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.


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%

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?

Camborne and Redruth constituency review: 3 doctors, 2 parliamentarians and a London luvvie

In 2010 Camborne & Redruth was a Tory-Lib Dem marginal. In fact it was the fourth most marginal seat in the UK. A mere 66 votes separated the Tories’ George Eustice, who won, from the then sitting MP, the Liberal Democrats’ Julia Goldsworthy.

The constituency stretches across Cornwall. The bulk of its voters live in the north, in the relatively urbanised band from Hayle in the west to St Day in the east. Here, in the 18th century dynamic mining communities emerged, centred on the twin towns of Camborne and Redruth. This district was the epicentre of the steam technology that drove Britain’s industrial revolution.

Nowadays, the descendants of those proud communities are as likely to be living in over-priced rabbit hutches as old miners’ cottages. No longer miners and bal maidens, they are may be found stacking shelves at the local supermarket and struggling to find the rent, leaving little to spend at the fast-food outlets that the planners deem to be the most suitable ‘gateway’ to the district.

On the other hand, away from the teeming masses of the north, the constituency reaches across country, past Stithians to the fashionable waters of the Helford estuary. This is the location for some of the priciest properties in Cornwall. Nevertheless, the constituency remains the most ‘Cornish’, with more people claiming a Cornish national identity here than anywhere else. But it also boasts the highest proportion of severely deprived households, just beating the St Austell/Newquay and St Ives constituencies to that dubious accolade.

But if anyone is looking for a good old Cornish boy or maid from Camborne-Redruth to vote for next May they’re in for a disappointment. True, half the six candidates declared so far are Cornish. But their experience is not exactly typical. In fact, we have to choose from two who are firmly embedded in the parliamentarian class, someone hot from the London luvvie scene and three over-qualified doctors.

George Eustice (43), the Tory MP, is always keen to emphasise his roots in the family’s fruit farming business at Gwinear Road. He’s less keen to dwell on his time as PR lobbyist for Portland Communications or as David Cameron’s Press Secretary in 2005-07. George has a record of opposing renewable energy and supporting euroscepticism, being a former Ukip member. He’s voted very strongly to reduce welfare benefits, strongly, against a bankers bonus tax and moderately for reducing corporation tax. He’s been voting very strongly for ‘reforming’ the NHS, very strongly for reducing funding to local councils and strongly against giving more powers to Scotland and Wales.

This record is convenient, as it makes him difficult to distinguish from his main rivals in the polls – Ukip – which he should be able to compete with in any race to the far right. However, as under secretary of state at DEFRA, responsible for animal health, he presumably wouldn’t share too much common ground with Ukip’s former candidate in Camborne & Redruth, north Cornwall farmer David Evans.

The 71 year old Evans was selected by Ukip in October but then promptly de-selected a week later when it emerged he was being prosecuted for animal cruelty. He was later jailed for four months for causing the death of 119 sheep. His defence claimed that he suffered from Aspergers and ‘struggles to interact with other people’. All of which must raise some doubts about Ukip’s selection criteria if they were happy with having a 71 year old recluse as their candidate in a seat which looks to be a Tory/Ukip marginal.

After this omniukipshambles their replacement candidate is Dr Robert Smith. Smith, 62 years old and originally hailing from Coventry, was a Ukip founder-member and a child psychiatrist. He can’t be any worse than Evans. Can he?? At least Ukip hope not.

Camborne-Redruth may actually be a three-way marginal, if we stretch the definition of marginal a bit. Although Labour trailed badly here in 2010 the constituency still gave the party its best result in Cornwall. Now, they’ve adopted a new, though curious, strategy to wean the Camborne-Redruth toiling masses back from the Lib Dems and Tories (having lost them in the 1980s). (But not the shirking classes as their candidate has no sympathy for ‘people who sit at home and do nothing’.)

To achieve this miracle they’ve selected a businessman from London. And no common or garden businessman. This is Michael Foster, who built a ‘literary and showbiz empire‘ in London around his entertainment PR companies MF Management and the Rights House agencies. Although it’s an unlikely vote-winner, Foster was agent for Chris Evans and a co-owner of Virgin Radio. He was described by Evans as “a very small Jewish man as equally proud of his heritage as he is unphased [sic] by his lack of height”.

He’s certainly energetic, flooding the constituency with rather well-designed Labour newsletters and even a 2015 Labour calendar. I’m waiting for the offer of a Labour re-decoration of the house before thinking of voting for them though. There’s also a website, although the huge pictures make it frustratingly slow to load, which is probably symbolic in some way.

Foster, who is 56, claims to be ‘new kind of politician’, being a ‘successful businessman’. Apparently, no-one has seen fit to tell him that actually all four centre-right and right parties are in hock to corporate policies and have been since the 1980s. So it’s a struggle to see how being a businessman, even a celebrities’ entrepreneur, is anything very new. Especially as his politics seem to boil down to just promising to create more jobs. Whether a policy-lite Blairite entertainment entrepreneur from London is the answer to the Labour Party’s dreams in Camborne & Redruth, or the continuation of its long drawn-out nightmare, remains to be seen.

While anyone who threw a mobile phone at Sheryll Murray, Tory MP for South East Cornwall, can’t be all bad, Michael Foster made a massive mistake when he bought a house and started living at Porth Navas when he came to Cornwall. It’s no good claiming ‘I live here too’ in his campaign literature. Well-heeled Porth Navas is as remote to the voters of Camborne-Redruth as one of Saturn’s moons. A pity he didn’t buy a place in Illogan.

Lib Dems
Meanwhile Julia Goldsworthy (39) was re-selected as Lib Dem candidate in March. Born in Camborne, she attended private school in Truro, just like George Eustice. But unlike George, she then went on to Cambridge. It was presumably there that she acquired some expensive tastes. In the expenses scandal of 2007-09 it emerged that she’d spent £999 on a TV and £1,200 on a Heals rocking chair. Although she later repaid the expenses claimed from the taxpayer, this didn’t go down so well with those who have to shop at Furniture World, Redruth.

The impression of being one of them hated politicians with their snouts in the trough was exacerbated when Julia walked straight into a job as special adviser to Danny Alexander and the Lib Dem wing of the austerity (for everyone else) coalition at the Treasury. Trailing badly in the polls and with no activists visible on the ground, it’s unlikely she can make a comeback.

Greens and MK
Which leaves us with the Greens’ Geoff Garbett and MK’s Loveday Jenkin, the final two docs to have entered the fray. Camborne & Redruth was actually the Greens’ worst result in Cornwall in 2010. It doesn’t have the requisite middle classes who vote Green. On the other hand, it does have the lowest number of older voters, who don’t vote Green. Geoff is a 60 year old biology teacher and now FE lecturer and OU associate lecturer. Originally from Epsom, he’s lived in Cornwall for 25 years although working in South Africa and Germany from 1982 to 1992. Geoff was a founder member of the old Ecology Party and rejoined the Greens in 2013.

In the meantime, MK has also been having its own selection problems. Their original candidate Mike Champion pulled out after various complicated allegations involving Camborne Town Council and a workshop in Redruth. MK has now turned once more to Cornwall Councillor Loveday Jenkin to wave the flag. Loveday is a scion of one of Cornish nationalism’s royal families.

While the Greens are now showing some progress at around 6% in the most recent Camborne & Redruth poll, MK remains invisible. After weighting the vote, the poll found just one voter likely to vote for Loveday. This was a woman aged over 55 who lived in the rural part of the constituency. Was it her mother?