Stephen Gilbert also voted moderately in favour of the Tories’ ‘reform’ of the NHS. While we’re at it he voted 98.4% of the time with the Tory/Lib Dem governing coalition in the last parliament. (Dan Rogerson in North Cornwall voted with them 97.8% of the time and even Andrew George managed 92.4% support.)

Turning from one government loyalist to another, the Tory Tory Steve Double might be forgiven for getting a little over-confident. Confidence oozing from every pore, he told us he was lying in bed (too much information Steve) contemplating his role in the next coalition government and looking forward to being in the Commons for the next Prime Minister’s Questions circus. Those whom the gods wish to destroy etc …

Labour’s Deborah Hopkins continues to churn out Facebook posts as if they were going out of fashion. She kindly informs us of scores of Labour pledges, including building 200,000 houses a year, ‘focusing on’ (?) social housing. That’s Newquay accounted for then so what about a few more for other places? But where’s Labour’s pledge to reduce the deficit by £30 billion? Or Ed Ball’s pledge not to raise any of those nasty taxes, thus condemning us to even more ‘sensible’ cuts?

Come on Nige, another Tribute can't hurt you
Come on Nige, another Tribute can’t hurt you

If Deborah leaves us a little confused on that issue, that’s nothing compared with the confusion we encounter when consulting the website of Ukip’s David Mathews. This can only charitably be described as a complete mess. A quote from William Wallace (of Braveheart, not Bugle), photo of a quizzical Nigel Farage and other stuff jostle for space with ‘100 reasons to vote Ukip’. Be warned though. Anyone intrigued by how there can be 100 reasons when they’re struggling to come up with one will need the patience of Job. In fact, given the average age of Ukip fanciers, they may well have expired long before the page has uploaded.

The Greens’ Steve Slade is fairly invisible in the media, presumably soliciting votes rather than surfing. Meanwhile Dick Cole of MK was coming over all presidential on the Daily Politics Show, beamed at us from the imperialists’ Sodom and Gomorrah of London. Make the most of it as this is probably the last time we’ll see any MK candidate on the telly this side of May 7th. The BBC will now be putting in place its traditional ban on any mention of the party over the election period. Already BBC SW has excluded MK, along with TUSC and the Communist Party of Britain, from its election Question Time in Plymouth. For some reason MK seems peeved they have to put up just 89 candidates to get a party political broadcast, while the SNP only has to stand ten, Plaid seven and Sinn Fein three for the same privilege. If only there was another party calling for a fair deal for Cornwall.

Who’s winning the Facebook war in Cornwall?

We’re told that the social media comprise an increasingly important battleground in the run up to the general election. The Westminster parties certainly appear to have taken this on board, all their candidates in Cornwall having Facebook pages. Strangely, the challenger parties seem less convinced.

Their candidates may blog regularly, but MK in particular seems reluctant to use Facebook, with only Stephen Richardson at Truro/Falmouth dipping his toe in the water. Ukip’s Graham Calderwood (St Ives), Bradley Monk in South East Cornwall and David Mathews at St Austell have no Facebook pages. Both Monk and Mathews have websites though and the young Monk is active on twitter. For the Greens, Steve Slade at St Austell/Newquay and Karen Westbrook (and before her Sharron Kelsey) at Truro/Falmouth are also not using Facebook to promote their electoral chances. Or at least no pages that I can find.

Looking at Facebook use by party, it seems that on average Greens (those that bother), Labour and Tory candidates make most use of the medium. Ukip and Lib Dem candidates are less keen, with a couple of exceptions (Andrew George at St Ives and Ukip’s Julie Lingard in North Cornwall). In fact, North Cornwall is the constituency where the social media scrap on Facebook is most vigorous, although even here Dan Rogerson is remaining aloof, or hiding, not using his Facebook page which steadily gathers dust. (Neither does his neighbour Steve Gilbert at St Austell, while his other Lib Dem neighbour Phil Hutty in South East Cornwall isn’t seen often on Facebook either).

So whose page is the most liked? Here’s the top ten as of 16th March.

Facebook Likes March 16th

1. Andrew George (LD, St Ives) 2,577
2. Sheryll Murray (Con, South East) 2,037
3. Michael Foster (Lab, Camborne) 1,454
4. George Eustice (Con, Camborne) 1,204
5. Steve Double (Con, St Austell) 949
6. Scott Mann (Con, North) 714
7. Amanda Pennington (GP, North) 544
8. Julia Goldsworthy (Con, Camborne) 434
=9. Bob Smith (Ukip, Camborne) 395
=9. John Hyslop (Ukip, Truro) 395

It may be no coincidence that Sheryll Murray and Michael Foster, one of whom viciously attacked the other with a mobile phone, are up at the top. But how are they getting their likes? The Tories at least have been discovered paying out vast sums of money amounting to over £100,000 a month linked to their Facebook activity. This presumably includes paying for likes.

Whose likes are growing at the fastest rate? Andrew George’s leapt up from 800 to over 2,500 in a week, which looks a bit odd. His Office of Andrew George MP Facebook page (catchy title) was amalgamated with his other page, but does that really explain all the growth? Not surprisingly, challenger parties, starting from a lower base, are seeing the biggest hike in their likes.

Change in Likes, 25th Feb-16th March

1. Andrew George (LD, St Ives) +1,923
2. John Hyslop (Ukip, Truro) +178
3. Bob Smith (Ukip, Camborne) +116
4. Tim Andrewes (St Ives Greens) +96
5. Amanda Pennington (GP, North) +55

A more useful measure than likes, which can come from people in Sydney and San Francisco as easily as Saltash or Sennen, is the activity on Facebook and the engagement (how many are responding, liking, commenting or sharing posts). When it comes to activity, the hyper-active Murray and Foster are up there. But they’re both eclipsed by the most recently declared candidate, Labour’s John Whitby in North Cornwall. He’s frantically trying to track down Labour supporters in the north, who’ve been in hiding since the 1940s. Tough task.

Number of posts in week ending March 16th

1. John Whitby (Lab, North) 26
2. Sheryll Murray (Con, South East) 22
3. Michael Foster (Lab, Camborne) 20
4. St Ives Greens 19
5. Steve Double (Con, St Austell) 16

Meanwhile, turning to engagement per post the top achievers are as follows.

Engagement per post, 25th Feb – 16th March

1. Julia Goldsworthy (LD, Camborne) 103
2. Michael Foster (Lab, Camborne) 47
3. Simon Rix (LD, Truro) 23
4. Steve Double (Con, St Austell) 13
5. Sheryll Murray (Con, South East) 13

Julia Goldsworthy’s top post in the week ending the 16th was about a reduction in local First bus fares, which she claims was a result of a Lib Dem campaign. This campaign might have been unnecessary had not the evil Government slashed bus subsidies by 23%. Like the other Lib Dem candidates Julia seems to be suffering from a worrying memory lapse when it comes to recalling that the Coalition Government actually includes her own party. Michael Foster’s top posts were about privatisation plans for NHS services, which Labour would never do. Any more that is. As there were very similar privatisation plans back in 2006, when the government was of course ‘run’ by Labour.

Simon Rix at Truro was also expressing his ‘grave concern’ over the future of healthcare as a result of Tory and, errrr, Lib Dem policies of the past five years. The loquacious Steve Double’s top post told us all about pasty-making in St Dennis and his first job as a butcher. This ought to be good training for all those cuts his party is planning when the post-election butchering of public services resumes. Finally, Sheryll Murray’s top post was about Commonwealth Day, which she thinks is a jolly good thing despite the rest of us not noticing it. But nothing to do with Europe so it must be good.