Tactical or tactless? Some arguments against blanket tactical voting

As the prospect of a huge Tory majority looms, calls for ‘tactical’ voting become ever shriller. Those who insist on their right to vote for a party that has no realistic chance of unseating the noxious Conservatives are pilloried. At times the calls for ‘tactical’ voting verge on the hysterical. One Independent candidate in Aylesbury has even had a cup of tea thrown at him by someone who shouted ‘stop splitting the vote’. That’s just not cricket, old chap! So here’s what’s likely to be an unpopular blog as I put forward some arguments against ‘tactical’ voting.

Of course, not voting for someone we prefer and instead voting for someone we don’t really prefer in order to stop someone we like even less is inevitable in an antiquated voting system where only a minority of votes count. Ever since the emergence of a three party system in the early twentieth century calls to ‘keep the Tory out’ have been an endemic feature of British elections. On the other hand, anyone has the right to vote for a candidate who best reflects their views and principles. It may be old-fashioned but that’s actually supposed to be the point of a ‘representative democracy’.

There are four major problems with adopting a universal strategy of ‘tactical’ voting to keep the Tories out. First, and most important, it’s fundamentally conservative (with a small c). Second, it’s difficult to distinguish between calls to vote tactically that stem from a genuine desire to stop the Tory and cynical calls to vote ‘tactically’ rolled out by bigger parties to protect their status. Third, it’s only employed in a negative fashion, voting against something rather than for something. Fourth, it’s used in a short term way rather than considered as a long-term strategy. Let’s consider these in turn.

1. Tactical voting is a basically conservative strategy because it maintains the status quo. If all non-Tories had always voted ‘tactically’ then the Liberals would never have been dislodged. Had voters in the early twentieth century voted ‘tactically’ the Labour Party would have been stillborn.

2. Because of its inbuilt advantage for established parties, tactical voting is a very useful ploy that enables Labour and the Lib Dems to ward off emerging challengers that might siphon off their votes. This is no principled anti-Tory stance but a cynical tool used by those who arrogantly presume they have some god-given right to all the votes that aren’t Tory.

Ah, fond memories. Stephen Gilbert and friend. Spot the difference – choice of footwear?

Take Stephen Gilbert, Lib Dem MP for St Austell & Newquay from 2010 to 2015 and candidate again this time. On his return to the fray he was quick to assert that ‘in Cornwall a vote for Labour, the Greens, or Mebyon Kernow helps the Conservatives‘. But these identical words were also used by him in 2015, even though he was the one who’d spent the previous five years helping the Conservatives as a loyal supporter of the coalition government. His voting record then was indistinguishable from Cornwall’s Tory MPs. Anyone seduced into voting for Gilbert was merely stifling the arrival of better alternative and progressive options for the voters of mid-Cornwall.

3. If we vote ‘tactically’ we’re in danger of saying that issues we might deem important can be shelved for the next four or five years. For example, for those who realise that dangerous climate change is the most critical issue facing the planet, then voting Lib Dem or Labour just to keep out the Tory seems of secondary importance. Instead, they have to put their principles first and vote for the candidate or party they think is most likely to push for real action on their core concerns. Even if not elected, the stronger the vote for someone close to those core concerns, the more likely it is that the tweeedledum/dee parties will take notice. Such voters cannot afford the luxury of voting tactically.

4. Finally, if we want to vote tactically then why stop at short-term, knee-jerk thinking? Some long-term calculations might suggest different conclusions. For instance, from a Cornish nationalist perspective, is propping up the Liberal Democrats the most sensible option? For at least half a century the Lib Dems have been the soft option for those seeking Cornish devolution. Yet in that half century the Cornish Lib Dems haven’t been able to convince the rest of their party to respect Cornish rights, as was seen in the devonwall vote. While a few individual Liberal Democrats may be worth supporting, the party as a whole has for too long taken the votes of Cornish patriots for granted. Their rhetoric has accompanied painfully slow progress, while their propensity for policy cock-ups has verged on the disastrous. For example, unitary local government badly undermined the case for a Cornish Assembly. Moreover, given their abject failure to confront the ongoing suburbanisation of Cornwall, if we sit around and wait for the Lib Dems to deliver there may be no recognisably distinct Cornish Cornwall left to fight for.

The Lib Dems lie like some giant sloth sprawled across the path to Cornish self-government. For MK or a future Cornish nationalist party to succeed, it will have to replace the Lib Dems, not prop it up. Ceding the ground to the Lib Dems only leads to the withering away of alternatives, as has happened in St Ives. In what was once its strongest district, MK in St Ives is almost defunct. The same now seems to be happening to the Greens. Only over the dead body of the Lib Dems will a more forceful pro-Cornish party emerge. So the logic for a Cornish nationalist might be to vote tactically against the Lib Dems, not for them.

Clearly, in our electoral system, with its built in ‘wasted’ votes, a proportion of voters will always vote for the lesser evil. However, they need to approach this decision case by case rather than apply it in a mindlessly blanket fashion. When is it really worth subjugating principles to a short-term negative tactic? Sometimes it might be, sometimes not. It depends on the candidates and the possibility of success.

There’s one scenario however when tactical voting would most definitely be worthwhile. For those who feel so strongly about ‘wasted’ votes, the remedy is simple. Make proportional representation and the reform of the voting system an absolute priority. When the non-Tory parties agree to make PR the central plank of their campaign then it’ll be worth voting tactically. But is there any sign of this?

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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.

Lib Dems walking the walk

Since the May Queen announced her pending coronation on June 8th there’s been a flurry of activity by Liberal Democrats in Cornwall. And some confusion.

First, the known knowns. To everyone’s huge delight Andrew George has reluctantly allowed himself to be convinced by squillions of people on Facebook to stand again against the evil Tory Derek Thomas in St Ives. At the joyous news folk in Penzance and St Ives were reported to be falling down in the streets with uncontrollable fits of ecstacy. Others began speaking in tongues. The price of saffron on the commodities exchange also rose by a couple of pence at the news before falling back to its normal level. Andrew is now be-friending all and sundry in the Facebook universe as the first part of his cunning plan to get elected.

More quietly and less dramatically, Dan Rogerson has confirmed what you read about here six days ago. He’ll definitely be a candidate in North Cornwall. Finally, something you also read here, Rob Nolan has announced his candidature at Truro & Falmouth.

Stephen Gilbert (right) and friend

Which leaves us with a known unknown. More surprising is the unconfirmed report in the West Brit that Stephen Gilbert has risen from the grave and is ‘set to challenge Steve Double‘ in St Austell & Newquay. Gilbert, who was fairly indistinguishable from the Tories in the coalition government from 2010-15, sank without trace after the last election. Indeed, many people in St Austell still haven’t realised he’s been replaced by Steve Double, so close are their politics.

Unlike George and Rogerson, Gilbert did not spend time working his old constituency and ensuring media coverage. Instead he was last heard of in March 2016 accepting a place on a postgraduate teaching course at St Austell, to begin last September. Surely the terrifying prospects of doing a useful job and teaching are not trumped by returning to the cosy Commons club?

The mystery deepens when we find that Joanna Kenny, Watford-born Cornwall Councillor for Newquay Pentire, is still listed on the Lib Dems’ official website as their ‘snap general election candidate’, campaigning on issues of dog shit and playgrounds. Kenny’s own Facebook page offers no hint of her candidature.

It was The Silent Majority (?) of St Austell Speak Out’s Facebook page that broke the shocking news yesterday morning of Gilbert’s candidacy. It claimed that Kenny had broken both her legs in a ski-ing accident (on a clay tip??) and been sadly forced to retire. Stephen Gilbert has therefore been hauled back into the frame, we have no knowledge of how unwillingly.

Fake news? It’s reliably reported that Steve Double, the most impressive of Cornwall’s trio of new Tory MPs, is not too perturbed by either prospect.

General election: the return of the Liberal Democrats?

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.)

On parachutists and paper candidates in Cornwall

In next month’s local elections the Liberal Democrats are proud to have achieved a first in Cornish political history. They’ve managed to stand a candidate in every single ward in Cornwall.

But what’s this? Look closely and we find a Liberal Democrat activist from Penzance standing in St Columb, another from Saltash popping up at Carharrack and a third in Redruth whose address is Crackington Haven. These last two face a 110 mile round-trip every time they visit their voters. If they bother to do so that is. For these are almost certainly what is known as paper candidates, people who have no discernible local connections and are effectively leant on to stand, having been assured that there’s no possibility of them ever getting elected.

There’s nothing new to the practice of parachuting candidates from other places into wards. The mainstream parties have indulged in this for some time, using reservoirs of party activists to top up areas where they are weak. Call me old-fashioned and naive, and no doubt the hard-nosed party fixer will, but I find this practice extremely cynical, exploiting the electorate’s lack of knowledge of how local government works and an interest in politics that extends only as far as the celebrity show on offer on TV. Party hacks might think it’s very clever but it also indicates a fundamental lack of importance ascribed to the local representation of local communities.

How can we measure the intensity of paper candidates? Although parachutists and paper candidates are not necessarily the same thing, one way is to compare the location of the ward with the address of the candidate, as provided in the official notice of poll. This isn’t foolproof. Some locally-based candidates may well have had their arms twisted and be effectively paper candidates, hoping that come May 4th they won’t find themselves elected. Others who live at a distance may have businesses or family ties in the ward they’re fighting. Others may be genuine candidates but prefer to live in rural spots while representing urban areas (or less often vice versa).

With these caveats in mind therefore, we can define potential paper candidates as those who do not live in the ward or in a neighbouring ward (or the same town if not neighbouring). For example, this includes those Labour candidates standing in Camborne, St Agnes and (two) at Truro, who all live in Falmouth. For the Conservatives, we find candidates who live in Truro standing in Redruth, while someone who lives in Perranporth stands in Truro. Meanwhile, a Tory candidate with an address in Mount Hawke stands in Wadebridge.

But the prize this time must go to the Lib Dems. The main source for Lib Dem parachutists is Penzance, with PZ-based candidates turning up as far away as St Columb and scattered from St Keverne to St Ives. One of their candidates in the Helston area admits openly to being a paper candidate. Unfortunately, this level of honesty is rare, but all those suspected of being paper candidates or parachutists will be marked as such on the ward lists at the Charter for Cornwall website.

Only 40% of Lib Dem candidates live in the ward they’re standing in. As many as 30% live more than one ward away, a somewhat higher proportion than the 22-23% of Tory and Labour candidates who also live at a distance. Meanwhile, parachutists seem virtually unknown among Independent, Green and especially MK candidates. Parachuting also seems to be on the increase since the last elections in 2013. Then, 15% of candidates lived at a distance from where they were standing. This time, it’s 18%.

Last time around the Lib Dems relied less on parachutes, leaving that to Ukip. And see what’s happened to them.

The Lib Dems’ cynical use of this ploy must also mean that any chatter about a so-called ‘progressive alliance’ in Cornwall is now dead in the water. For example, they are deliberately and disgracefully standing a candidate against Cornwall’s sole Green Party councillor, Tim Andrewes at St Ives (as are Labour), bringing someone in from Penzance to do the job and split the vote. Similarly, a Lib Dem in Bodmin has been provided with a parachute to descend on St Enoder and join a Tory from Mevagissey in opposing Dick Cole of MK.

Such behaviour is party tribalism at its worst. Just like the Tories’ announcement of a snap election today at the UK level, given recent by-election success the Lib Dems have sniffed the possibility of taking over Cornwall Council. Any idle talk of ‘progressive’ alliances is promptly binned as they resort to the widespread use of parachutists and paper candidates. The alternative might have been to rely on principles and policies, while giving a few Indy, Labour, Green and MK candidates a free run so as not to split the anti-Tory vote. Who knows, that might have helped erase the voters’ memories of their collaboration in the Tory coalition Government of 2010-15 and set up relations for the general election in June. But no. Sadly, they prefer to trust to the fickle memories of voters and the swing of the pendulum. And then they wonder why ordinary folk are so alienated from politics.

The strange re-birth of Liberal (Democratic) Cornwall 6: Should we trust the Lib Dems again?

The accumulated evidence of the last few blogs suggests that on the issues of devonwall, the Cornish Assembly, the cross-border constituency and housing growth, the Liberal Democrats have been all over the shop. Some consistently support devolution or condemn the transformation of Cornwall in the interests of wealthier migrants from south east England. Others do not. While, at some times, the rhetoric of Lib Dem manifestos supports a Cornish Assembly, at other times their actions totally bely this. Or at one level (parliamentary or council) Lib Dems might favour one course of action and at the other they favour the opposite.

It’s enough to make the average voter dizzy. Moreover, it’s difficult to know whether this chaotic diversity is the result of naivety and hopeless incompetency on the one hand, or deliberate disingenuity on the other. Because the Janus-faces of the Lib Dems serve a very useful purpose. It means they can avoid clear policy positions, running with the hares and with the hounds. They also serve a useful function for the powers that be. As long as the Lib Dems act as the outlet for pro-Cornish opinion, they render that opinion harmless.

Can Cornish Lib Dems overcome their past?
Can Cornish Lib Dems overcome their past?

At present, Lib Dems are making a lot of noise in opposition to Tory policies on the cross-border constituency or devolution. But only a few years ago when in coalition they were colluding in those same policies. Why should we believe them now? And which Lib Dems do we believe anyway? We’re even hearing the ludicrous argument that it was the Lib Dems who somehow stopped the Devonwall constituency (having previously effectively voted for it) before the last election by voting against going ahead with the boundary changes. No, Clegg and co. only pulled back from this because his proposed ‘reforms’ of the House of Lords were being scuppered by the Tories. It was nothing at all to do with the devonwall constituency.

It’s good that the Lib Dems are now opposing the Devonwall constituency. But we’ve been here several times before. The fact is that we can’t trust them to deliver; they’ve had enough opportunities to defend Cornwall and its people in the past and translate their windy rhetoric into matching deeds. Why should we give them another chance? Until there is evidence that Lib Dems in Cornwall can become more than a toothless regional branch of a party that has no clear sense of direction, a vote for them is ultimately a wasted vote. We really cannot afford to go on propping them up and prolonging our agony in this way.

Indeed, even if you’re willing to give the Lib Dems in Cornwall yet another chance and if you put more faith in their promises than their record and are less jaded and cynical than I am, the rational option is not to vote for them. To keep them on the right path, it’s essential to ensure they’re afraid of losing support to a party that’s a bit more radical on Cornish devolution, devonwall and border-blurring. Only by steady pressure from more consistent campaigners for Cornish communities, can the Lib Dems be kept on the path of righteousness. Their fear of being outflanked on Cornish issues is our one hope, in the absence of the new democratic settlement that they don’t appear to seek.