Constituency review 2: Mid-Cornwall – Truro/Falmouth and St Austell/Newquay

The two mid-Cornwall constituencies are very different but at the same time deceptively similar. Different in that Truro & Falmouth was the only constituency to have voted Remain last year while St Austell & Newquay was the most inclined to Brexit. Different too in that Truro & Falmouth has the highest number of well-paid, public sector workers and the electorate with the highest qualifications. It’s also the one part of Cornwall which has benefited from globalization, although paying the price for this with mounting capacity issues and environmental pressures. Meanwhile, St Austell & Newquay has the lowest number of highly educated voters and economically has … well, Newquay.

But they’re also similar. Both have a solid bedrock Tory vote of near half the electorate on current predictions, but with some uncertainty about who’s in the best position to challenge the incumbent. Both have Tory MPs who might not be all they appear to be.

In St Austell & Newquay Steve Double comfortably won the seat in 2015 by over 8,000 votes. Part of his appeal lay in his evangelical religious background, attracting those who pray for a return of strong family values. That didn’t last too long though, as a year after the election Steve’s affair with his young case worker came to light, triggering much outrage and shock from some of his constituents.

Steve and friend

Nonetheless, this doesn’t seem to have harmed his chances. Quite the opposite in fact, as his support has grown faster than any of our Tory MPs if polls are to be believed. There may be a lesson here for those who believe in traditional family values. Or more likely he’s getting the benefit of the large Ukip vote (the highest in Cornwall) in St Austell & Newquay in 2015. With no Ukip candidate this time, these voters will most likely swallow any doubts and swing behind him.

Among the predictable platitudes, Steve Double is working to bring a spaceport to Newquay, handy for all those Martians who might fancy a holiday and snap up a second home on the coast while they’re about it. In similar science fiction mode, he promises us that all EU money will be replaced by Westminster. If you believe that, then you’re presumably already letting out your spare room via Airbnb to those same Martians.

Previous Lib Dem MP Stephen Gilbert is in a fight for second place but has zero to little chance of unseating Double. Gilbert’s campaign got off to a rocky start when he cocked up the date of the election, thus confusing the folk of St Austell & Newquay even more than usual. Then it was alleged he’d called the two thirds of voters in the constituency who’d voted for Brexit ‘fuckwits’ in a tweet just after last year’s referendum (in the bargain doing it from Greece, just to make the EU obsessives go really apeshit).

Gilbert, memorably described in 2015 by a miffed Steve Double as a ‘master of half-truths and misrepresentations’ is now desperately pleading for ‘tactical’ voting. This could be a joke, but he cites ‘independent analysis’ that shows that ‘voting Labour in St Austell & Newquay will lead to a Tory’. Which is a bit of an odd claim as voting Lib Dem in 2010 also led to a Tory, namely himself. His voting record in 2010-15 was in fact pretty indistinguishable from the Tories and he was even rumoured at one stage to be considering deserting the Lib Dems for the Tories.

In any case, the ‘independent analysis’ is no such thing. It’s a quick guess by TacticalVoting 2017 based purely on the results last time. Given that the pollsters are informing us that Labour’s Kevin Neil is vying with Gilbert for second place, with both at least 20 points behind the Tory, the blanket tactical voting zealots are merely succeeding in sowing even more confusion.

As they are in the other mid-Cornwall seat of Truro & Falmouth. Here, Labour’s Jayne Kirkham looks to have momentum (!) and be firmly established as the clear alternative to the sitting MP Sarah Newton, the thinking person’s Theresa May. The latest YouGov prediction has Kirkham a full 11 points ahead of the Lib Dems and an equal amount behind Newton. Yet, bizarrely, TacticalVoting 2017 is still ‘advising’ people to vote Lib Dem in Truro & Falmouth and thus waste their vote. The Labour surge in Truro & Falmouth (mainly the latter) comes despite a far more competent and convincing Lib Dem candidate than last time in the shape of local Truro councillor Rob Nolan.

During the last election, I wrote that Sarah Newton floated serenely above the political fray, living in an Alice in Wonderland world where Tories never lied and where cutting disability benefits was a shining example of ‘improving people’s lives’. Little has changed. She still utters vacuous nonsense at regular intervals and gives every impression of actually believing it. Yet somehow I can’t shake off the impression that, behind the bland Stepford-wife exterior, lurks something darker and far more menacing. Anyway, she looks to be the perfect Tory for this most middle class and academically qualified of Cornwall’s constituencies, one where most folk moan about the developer-led destruction of their environment but do little about it as long as they can get parked at Waitrose.

There are a couple of other candidates here. The Green Party’s Amanda Pennington should have been looking to capitalise on the student and heart-on-the-sleeve liberal vote in this constituency. But that’s been dashed by the Labour surge and the mindless rush to vote ‘tactically’ for the wrong candidate. Although, oddly for a Green candidate, she’s in favour of expanding Newquay airport, Amanda is worth considering as, realistically, Labour won’t win here. Or at least, not in this election.

A vote for the Greens would also be a good idea in order to outpoll Ukip’s sole candidate in Cornwall, Duncan Odgers. He promises to fight ‘for the rights of the electorate’ who of course now have their country (and ours) back. Worryingly however, Duncan appears to think Ukip’s Paul Nuttall is ‘agenda setting’. Those whom the Gods … etc. At least he appeared on the Sunday Politics show wearing a Cornish rugby shirt and advertising Tribute. Pity about the accent though.

In short, in both the mid-Cornwall constituencies the Tory is too far ahead to be seriously threatened. Calls for ‘tactical’ voting are misplaced and serve merely to confuse. They can be safely ignored as the real battle is to claim bragging rights as the best placed challenger at the next election.

Corbyn’s crew enter Cornish lists: Labour candidates named

In a brilliant bit of timing and a blaze fizzle of publicity, the Labour Party quietly announced its ‘Cornwall’ general election candidates a week ago. This was just as the TMaybot’s team descended on Cornwall to bark ‘strong and stable’ as much as they could at the travelling media circus while locking local reporters in a small room. Only a few days later Labour’s announcement wasn’t exactly front page news in the press on the day of the local elections. Perhaps it was in the ‘volunteers wanted’ section.

So who are the horny-handed sons and daughters of toil who will lead the ‘Cornwall’ masses to the sunny uplands of Corbynia, a curious mixture of the 1970s and 1940s, a place where everyone is friendly and smile at each other all day while earnestly not making up their minds about Brexit.

Anyone volunteering to be Labour candidate in the two eastern constituencies must have a strong death wish. North Cornwall is the most torrid territory for Labour, which just managed to save its deposit there in 2015. Their candidate this time is Joy Bassett, an Anglican lay minister in Bodmin who works at the family’s solicitors’ firm. She’ll be trying not to get squeezed by the Lib Dems (an awful fate at the best of times.)

The young Labour candidate in South East Cornwall made news last time around by disappearing on holiday with his mum halfway through the campaign. Traditionally, Labour in South East Cornwall has turned to Plymouth as a useful store of potential candidates and this time is no exception. Their more credible candidate comes in the shape of 59 year old Gareth Derrick who lives in Ivybridge. You may remember – well, you probably won’t – that he was Labour’s candidate in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2016.

Gareth’s experience of 36 years in the Royal Navy, where he ended up as a commander, and a subsequent business background in management consultancy, defence contracting and a ‘development’ company should enable him to stand up well to Sheryll Murray, if he gets the chance. Labour in South East Cornwall are actually only 4,000 votes behind the Lib Dems, who have looked on helplessly as the social basis of Liberalism in the constituency – the chapel and the Cornish working class – has disintegrated. The area has suffered large-scale gentrification, which has transformed it into a safe Tory seat.

In St Austell & Newquay and in St Ives, Labour also came fourth in 2015 and with very similar proportions of the vote – 9-10% – as in the South East. Kevin Neil in St Austell & Newquay is described as a ‘former resident’ who’s been back working in Cornwall since 2016. Kevin believes in democratic socialism and is working with Momentum trying to introduce such ideas to the Parliamentary Labour Party.

In St Ives Labour has chosen Chris Drew, a Cornish born and bred community worker and scion of a well-known Penzance family. Chris says he will offer a ‘real alternative’. It’ll be interesting however to see how much effort Labour puts into this seat, in the face of Lib Dem Andrew George’s desperate pleas for a ‘progressive alliance’. There are still 4,500 Labour votes up for grabs and George needs as many of those as possible to stand any chance at all against the fundamentalist-Brexit margins of Cornish politics.

Labour’s best two performances in 2015 came in Truro & Falmouth, where they scored 15% and almost beat the Lib Dems into second place, and Camborne and Redruth, where they did beat the Lib Dems (into fourth place) and got 25% of the vote. In Truro & Falmouth Jayne Kirkham is their candidate. She moved to Falmouth in 2006 and is a Labour member because she ‘believes in equality’. For her sake, let’s hope there are some redistributive policies with real teeth in their manifesto then.

Camborne and Redruth is Labour’s only realistic hope, but it’s still a very slim one. Trailing George Eustice by 7,000 votes in 2015, they need to ruthlessly squeeze every last Lib Dem vote, given the 7,000 Ukip voters who will, it’s reliably reported, have no Ukip candidate to vote for and will turn like sheep to what they think is a ‘strong and stable’ sheepdog but which turns out to be a ravenous wolf that’ll eat them alive.

Labour’s candidate has to be an improvement on Michael Foster, who they cruelly inflicted on the long-suffering local citizenry last time. This time they’re putting up a local resident who, to my knowledge, doesn’t have a second home. Graham Winter works as a senior advisor in waste management, a useful training for the House of Commons one might have thought. Born in Barnsley, he moved to Camborne in 2005 and is involved in various local activities.

Postscript: the Liberal Democrats in Camborne and Redruth are still keeping the identity of their candidate under wraps, while their websites seem to have been last updated in 2010. Here’s a suggestion for them – save your money and don’t bother.