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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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.

Camborne & Redruth: Coalition set to retain seat

The old Falmouth-Camborne seat was a three-way marginal from the 1990s to 2005. Yet, like the majority of the other Cornish seats, the new Camborne & Redruth seat is looking a safe bet for the Tories this year with a ragtag of competitors struggling to win second place and with their eye on the election after next.

Julia Goldsworthy was once Lib Dem MP here. Ah, those were the days, the days before the expenses scandal, the financial crash caused by having too many nurses and teachers, or the failed austerity policies of the Tory/Lib Dem Government. She’ll now be lucky to get third place as the latest poll in this constituency puts her behind Ukip. As Lib Dem activity in the constituency has withered away, so have Julia’s poll ratings. Those who voted for her last time to keep the Tory out have now deserted in droves and she’s down to a pathetic 13 or 14% in the polls, an astonishing 24% drop on the Lib Dem score in 2010.

It’s unlikely she’ll actually do that badly, but a toxic hangover of Cleggite Liberal Toryism, the whiff of dodgy expenses claims that clings to her and an inability to shake off the tag of Westminster insider-ism dogs Julia. It looks like the end of the line for her, which induces a momentary and unaccountable spasm of pity as she’s actually one of the better Lib Dem candidates on offer in Cornwall.

Crowds wait at Camborne for Loveday Jenkin to speak
Crowds wait at Camborne for Loveday Jenkin to speak

While Julia is doomed, former Lib Dem voters may as well cast around for other homes for their protest votes. Such as the Greens’ Geoff Garbett or MK’s Loveday Jenkin. The Greens were spotted canvassing a deserted Redruth Fore Street on bank holiday morning and will be looking to save their deposit. Loveday, scion of one of Cornish nationalism’s royal families, has fought a robust campaign and will be looking to add to the 775 votes she got in 2010.

Although a rather late choice following an earlier typical Ukip candidate cock-up disaster, Bob Smith of Ukip has been taking his band of angry middle-aged men leafleting and canvassing through the streets of Camborne-Redruth and especially the Ukip heartland of Hayle (what is it about Hayle?) Ukip was at one point tipped to be a serious contender here as it looked like a three-way marginal – Tory/Labour/Ukip – last summer. But the Ukip surge faded and he’ll do well now to retain third place.

Labour voters on way to poll at Redruth
Labour voters on way to poll at Redruth

However, for a properly angry middle-aged man, we have to turn to Labour. Labour has taken a novel approach this time, adopting as its candidate a self-made millionaire from London with a holiday home on the Helford who made his fortune advising media celebrities. Michael Foster claims he’s a new sort of politician. It’s difficult to see why. It can’t be, as he asserts, because he’s a businessman. The House of Commons and even the Labour Party is stuffed full of those these days. Indeed, he seems to be ‘new’ in the sense of being very old. Ross Poldark would have been very familiar with Foster’s political style as it reminds us of the eighteenth century when candidates would throw their money around to buy seats in pocket boroughs.

Pouring his own money into the constituency, Foster has been wildly outspending other candidates in the run-up to the election. But this new very old candidate has also injected some much-needed controversy. Sailing close to the wind when soliciting postal voting and making the usual outrageous statistical misrepresentations, Michael Foster was then accused of directing a volley of earthy cursing and threats against MK’s Loveday Jenkin at a hustings. The former Labour parliamentary candidate here, Jude Robinson, has loyally dismissed the allegations as not containing a word of truth and just being ‘silly stuff’.

Michael Foster tries to look sweet
Michael Foster tries to look sweet

While losing your rag with Loveday is something that’s hardly impossible, as anyone who has sat through a meeting with her might attest, the notion that she went to such inordinate and excessive lengths and concocted such an extensive and elaborate fabrication is just not credible. It might also be easier to believe it was all made up had there not previously been a series of bizarre episodes where Michael Foster’s anger management issues appear to have got the better of him. For example, he threw a mobile phone at Tory MP Sheryll Murray during a BBC TV debate, is reported to have blown up at the Greens’ Geoff Garbett at an earlier hustings, lost it when questioned by a student at a Tremough event, and has been alleged to have tried to take away Truro Ukip candidate John Hyslop’s phone on another occasion, almost provoking a fight.

Just make sure you don’t stand anywhere near him at the count when the results come out. As it doesn’t look as if this unsettling mix of eighteenth century political style and the usual bullying and arrogant bluster that seems to overcome the Labour party when in Cornwall will work. While all this nonsense goes on, PR lobbyist and strawberry farmer George Eustice calmly and quietly slides his way back into Parliament, courtesy of the very poor choice of candidates made by the old London-orientated parties.

Here’s my forecast.

1. Eustice (Con) 34%
2. Foster (Lab) 22%
3. Goldsworthy (Lib Dem) 20%
4. Smith (Ukip) 15%
5. Garbett (GP) 7%
6. Jenkin (MK) 2%

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.

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.

Lambs at Camborne and dogs in St Ives: it’s a menagerie in the west

The election campaign proper is upon us. Let’s ignore the fatuous farce that passes for electioneering in the London media and concentrate on the local more grassroots battles, as the streets of our fine old Cornish towns echo to a collective stifled yawn. What are our candidates up to as the phony war ends? Let’s look at the two West Cornish constituencies first.

Down in St Ives, Andrew George has been cuddling badgers and badgering electors about the environment for all he’s worth. The environment joins the NHS as as his preferred campaigning themes. In the dying days of the old parliament he joined with Caroline Lucas to promote an NHS Bill, abolishing the internal market and reducing reliance on the PFI. That’s Caroline Lucas of the Green Party though, not Andrew’s former Conservative colleagues, who he seems to have divorced. All of which body language suggests a desperate damage limitation exercise directed at fending off the challenge of the Green Party’s Tim Andrewes.

Green Party voter in St Ives
Green Party voter in St Ives

Tim is concentrating on climate change, unlike the Westminster parties and their leaders. Although the St Ives Greens’ most popular Facebook post last week was actually not about climate change at all but carried a much more important photo of a labrador who’s apparently intending to vote for the Greens. This is quite common these days given the ridiculous ease of obtaining postal votes. I expect the lab probably has several postal votes tucked away in its collar. The neighbouring Green Party’s campaign for Geoff Garbett in Camborne-Redruth has no dogs, but monkeys. Three daft ones will be at the Big Green Party this coming Saturday. Where they will presumably discuss soil erosion, surveillance, coal plant emissions and Natalie Bennett’s brain fade.

Climate change doesn’t seem to worry the Tories’ Derek Thomas too much. He wants more people to drive to Penzance and St Ives to do their shopping and thinks the car park charges are far too high and is putting us off fulfilling our duty as good consumers. MK’s Rob Simmons was going to the other extreme and avoiding such localism by blogging about Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the need for a moral foreign policy. Will the Gaza Strip run in Gulval though?

Labour’s Cornelius Olivier was at the demo at Treliske, where 38 degree supporters presented their petition against further privatisation. It turned out that Cornelius had his own spare petition tucked away in his back pocket, and he duly presented it. You’re never alone with a petition and Cornelius is rarely seen without one.

Up the A30 at Redruth 38 degree supporters were accosting members of the public last Saturday looking for more signatures supporting the NHS. Although most of the campaigners seemed to be MK activists. Where were all the Labour, Green and Lib Dem activists? Sorry, did I really write ‘Lib Dem activists’? Obviously a senior moment.

Julia Goldsworthy has been busy reminding us yet again that the Lib Dems need only an extra 66 votes to get her back to Westminster and rather forlornly pleading for volunteers. A pity however that most of the other 16,000 odd votes she had in 2010 are now just history. Several nice comments about Mr Milibland on her Facebook page suggests the Lib Dem strategy in Camborne-Redruth is if you want Miliband vote for Julia. So that’s one thing the Lib Dems and David Cameron still agree on then.

While Julia angles for Labour votes so does Labour’s candidate, big-spending businessman Michael Foster. While Ed Miliband turns for support to a hobbit, Michael insists on inviting all his old celebrity chums down to talk to us. Last week it was the turn of someone called Larry Lamb. Although how a character from Toytown will play on the Pengegon estate and why getting him down from London is supposed to convince us to vote Labour remains a bit of a mystery.

Larry prepares to address Camborne Labour Party
Larry prepares to address Camborne Labour Party

As Camborne Labour Party was looking froward to being addressed by something they would later eat with mint sauce, sitting MP George Eustice was getting into trouble at the other side of town. Campaigners against the inexorable sprawl of Camborne into the surrounding countryside think that George (rather than eating a lamb) is trying to have his saffron bun and eat it. He’s said so many contradictory things about plans for massive housebuilding in and around Camborne, Pool and Redruth that voters are having difficulty seeing where he stands on the issue. No matter; he tells us he has a plan. Oh bugger it, it’s the same as the last five years.

I almost forgot all about Ukip. As supposedly serous challengers (according to their house newspaper the Western Morning News that is), they’re strangely invisible in west Cornwall. In St Ives, the Ukip south west candidates’ page tells us that in St Ives Graham Calderwood has a twitter account. But the party’s mastery of this new-fangled social media lark appears less than impressive as we then discover the account doesn’t exist.

Ukip's St Ives twitter account gone awol
Ukip’s St Ives twitter account gone awol

Over in Camborne-Redruth Bob Smith has finally got Ukip’s first leaflet out (commercially delivered). Although this single effort has been rather drowned out by the tons of Tory, Lib Dem and Labour stuff that weekly passes from doormats to recycling bags with scarcely a glance, causing a mounting capacity crisis for local paper recyclers. Bob promises that if we vote Ukip, we’ll get Ukip. Now there’s a novel thought. Or is it a threat?

Tomorrow – what’s going on in Truro/Falmouth and St Austell/Newquay?

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.