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.
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.
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.
This snappiest of snap elections seems to have caught everyone on the hop. Why were we all fooled by Theresa May’s carefully crafted image as a latter-day Thatcher, given the number of U-turns she’s performed since taking over? But we were. Sage statements about fixed five-year terms and being too busy to be distracted by an election, while having absolutely no intention of cutting and running for a grubby power grab, lulled us into a false sense of security.
Just as we were concentrating on worrying how soon Trump and his generals would blunder into a nuclear holocaust, the Tories took our minds off that little problem by calling an election. The temptation of a 20% poll lead in the end proved too much for them, as the Conservative Party responded like Pavlov’s dogs to the one thing it always prioritised. Power. And as much of it as possible.
They also start their snappy election with a huge advantage over the opposition generally. At this stage of the Parliament there are few prospective candidates in place. If you’re not a sitting MP you won’t have the usual time to ease yourself into a constituency, pester the local media with unctuous press releases and generally glad-hand the great unwashed at fetes and festivals for all you’re worth. Instead, there’s just 22 days left to get selected and then another four weeks before the electorate exercises its measured and thoroughly considered decision.
Candidates who are already locally known could however narrow the gap to sitting MPs. The most exciting point for me on Tuesday, when the election was announced, was the news via twitter that Kernow King was going to stand for Talskiddy Treacle Mine. Sadly this turned out be one of those fake news items, a bitter disappointment to all and sundry. In the absence of KK, we have to make do with Liberal Democrats. You might not have realised it, but because Cornwall is one of their few obvious targets, that party has got its potential candidates lined up in five of the six seats.
In South East Cornwall, Phil Hutty is standing again against the redoubtably seasoned Sheryll Murray. Although her massive 17,000 vote majority two years back, over 50% of the poll, plus a decent Ukip vote to mop up, means it looks like more of a case of curtains again for Phil, who any rational observer would say hasn’t the proverbial cat’s chance in hell.
Dan Rogerson will have a lot more chance in North Cornwall. He’ll be relieved his constituency has been accidentally reprieved by the Tories’ casual binning of the fixed-term parliament act and the consequent boundary changes which bring a devonwall constituency with them. That horrendous prospect has not gone away, note, just been postponed, to hang like Damocles’ sword over the Tamar as it peacefully snakes its way to the sea.
Further west are two constituencies where the Lib Dems have put Cornwall Councillors in place as candidates. In St Austell & Newquay Joanna Kenny is attempting to follow the Tories’ Steve Double and Scott Mann and make the leap from local government to the Commons. According to the Lib Dems’ website her current campaigns ‘include upgrading her local playground and dealing with the perennial problem of irresponsible dog owners.’ Which should get the assorted plutocrats and madmen who try to run things these days quaking in their boots. ‘Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump, have you got your poo-bags with you?’
In Truro & Falmouth Rob Nolan carries the Lib Dem banner and looks a more credible MP. Rob has an excellent record of striving, often against the direction of his own party, to moderate Cornwall Council’s mad infatuation with housing and population growth as it rushes to transform Cornwall into a replica of everywhere else as quickly as possible. His only problem is that Sarah Newton had a huge 14,000 vote majority last time around, converting Truro & Falmouth into a safe Tory seat. Except that, with its relatively high number of public sector professionals in Truro and its Guardian-reading intelligentsia and student voters at the universities at Penryn, the constituency doesn’t feel like a bog-standard safe Tory haven in the shires. There’s also a sizeable Labour and Green vote to try to squeeze.
The Lib Dems’ best hope of winning a seat back from the Tories clearly comes in St Ives. Andrew George has been pushing hard for a ‘progressive alliance’ between Lib Dems, Labour, MK and Green people since being beaten in 2015 by Derek Thomas. Cynics might say he would, wouldn’t he. But, as the most independent of Cornwall’s Lib Dem MPs during their disastrous 2015 coalition with the Tories he can distance himself somewhat from any toxic fall-out that may linger among voters. Moreover, most of them seem to have distressingly short political memories.
However, for his call on members of other parties to support him, the Lib Dems surely need to make some reciprocal gestures. Having spurned the chance to do so at the local elections, what are they now proposing? For starters, how about offering to stand down in Brighton and give Caroline Lucas a clear run in return for no Green in St Ives? As Green Party overtures to Labour and Liberal Democrats seem to be being rejected out of hand, there looks little chance of this. The opposition unionist parties are stubbornly determined to prefer suicide to any hint of official collaboration or new thinking. Strange.
Let’s not forget the final constituency – Camborne-Redruth. Here, the Liberal Democrats have no candidate that I can spot, but neither does Labour, although this is supposedly one of their target seats and the only one in Cornwall where they have any chance at all. Nor is George Eustice’s 7,000 vote majority by any means the safest. With no obvious well-known local Labour figure in the frame (or Lib Dem come to that) developments must be awaited. The only thing there is general agreement on is, whatever you do, please, please don’t inflict Michael Foster on us again. (Or Julia Goldsworthy come to that.)
Sadly these days, South East Cornwall is the least Cornish of all Cornish constituencies. It’s also the most Tory, although the Tory is a swashbuckling Cornish fisherwoman, Sheryll Murray. Sheryll has a professional operation and the Tories have attracted (or paid for) a large number of facebook likes. She’s also frighteningly active on social media, although the same posts are repeated again and again, and then tweeted just to make sure you get the message. If you believe the hype everyone and anyone in south east Cornwall is backing Sheryll, not just fishermen and farmers. They just can’t wait to vote for her, eagerly steering their zimmer frames in the direction of the postbox to return that postal vote.
Lagging far behind is the Lib Dems’ Phil Hutty. Phil is the equivalent of snooker’s Steve Davies, nice but interesting. He says he’s been having ‘interesting conversations with all manner of interesting people’ as he knocks on 15,000 doors. Which was nice. Most people either take pity or have been too polite to say bugger off and this has left Phil with the very mistaken impression that ‘it’s very close’. It isn’t, Phil. You’re languishing behind Sheryll by several thousand mindless votes, as she heads for a comfortable win. Phil’s problem is summed up when he tells us Millbrook surgery is under threat of closure and this shows the ‘weakness of the NHS under the Conservatives’. The only tiny problem with that is that I’m sure the Lib Dems were lurking around in the background somewhere too.
This is the constituency with two candidates who are barely out of short trousers. One of them is very active, the other a little more elusive. Bradley Monk for Ukip has found a ‘worrying amount of non-voters’ in Saltash and Pensilva, which is hardly surprising in Pensilva, which for many years was thought to exist in a time-warp left over from the 1930s. While levels of support in Looe and Polperro were ‘encouraging’. Brad’s task is how to wean these right-thinking anti-European coastal dwellers away from Sheryll, who’s pretty indistinguishable from Ukip on most issues. Inland, surely the disillusioned voters met on the moors should all be clamouring to enrol in Farage’s ‘People’s Army’. That they aren’t shows the limits of this brand of populism.
Labour’s Declan Lloyd was spotted at the last hustings yesterday at Callington, although he skipped an earlier one as he was on holiday with his mum. Declan is apparently surprised that no big names from the coalition parties have bothered to visit the seat. Someone really ought to inform him that it’s hardly a secret; it’s because they all regard the outcome here as completely cut and dried. Somewhat boringly, Declan concentrates on facebook on reposting central office Labour stuff.
As does Martin Corney in respect of the Greens. Like North Cornwall, the Greens may well challenge Labour here for fourth place. Meanwhile, Andrew Long for MK tries to surmount the slight obstacle of being studiously and deliberately ignored by the BBC throughout the campaign. Andrew, along with the MK candidates in St Austell and Camborne, preferred to attend two excruciatingly lengthy Cornwall Council meetings last week rather than campaign. He did this to show his commitment to the local people he represents. Very worthy although, as this wouldn’t be reported, local people will be blissfully unaware and only political anoraks like those who waste their time writing (and reading) this drivel will know anything about it.
Here’s my prediction. Confidently expect Sheryll to be breaking open a bottle (or three) on Friday. Mind you, in 2010 I thought this seat would be very close and even tipped the Lib Dem to sneak it. Which probably proves you shouldn’t really believe a word you read here.
Local BBC TV has two outlets for its election coverage. First, there’s the daily dose of ‘news’ on Spotlight. I’d meant to monitor that but what with a couple of attacks of nausea and falling asleep in the first week, the project disintegrated as the will to live was rapidly lost. Which leaves the Sunday Politics South West show. There have been four offerings of this since the election campaign began. So what does it tell us about the BBC’s approach to the elections in Cornwall and Devon? The first conclusion is that Cornwall-based candidates do rather well, being given considerably more than their fair share of airtime. One can only suppose that this is because the BBC insists in claiming that coalition-coalition ‘marginals’ are somehow of great relevance to the election outcome. Whatever, of the 15 candidates invited to appear on the show (including the upcoming one next Sunday) we find that nine are based in Cornwall and only six in Devon, despite there being twice as many seats east of the Tamar. Two Tory candidates, one each from Labour, the Greens and Ukip and an incredible four of the six Lib Dem candidates in Cornwall have or will appear on the show. By constituency, four of the six candidates in Camborne-Redruth have been offered a place on the programme. St Ives has seen two of its candidates, while the other four seats have had one of theirs appear. Adding in the Devon-based candidates, we have a total of four Tories, four Lib Dems and four Labour, two from Ukip and one Green. Given their polling strength in Cornwall and Devon, the Lib Dems and Labour seem to have come out best. Overall, the total coverage (expressed purely in the number of seconds allocated to party spokespersons speaking) for the first four shows broke down as follows. If we convert this to percentages and then allow for the over-representation of Cornish seats in the show, and go on to compare that with the number of candidates, we get the following percentage breakdown …
There seems to be a bias towards the two bigger Westminster parties, while the Lib Dems and Ukip also get more than their number of candidates should entitle them to. The Greens don’t get their fair share of airtime. Meanwhile, neither does MK, which is almost invisible. Indeed, anyone relying on the BBC for information might be surprised to discover they’re standing in this election. They’d also be astonished to find that there are 12 other candidates, including three TUSC/Left Unity and two Communist Party candidates in Devon, one from the National Health Action Party in Cornwall and another half a dozen assorted Independents and odds and sods. Moving from quantity to quality, let’s review the four programmes we’ve had to endure. On the first (28th March) Phil Hutty for the Lib Dems was a bit out of his depth, admitting that his party would ‘take a hit’, a rather pessimistic conclusion one might have thought with over four weeks of the campaign still to go. There was some discussion of planning and neighbourhood plan referenda. Apparently, these are examples of ‘devolution’. Although the presenter did introduce this by the comment that the word ‘devolution’ conjures up an ‘image of nationalists in Scotland, Wales and yes, those in Cornwall waving flags and giving the English a hard time’. Thanks to the BBC for summing up SNP/Plaid and MK polices so succinctly. The possibility of a Cornish Assembly with powers over planning was raised in passing, although Phil Hutty wouldn’t promise any extra money for it, thus rendering it pointless given the level of Lib Dem/Tory cuts.
On the 12th April there was a piece on Declan Lloyd, Labour’s candidate in South East Cornwall, one of the youngest standing in the election. Declan had not appeared at a hustings, having gone on holiday with his mum instead. As the date of this election has been known since 2010, this seems an odd choice of holiday date. Although Declan might be forgiven as he was of course only 14 in 2010. No matter, as the hustings was shown it was stated that all the candidates for the other parties, including MK, were there. MK’s candidate Andrew Long was briefly seen although not named. The piece then interviewed three of the candidates about the missing Labour lad – but not Martin Corney of the Greens or Andrew Long. Corney was then mentioned by name but it was a case of seen, but not heard, or named, for Long. His name didn’t even appear on the list of candidates shown at the end of the piece!
On the 19th a Cornish Assembly and affordable homes were among the topics. Any fair-minded and objective observer might have thought that here at last was a chance for the distinctive voice of MK to be heard on these issues. And yes, here was Dick Cole of MK, introduced inaccurately as the leader of ‘the Cornish nationalist party MK’, being interviewed. But not live in the studio. Instead he was given a generous 19 seconds to camera somewhere near St Dennis. That’s half the amount of time given to David Cameron, not believed to be standing in Cornwall. Discussion of a Cornish Assembly was left to Scott Mann of the Tories, Simon Rix of the Lib Dems and, peculiarly, or perhaps not given their outright opposition to it, Bob Smith of Ukip. Rix condemned MK’s plans as ‘too expensive and too extreme’, preferring more powers for Cornwall Council with devolution to town and parish councils. There was then some insipid discussion of affordable housing, with an interview piece informing us that the ‘biggest problem’ in Cornwall was the way nimbys prevent thousands of much-needed houses being built. This gem emanated from an estate agent in west Cornwall, one of those who definitelty have much need for more houses. No-one present cared to mention the need to meet developers’ profits first in the present failed market system. And second homes only briefly disturbed the screens, mentioned (by Rix) right at the end of the discussion.
Last Sunday on the 26th we again had the spectacle of presenter Martyn Oates refusing to name an MK candidate on air. Loveday Jenkin was transformed into just an anonymous ‘opposing candidate’, despite being at the receiving end of one of Michael Foster’s alleged anger management problem episodes. The Greens’ Tim Andrewes had been invited onto this show, the first topic of which was defence. He was then duly lectured by the pair of pompous right wing Labour/Tory candidates for his ‘pie in the sky’ temerity, for daring to propose that this fine country of ours could possibly survive without Trident and the ability to blow Russia or Iran to kingdom come, as well as the rest of us. We might have no money, a point made several times by the Tory, but can apparently still afford to spend billions on nuclear bombs. As soon as Andrewes made the point that austerity was a political choice he was unfortunately cut off and the ‘regional’ opt-out abruptly terminated. Phew, narrow escape, almost a glimpse of a real issue there. (And again, did I miss the discussion of global warming or environmental issues?)
How is election fever playing in the bandit country up by the Tamar? In North Cornwall Dan Rogerson is buoyed up by the latest constituency poll, which shows him pulling ahead. He defiantly asserts that ‘more and more people are lending their support’ by intending to vote for him rather than their first, second or third choices in order to stop the Tory postman, Scott Mann. Scott in the meantime concentrates on delivering the news from a Tory Manichean world of moral dualism. Here, it’s just a question of strong leadership or weak, competence or chaos, good or evil, pasties or pies.
Meanwhile, Dan has been banishing the evil curse of litter from our roadsides. After recovering litter from the A30 at Pennygillam he pronounced the roadside to be ‘looking beautiful’. Until the next lazy sod chucks their Macdonalds packaging out of their window that is. In the account of his litter picking he’s described as ‘rolling up his sleeves’, something he’s patently not doing in the accompanying photo. Indeed, he seems rather inappropriately dressed for the task in hand. Even stranger, he was ‘later'(?) spotted cleaning up Westminster, this time wearing a hi-vis jacket. On the same day!? Must have used that Lib Dem time machine to get back up to London. That’s the same machine that’s set permanently to April 2010 and miraculously jumps over the last five years in a nanosecond.
Ukip’s Julie Lingard was giving us lots of pictures of Nigel Farage, who she oddly predicts ‘will occupy the centre ground of British politics’. It turns out this was a quote for those sophisticated political analysts at the Daily Express, for whom Ghengis Khan would be on the centre-left. Otherwise Julie thinks the ‘farce’ of green energy and the bedroom tax are bad but local planning referenda good and wants to scrap inheritance tax (definitely bad). In contrast, the Greens’ Amanda Pennington reminds us that we have a choice, although it’s not one on offer from the three old parties or Ukip. We might possibly raise taxes instead of cutting services. She points out that a 2% wealth tax could raise £35bn a year by 2020 and a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions another £25bn a year. That’s the deficit sorted then. Just global warming left.
Finally, Labour’s John Whitby reveals a fine sense of humour as he contemplates his hopeless task in the north. He supplies a picture of himself in his kitchen; why should Cameron and Milibland hog the headlines? And tells he’s going to vote for himself. That’s one in the bag then, although it’s going to get a lot tougher from here on.
On the southern side of Bodmin Moor the sitting Tory MP Sheryll Murray exudes confidence. She modestly states in a Facebook post that ‘I hope to be Conservative MP after May 7th’. This attracted 126 likes in a couple of days from people who enjoy reading about the armed forces and the police and experience a quiver of excitement at the name-dropping of local organisations. Will they be so jolly happy though when they get another set of unregulated cold-calling spivs pestering them by phone to get their mitts on their pension pots? This is the inevitable result of the failure of Sheryll’s mates to regulate cold-calling at the same time as freeing access to pension pots. Another fine mess.
Liberal Democrat Phil Hutty hasn’t been ringing but speaking to thousands of people from St Neot to Saltash, all of whom assure him they’re dead keen to rush to the polling booth to cast their vote for him. He also took time to appear on the Sunday Politics Show. Unfortunately no reports of what was discussed are available as everyone watching fell asleep halfway through. Phil’s Facebook page is ruined entirely by a photo of assorted dimwits holding up those excruciating Lib Dem ‘Winning here’ posters. It’s surely high time these were corrected to a more accurate ‘Coming a distant second here, if we’re lucky that is.’
MK’s Andrew Long and the Green Party’s Martin Corney press on with their local campaigning. Andrew was talking at MK’s spring conference about the importance of embracing social media. Strangely however, he’s not that active on twitter and has no detectable Facebook presence. Maybe there’s a parallel universe of MK social media somewhere. Martin has been focusing on trivialities like climate change and keeping fossil fuels in the ground in order to save us from the corporate plan to fry us in order to enhance their profit margins.
Ukip’s Bradley Monk has no truck with such silliness. Young Fogey Brad prefers tax cuts for the wealthy, even more deregulation of business and encouraging the entrepreneurship that’s produced out of control global warming in the first place. He’s also prepared to take a brave, or is it foolish, public stance in favour of privatising the delivery of NHS services – ‘often private companies are able to offer a higher quality service, and for that we should be grateful’. Brad also seems unaware he’s contesting a seat in Cornwall rather than England.
Brad’s locked in a parallel election in this seat for school prefect with Labour’s Declan Lloyd. Declan is even younger than Brad and in fact, at 18 years and 8 months, the third youngest candidate in the UK. At the moment the smart money is still on Brad to pip Declan for the school prefect post but it might turn out to be closer than it once looked.
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.
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)
2. John Hyslop (Ukip, Truro)
3. Bob Smith (Ukip, Camborne)
4. Tim Andrewes (St Ives Greens)
5. Amanda Pennington (GP, North)
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)
2. Sheryll Murray (Con, South East)
3. Michael Foster (Lab, Camborne)
4. St Ives Greens
5. Steve Double (Con, St Austell)
Meanwhile, turning to engagement per post the top achievers are as follows.
Engagement per post, 25th Feb – 16th March
1. Julia Goldsworthy (LD, Camborne)
2. Michael Foster (Lab, Camborne)
3. Simon Rix (LD, Truro)
4. Steve Double (Con, St Austell)
5. Sheryll Murray (Con, South East)
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.
This part of Cornwall was represented in the 1960s by one of Cornwall’s more colourful political characters. Peter Bessell claimed to have been a CIA agent before turning to the Liberal Party, fled the country to escape prosecution for fraud and spent his final 15 years living in a one room beach hut in California. Those were the days. After that excitement, local voters settled down to two fairly indistinguishable centrist MPs – Robert Hicks for the Tories and Colin Breed for the Liberal Democrats. But after the calm, though rather grey, reasonableness of these two the voters of the south east went nuts again in 2010 and voted in Sheryll Murray.
Sheryll’s a local maid, born in Millbrook in 1956 and attending the decidedly less than posh Torpoint School. Unlike most of her Tory (and Lib Dem/Labour) colleagues in Parliament, Sheryll didn’t then go to ‘uni’. Instead, she later married a fisherman and became Caradon councillor and in its dying days leader of its Tory group. A self-appointed spokeswoman for Cornwall’s fishing industry, Sheryll’s roots ‘can be traced back many generations’. Although the Conservatives’ website rather ruins this by describing it as ‘Cornwall roots’, drawing the line at uttering that subversive adjective ‘Cornish’.
Sheryll’s image is one of a tough character of the right, unafraid to put the boot in on the undeserving poor and benefit scroungers. Her voting record is about as neo-liberal as it could be. She has voted in favour of making the poor pay for the sins of casino capitalism and against punishing the rich, bankers or corporations for those same sins. She very strongly supported NHS ‘reform’ and selling off the forests. She was against giving more powers to local authorities in England or the Welsh Assembly. She’s also been the most anti-EU Cornish MP, voting more than the others for a referendum on membership.
If we compare her voting record with that of Cameron and Osborne on the one hand and the two Tory renegades to Ukip – Carswell and Reckless – on the other we find that she lines up much more closely with the Ukip twins than the Tory grandees. (Mind you, so do her fellow Tory MPs in Cornwall, George Eustice and Sarah Newton and, come to that, so-called Lib Dem Stephen Gilbert. Which begs the question – if we already have at least four MPs who vote like Ukip then why do we need any more?)
This is the ruthless Sheryll who was accused of vote-rigging on behalf of her cat in a pet beauty contest last February. This one is also one of the patrons of the British Monarchist Society, whose other patrons include that tribune of the common man Nigel Farage, and whose aims are to protect ‘tradition and heritage’. They’re also bent on dispelling all the ‘bias and inaccurate reporting’ being spewed out by republicans. But, just as we’re left scratching our heads looking in vain for all those elusive republicans in the BBC, Sheryll pops up with a completely different image. The forbidding Mrs Hyde has turned into a fragile Dr Jekyll.
When in October that rough cockney and Labour PPC for Camborne-Redruth, Michael Foster, gently lobbed his mobile phone at Sheryll during a ‘debate’ on ‘the BBC’s ‘Sunday Politics’ show, she claimed to have been ‘shaken’, by this ‘frightening’ assault. A month later she was being ‘shocked’ by a photo in a Ukip newspaper and demanding a personal apology from Farage. This was for what she interpreted as a deliberate reference to her late husband’s death in an industrial accident with a netting winch in 2011. It’s more likely that most Ukip activists would be hard put to distinguish a netting winch from hair netting and the photo in their newspaper was an unfortunate coincidence. Perplexed by the accusation, Ukip denied it was intentional.
Equally perplexed by the Jekyll and Hyde nature of South East Cornwall’s MP, Frank Doran, Scottish Labour fisheries spokesman, made the rash claim in Parliament that fisheries minister was no job for a woman. Whyever not? Cornish fishing communities were once known for either teetotalism or hard drinking, the former being a response to the latter. One aspect of tradition Sheryll was obviously keen to preserve when first elected was the hard drinking. An epic session downing taxpayer-subsidised cheap booze during the 2010 Budget debate left Sheryll being ‘allegedly rude to a Commons official‘. At least she remained on her feet. Which is more than can be said for the then Tory, now Ukip, MP Mark Reckless, who after the same session was too legless to vote.
Turning to Ukip, maybe Sheryll should challenge her opponent, who admits to a liking for whisky, to a drinking match. Fearlessly ditching its stereotype, Ukip has chosen a 20 year old politics student and chef, Bradley Monk, as its candidate for South East Cornwall. Bradley was born in London but his family moved to Plymouth when he was a child. Still unaccountably claiming to be a Charlton Athletic fan, Bradley could be found in 2013 contesting the local elections for Ukip in Winchester.
It was during that election that the press discovered he’d attended a Halloween party in 2012 wearing a Jimmy Saville mask. The ever righteous Sun fulminated about this ‘sick’ behaviour from a ‘dopey’ candidate. The Western Morning News thought it was an ‘outrage’ while the Western Daily Press called it ‘shocking’. Oddly enough, none of those papers thought his political views, which included tax cuts and a flat tax, even more deregulation or the revealing comment that ‘I’d scrap the NHS personally, but that is political suicide‘ as in any way sick, shocking or dopey.
While Bradley seems to a young fogey, in his tweets hailing the Republicans’ ‘fantastic results’ in the US mid-term elections last November and forecasting that raising the minimum wage to the dizzy heights of £8 an hour would be ‘total economic suicide’, he also has his more acceptable Dr Jekyll side.
His website is quite attractive and on the surface even reasonable. For example, he’s enthusiastic ‘to change Cornwall for the better’. In this desire, he might of course be following a long line of wise and not so wise men (and women) from the east who’ve assured us we need to change before hightailing it back over the Tamar. But his calls for direct democracy and support for a genuine recall mechanism for MPs are unexpectedly sensible. Dear of him. Although a desire for ‘radical democracy’ doesn’t sit too obviously with his tweet on Christmas Day that ‘we are so lucky to have a monarchy’.
So is the real Bradley the Dr Jekyll who calls for devolution to Cornwall (although only to the discredited Cornwall Council), saying that ‘government is best closest to the people it serves’, or the Mr Hyde one who tweeted last September that ‘The SNP are really making me question the saying “government is always best closest to the people they serve”.
Hopefully, we may never get the chance to find out. Yet, although South East Cornwall is the only Cornish constituency not polled in 2014, it looks as if it could be one of Ukip’s better chances. It had the lowest proportion of those claiming a Cornish national identity (a pitiful 7.8%) in 2011 and the highest explicitly embracing an English identity. It has the lowest number of young voters, the highest number of owner-occupiers and the lowest number in rented housing. And it’s the most Christian constituency in Cornwall.
If we apply the general shift in voting intentions since the 2010 election as seen in polling for the other Cornish constituencies last year it looks like a fairly safe bet for Sheryll Murray, despite a likely fall in the Tory vote. Indeed, the Electoral Calculus website predicts an 80% chance of a Tory win here, the biggest certainty in Cornish politics. That leaves Ukip and the Lib Dems vying for second place.
Whatever lingering Cornish rural radical tradition the Lib Dems could exploit here has long gone, fallen victim to the quiet social revolution of the past half century that has done much to turn south east Cornwall into a replica of south east England, in the process hollowing out its Cornishness. It was finally killed off in 2010 when the Lib Dems made a disastrous choice of candidate. Karen Gillard, an ultra-abrasive lawyer from Plymouth, managed to achieve a notional 9.1% swing from Lib Dems to Tories here, one of the largest in the UK.
This time around they have the much less abrasive Phil Hutty. Phil, a social worker who lives near Callington, cut his teeth in 2001 and 2010 fighting seats in Devon. Last time around in Central Devon he limited the swing to the Tories to 6.1%. Which was slightly better, but not much, than the unlamented Karen Gillard.
He stood for Cornwall Council in 2009 at Stokeclimsland but did poorly, getting just 22% of the vote. His social media comments convey a touching naivete. Sitting on the fence, a painful occupational hazard for Cornish Liberal Democrats, over the proposed 1,000 house suburb on Broadmoor Farm west of Saltash, Phil was impressed last July by the proposed village green. He wanted assurance however that ‘this would meet the need in the town’ and not be ‘a commuter estate for Plymouth’. And pigs might fly. He hasn’t blogged on the issue since.
Phil claimed to have met ‘lots of Tory and Labour converts’ when out canvassing in September just as the Lib Dems were beginning their inexorable downward slide in the polls, which begs the question of what substance he might have been abusing at the time. Like all the Lib Dems, on his Dr Jekyll days he favours a Cornish Assembly. But his Mr Hyde side signs up to the Lib Dems’ proposed Devolution Enabling Act, which seems to offer little more than devolution to existing local authorities or groups of them.
MK and Greens
MK’s Andrew Long (50), who grew up in Stoke Climsland, was selected in March and is a full time Cornwall Councillor, having previously been on Caradon District Council. Andrew is an example of what MK could potentially achieve, winning Callington easily despite the town having one of the lowest proportions of people prepared to declare a Cornish national identity in Cornwall. But he also displays the party’s limits. Like their other councillors, his electoral success is based more on a solid local implantation than policy appeal, he puts ‘the interests of our local communities ahead of party political games’. Fair enough and this can play well in local elections. But being a more politicised wing of the Independents struggles when it comes to parliamentary elections.
While Phil Hutty has a touching faith in developers, Andrew Long has an equally touching faith in the possibility of achieving ‘sustainable economic growth’. The fifth candidate in South East Cornwall is more sceptical about this. Martin Corney is the Green Party’s man for the South East. Originally from Bristol, he spent 22 years working at Devonport Dockyard as a computer programmer and is now retired but also a voluntary community and youth worker, as well as being a St Ive parish councillor. Martin’s blog is called ‘A Green World’ and is about climate change, two things to get the Tories and Kippers in the South East puzzling over no doubt.