Reports of death of ‘progressive’ alliance in Cornwall greatly exaggerated?

This morning confusion surrounds the whereabouts of the ‘progressive’ alliance floated for St Ives constituency in the general election. Last Saturday it was revealed that Green Party members meeting at Redruth had decided to stand a candidate in St Ives, thus dealing a cruel blow to those who’d been hoping for a ‘progressive’ alliance. The news was broke by Milo Perrin of Cornish Stuff.

No source was given, although a quote from Tim Andrewes, the Greens’ sole Cornwall Councillor, that he was not putting himself forward, implied that the story was based on a Green Party source. However, there was no actual Green Party news release or, indeed, any kind of official comment, just an uncorroborated facebook account of a secret meeting between unknown Lib Dem, Green and Labour participants last Tuesday at which agreement was not reached.

Since Saturday morning, after a predictable outburst of spleen from Lib Dem supporters in St Ives, things have been surprisingly quiet on social media about this purported development. Nothing seems to have appeared in the old, anti-social media either. We remain in the dark as to what may have happened to change Green Party minds since this appeared on the Progressive Alliance for Cornwall website on Thursday, the 20th.

It’s fair to say the supposed decision also came as a surprise to Green Party members themselves, judging by comments on the West Cornwall Green Party facebook page, which were not exactly favourable about the decision to stand.

More interestingly, Jacqueline Merrick, Green council candidate in Camborne, rather cryptically stated on that site on Saturday evening ‘stop jumping to conclusions, please’. Last night Amanda Pennington, Green candidate for Truro & Falmouth, followed that up by tweeting ‘nothing decided yet’. An official Green Party statement on who stands where will follow the local elections.

So was Saturday’s report fake news? Were the Greens bluffing? Or have they blinked and changed their minds in the face of a generally hostile reaction? Perhaps, just perhaps, electoral pacts in Cornwall shouldn’t be written off just yet. Perhaps also, more open discussion and fewer secretive meetings might be a good idea.

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What to look for in the Welsh local elections

On Thursday voters in Wales and Scotland will elect their local councillors. By popular demand from the Cornish masses (well, one of them anyway), I’ve been persuaded to do a blog on our Celtic compatriots as they troop wearisomely to the polls. Four times within two years in Scotland! Whatever would Brenda of Bristol say? Poor dears must be exhausted by this surfeit of democracy. How will they possibly get the energy required to go shopping?

Two aspects complicate matters if we want to compare the Welsh with the English local elections. Wales has unitary local government so all, rather than some, authorities are up for election this year. And the last elections were five years ago, not four, as the 2016 elections were postponed so as not to coincide with the Welsh Assembly vote. (The exception is Ynys Môn, which held its previous election in 2013). Because this was a year before 2013, unlike in England there was no surge of support for Ukip last time either.

In terms of seats here’s the results of the four Welsh local elections since the devolved assembly was set up.

1999 2004 2008 2012
Labour 563 479 (-84) 345 (-134) 580 (+235)
Independents 295 321 (+26) 334 (+13) 298 (-36)
Plaid Cymru 205 175 (-30) 206 (+31) 170 (-36)
Lib Dems 98 146 (+48) 165 (+19) 72 (-93)
Conservative 75 107 (+32) 174 (+67) 105 (-71)
Other 34 35 (+1) 40 (+5) 41 (+1)

Labour has a bit of a problem in Wales. In 2012 it was riding high in the polls, scoring its best result for years. Now polling between 15 and 20% lower, it faces certain losses. The only question is how many. Roger Scully of Cardiff University suggests over 100. On the basis of the polls this looks decidedly over-optimistic from the Labour perspective. Kernowpolitico of Redruth expects a performance more like 2008, which could bring as many as 200 losses.

[reproduced courtesy of MrPenguin20 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56783543%5D
In 2012 Labour won a majority of seats in all south Welsh urban and post-industrial authorities apart from Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan. On a bad night they could lose all those authorities save Rhondda and Neath Port Talbot. However, the number of Labour candidates has held up well and they may avoid this scenario. No doubt the tabloids will be sharpening their pencils, ready to plunge them into Jeremy Corbyn if Labour loses more than 100. Of course, if they do a lot better, those tabloids will no doubt ignore the result while srtill plunging their pencils into Corbyn’s back. Basically, the rule is Labour mustn’t win.

The Tories are riding high in the polls and in a local election poll in Wales amazingly came just two percentage points behind Labour. At the least, they must be expecting to regain their 2008 position, get a majority in Monmouthshire and the Vale of Glamorgan and make serious gains in places like Newport and Conwy. Their number of candidates is around 10% higher this time, although still well behind Labour. Yet a lot of them don’t seem to be in particularly winnable areas.

If the Tories gain votes and Labour lose, the Lib Dems in Wales might be hoping to sneak through on a minority vote. But a Lib Dem recovery looks less likely than in England. In Wales their poll rating is fairly dismal and a fall of around 15% in the number of Lib Dem candidates doesn’t suggest a party in rude health. Their best hope for gains is probably Cardiff, where they were the largest party before 2012 and where an anti-Brexit stance might bring more dividends.

Plaid has maintained its number of candidates at 583, rather fewer than the Tories but over twice the number of Lib Dems. They’ll be looking to get back over the 200 seat mark, as in 2008. Yet in many authorities their presence is limited. Indeed, in 10 of Wales’ 22 local authorities they have fewer councillors pro rata than MK does in Cornwall. Their strength is still heavily focused on Cymru Cymraeg (with the exception of Caerffili and the Rhondda) and their main hopes lie in their traditional heartland – Caerfyrddin, Ceredigion, Gywnedd and Ynys Môn.

Ukip is standing more candidates this time – 80. But this is many fewer than the other parties, or Independents for that matter, who are contesting more wards than any party other than Labour. In 2012 Ukip won two seats. It’s unlikely to do much better this time. Meanwhile, the Greens have around the same number of candidates as Ukip and will be crossing their fingers desperate to secure their first Welsh local councillor since 1999.

This may be the last local elections under a first past the post format, as the Welsh Government is toying with the idea of introducing PR for local government elections. Although it’s confusing matters somewhat by maybe letting local authorities decide. So can we expect any remaining Labour-run councils to resist PR and stick with the Victorian system? A test of their essential conservatism looms.

‘Progressive’ alliance killed off. Suspects on run – do not approach, may be dangerous

In a few places in England local agreements have been brokered, against central party wishes, whereby one or more anti-Tory parties stand aside in June’s general election. Here in Cornwall hopes for a ‘progressive’ alliance have been cruelly dashed. Yesterday the news emerged that it was a non-starter. And who did this dastardly deed and killed it off? According to Lib Dem social media it’s all the fault of those nasty Greens, who have decided to stand a candidate in St Ives again. The pure cheek of them!

Andrew George now faces Tory/Ukip ‘regressive alliance’ alone

What lies behind this? We hear that on Tuesday last, Lib Dems (including at least one candidate), Labour and Greens met behind closed doors at a secret location amidst tight security to discuss the prospect of some sort of deal for the upcoming general election. But they couldn’t agree on policy issues. On Friday the Greens, meeting at Redruth, decided to stand a candidate in St Ives and also put someone up in Camborne-Redruth. (So much for my suggestion of 48 hours ago, which is a very long time in Cornish politics, almost as long as dreckly.)

Their decision has triggered a veritable storm of outrage from a facebook full of Lib Dems. The Greens were allowing the Tories in, being divisive, selfish, stupid, idiotic and generally being sinful and very bad dudes. In the absence of more accounts of what actually went on at that secret meeting, we’d best rise above this predictable hysteria.

One might have thought it was up to the strongest party in any area to make the first moves in order to generate the level of trust required for any electoral pact. To my knowledge, the Liberal Democrats have made no such public overture in relation to Cornwall. Quite the opposite. Their decision to stand candidates in every single ward in Thursday’s local elections – even paper candidates – looked like tribalism at its worst and was hardly best designed to encourage collaboration with anti-Tory parties. In doing so, they foolishly threw away a golden opportunity to test the ‘progressive’ alliance and take the moral high ground.

Stephen Gilbert’s record of collaboration with Tories didn’t stop him nonsensically claiming in 2015 that ‘only’ a Lib Dem vote was a vote against the Tories

The squeals of outrage from Lib Dems should be ignored. Their calls for ‘unity’ are always in practice calls for people to vote for them. Rightly or wrongly, this is seen by others as arrogant presumption, a cynical attempt to muzzle alternatives and maintain Cornwall’s antiquated two-party system. In similar fashion calls to be ‘patient’ and ‘lend’ them our votes ‘this time’ turn out to be a permanent loan with no interest paid. It’s precisely the same mantra we heard in 2015 and 2010 and in elections before then. And where does patience get us? Precisely nowhere.

Given their record, Lib Dem candidates in Cornwall need to do a lot more to convince voters they’re worth voting for. For a start they could pledge not to support another coalition of chaos with the Tories and if Farron takes them down that road to resign the whip and become an Independent. Or they could apologise publicly for having supported austerity politics.

They also need to calm down. The ‘progressive’ alliance may be dead, but that doesn’t mean tactical voting is. It’s up to individual Lib Dem candidates to convince voters to vote for them rather than their first preference. Some will, some won’t. In some places, this might be a sensible strategy; in others it plainly isn’t. It could be better to leave it to voters anyway, rather than stitching up secret deals behind closed doors. If it’s ever going to work any ‘progressive’ alliance has to be a grassroots initiative, not a top-down decision by party hacks.

Minor parties and next week’s local elections

The London media seem to have largely forgotten about them in their eagerness to crown the May Queen but next week we have an actual vote to dissect rather than opinion polls. In four of the nations of the UK – rural England, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall – there are local elections on Thursday. Let’s look beyond the Westminster bubble to these more pressing elections. More specifically, what do the nominations at the locals tell us about the state of readiness of the byways of British politics, the margins, the extremes, the bizarre, those beyond the familiar be-suited landscape of the Westminster humbug centre?

Ukip is faltering. Their main policy objective apparently achieved and many of their policies now adopted by the Tories, they’ve lost direction. If the latest polls are anywhere near accurate, their support is collapsing fast. Ironically, Ukip, having set out to inject change into the political system, has served merely as a bridge from voting Labour to voting Conservative. The number of Ukip candidates in the local elections in England has fallen by a third since these seats were last fought in 2013, while their intervention in Scotland and Wales is feeble. We shall have to wait until May 4th, but it’s very likely that they will lose over half their current crop of councillors.

In terms of candidates, they’ve been overtaken by the Greens, who have increased their challenge at the coming local elections by almost 50%. With less to lose and everything to gain, they may come out of the local elections with increased morale. Nonetheless, this snap election will have caught local Green parties unawares. As a result they are most unlikely to contest anything like the 573 seats they did in the 2015 general election. Expect both Greens and Ukip to be nearer 300 than 500 candidates, with Ukip taking the opportunity not to challenge Brexit Tories and the Greens using the ‘progressive alliance’ as a cover for withdrawing from seats.

More generally, at the general election the broad pattern of growing numbers of minor party candidates since the 1980s, peaking in 2010, will be very abruptly reversed. Given the extremely short time to decide on candidates and raise the cash, plus the fact that parties are concentrating on the locals (something the May Queen no doubt took note of before making her decision) it’s likely that numbers will fall back from over 1,800 to under 1,000. The majority of those will be Ukip or Greens.

Few of the smaller parties are likely to put up as many candidates as last time. If the local elections are a guide, then TUSC numbers will fall dramatically, as the Socialist Party and its fellow travellers throw their limited weight behind Corbynite Labour. The state might not be withering away, but the left parties are. Respect has apparently disappeared, the Socialist Labour Party is disappearing, the Communist Party of Britain lingers on life support and the number of Scottish Socialist Party candidates in the local elections has halved since 2012. (Although Scottish Solidarity has increased its numbers to partially make up the deficit in Scotland.)

Meanwhile, on the far right, the BNP looks unlikely to rise from the dead any time soon, having watched both its electoral support and its activists being swept away in the Ukip tide. Ditto for the English Democrats. Between them, these two parties can only raise 15 candidates for the local elections, compared with 142 the last time around.

There are a few new kids on the block. The Scottish Libertarians are fielding 22 candidates in the local elections north of the border. The Womens’ Equality Party (WEP), with its celebrity supporters, is getting some media attention. But there are only three WEP candidates standing in the locals, plus another contesting the Liverpool City Region combined authority mayoral election.

Finally, the appearance of English regionalist parties in 2015 began to fill a gap hitherto only sporadically and quixotically occupied by the Wessex Regionalists. The Yorkshire Party is only standing two candidates for the 72 seats on North Yorkshire County Council. But its main support is in the urban areas of West and South Yorkshire, where there are no local elections this year, with the exception of Doncaster, which is out of sync. The party is putting forward five candidates there and fighting the Doncaster mayoral election. The North East Party is also building on the base established in 2015. It has 14 candidates competing for Durham’s 126 seats, someone up for the combined authority mayoral position in Tees Valley and a newly designed, more professional website. Nevertheless, it seems confined to south of the Tyne, with no candidates at all standing in Northumberland.

Nonetheless, both these parties will be hoping to make a breakthrough in the local elections and get their first elected councillor, something that would be a big boost to any general election exposure.

The state of the others. Should MK stand in the general election?

We’ve seen who the Lib Dem candidates will be in June’s general election, with one exception. The situation at Camborne-Redruth is unclear. Julia Goldsworthy is definitely ruled out. Yet Lib Dem insiders are quoted in the West Brit as claiming that ‘the party has chosen all its candidates in Cornwall’. So if that’s the case, who’s the mysterious sixth candidate? And why is he or she being kept a secret? Rumours circulating in the constituency claim it’s a councillor not a million miles from Illogan.

The state of our once-great country. Unknown man stalked by banner-waving fanatics.

But that may be fake news deliberately spread by Labour, whose candidate is presumably as I write being selected hundreds of miles away in Exeter or Bristol. If you were a member and could have dreamt up an answer to questions like ‘what makes you a great campaigner’, you too could have applied to become Labour’s candidate. Too late now though, as the deadline was last Sunday. There must be several seats in Cornwall that will struggle to appear as the applicants’ ‘preferred constituency’, unless they were feeling especially suicidal.

What about the other minor parties? The Greens are off the block, announcing over a week ago on Twitter (though strangely nowhere else that I can discover) that Amanda Pennington from Wadebridge would be fighting Truro & Falmouth. This makes sense as that was the constituency which gave them their best result last time around. They’re meeting today to discuss whether to stand in St Ives. Meanwhile, nothing has been heard from Ukip, who may be fully occupied trying to defend their single seat on Cornwall Council and coming up with more policies to restore the 1950s.

Should MK stand? The party is quite properly waiting until the more important Cornwall Council elections are out of the way before deciding on what it will do, which gives it just a week to spring into frenetic action.

Even at the best of times the party has to contend with a system rigged so blatantly against it, the most absurd aspect being the demand it stands candidates in 89 constituencies in order to obtain a party political broadcast, that it’s beyond ludicrous. There was already an argument that, until we have a fair voting system, MK shouldn’t bother throwing away money on Westminster elections but focus on the Cornish level. The danger with this is that, given a Westminster-centric media, it would probably lead to even greater marginalisation.

To be taken as a serious contender, MK has to stand in one or two constituencies. The obvious place is St Austell & Newquay, where Dick Cole is a well-known candidate and the party has built a level of support. However, even here, expressions of sympathy don’t extend to sufficient actual votes at the parliamentary level. What about the rest of Cornwall? Here’s one scenario.

MK tries to cut a deal with the Greens. It stays out of Truro and east Cornwall as long as the Greens give it a clear run in St Austell. At St Ives it takes up Andrew George’s suggestion of a progressive alliance and publicly backs him, although calling on Lib Dem voters to reciprocate that in St Austell and one other … for instance Camborne-Redruth??

The thinking has to be long-term. It looks as if the election after this one will be 2022, with or without a new devonwall constituency. By that time, the massive Tory majority and the elective dictatorship it brings will have hopefully become so discredited that people start turning to an alternative. So positioning and establishing a presence in 2017 is critical.

Camborne-Redruth is the most ‘Cornish’ constituency in identity terms. It’s also the only Cornish constituency which is neither a safe Tory seat nor a Tory-Lib Dem marginal. Traditionally a three-way marginal, tactical voting was always questionable here. Predictable calls to vote tactically for Labour are unreal in the context of the media demonisation of Corbyn and the stubborn failure of the Labour leadership to make any concessions to the idea of a ‘progressive alliance’. Moreover, the Labour candidate is as yet unknown and may be as bad as Michael Foster was.

The Lib Dem could well be equally hopeless. In addition, it’s possible Ukip will leave ex-Ukip member and staunch pro-Brexiteer George Eustice alone. Which means a lot of Ukip votes will be up for grabs. That can’t all vote Tory can they? (Stop whimpering! [ed.]) If the Greens don’t stand then MK could end up being the most credible alternative to Eustice. Watch this space.

North Cornwall poll: Lib Dems shading it though still too close to call

The last Cornish constituency poll of the election appeared yesterday. This was for North Cornwall, now polled four times in a year by Ashcroft. Over that time, the share of the vote for Lib Dem Rogerson and Tory Mann has risen, while that for Ukip and Labour fell. The Greens have hovered around the 5% mark.

VI change North Cwll May 1

Although there’s been a considerable shift back to the two familiar parties since last year, this poll shows very little change since the last one taken in March. Rogerson continues to eke out a narrow 2% lead, but one still uncomfortably within the margin of error. It looks like the winner here will be he who squeezes the other parties most in the last five days. Mann has a 14% Ukip share to aim at, while Rogerson can try to steal back a 13% Labour/Green/MK share. Neither has an obvious advantage in the tactical vote struggle, therefore.

Moreover, the total score for others, at around 27%, has not shifted over the last month of campaigning. It could be that the low hanging fruit was picked over the winter. The Ukip and Green vote now looks fairly stable. Moreover, the leap in the score for others over the last month by 2%, from 1% to 3%, may prove welcome news for MK. Here’s the change since the last election.

VI change NC May 2

The geography of Green-ness

green cands locals 2015If the pattern of nominations in the local elections this year suggests that Ukip may be on the brink of transformation into a south east English regionalist party, what does the geography of Green Party candidates tell us?

There is one overlap with Ukip, in that the local councils where Greens are most active are the metropolitan boroughs of the West Midlands, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire. To some extent this is a result of the electoral set-up. All the wards in those councils return one councillor every year, rather than three councillors every four years. In many rural district councils two and three seat wards allow a party to put forward just one candidate and still have a presence even though contesting only a third of the seats. And annual elections may also stimulate better party organisation and more member involvement.

The Greens’ other area of strength lies in a belt across middle England, from Gloucestershire in the west, through Oxfordshire to Suffolk in the east, with outliers of greater activity in Devon and Dorset in the south-west and East Sussex in the south-east. What is noticeable in these local election nominations is that in many south-western rural wards there’s a straight fight between Tories and Greens, as the Liberal Democrat presence fades.

Indeed, the Greens have managed to put up more candidates than have the Lib Dems in all the metropolitan boroughs and in several rural counties, as the map below indicates. With the exception of Suffolk, these areas are in the more peripheral west and north of England.

green and lib dem cands 2015