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.

Truro & Falmouth: Coalition the popular choice

It’s fortunate that the Truro and Falmouth constituency has the highest number of voters with degrees and a university campus or two within its boundaries. For here, alone in Cornwall, or any other place in this benighted election for that matter, the issue of neoliberalism has become an explicit subject for the hustings. You won’t actually meet the word neoliberal in any of the Westminster parties’ manifestos though. And the Con/Lab/Lib gang don’t exactly flag up their commitment to neoliberalism on TV. But signed up to it they are.

Neoliberals don’t need to stand for election as such as the whole of the global elite has since the 1980s rushed to embrace this caustic, dangerous and delusional ideology. More than that, they’ve worked their socks off to promote a neoliberal economy and society. This is the ideology that daily informs us that the richer you are the more wealth you create, where the poor are responsible for the crises of financial capitalism and must pay the price, where every man and woman is an island, where the planet itself is ransacked in the interests of a tiny minority of the population. This is the disastrous show that all the Westminster parties (and Ukip) work desperately to keep on the road.

In Truro and Falmouth however, David has confronted Goliath. Four of the candidates have declared themselves openly against neoliberalism. Meanwhile four of the others are in favour of it or don’t understand what it’s about and the ninth is god knows where on this issue as well as most other issues.

All nine Truro and Falmouth candidates at a hustings
All nine Truro and Falmouth candidates at a hustings

The most coherent case against neoliberalism is being put by Stan Guffogg of the Principles of Politics Party. Stan has come up with what must be the best line of any over the Cornish election campaign – ‘Think about stuff! Better than you do at the moment’. Of course, as the most principled candidate, he’s guaranteed to come last. Unfortunately, the other anti-neoliberal candidates will be struggling with the don’t know/don’t care candidate for fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth places. Which might hint that even the voters of Truro and Falmouth need to think a hell of a lot more than they do at present.

Nice. Transforming Truro into a neoliberal, consumerist, over-congested wasteland.
Nice. Transforming Truro into a neoliberal, consumerist, over-congested wasteland.

The other three sensible anti-neoliberals include Karen Westbrook, who’s injected some energy and enthusiasm into the Green campaign. She claims the Green surge, which peaked back in January everywhere else, has mysteriously reappeared in Falmouth. Proving that they’re more than two scats behind down there. Her facebook site has attracted some interest, plus predictable comments such as the person who believes ‘all the parties are manipulated from [a] higher controlling force.’ Calm down, dear; it’s called capitalism.

Rik Evans of the National Health Action Party is on record as opposing privatisation for at least ten years, from a time when the Labour Party was quite keen on it, Although they’re not now. Categorically not. In fact they’re going to ‘save’ the NHS. Honest, guv. Rik’s been keen to have a debate on the NHS with the sitting Tory MP Sarah Newton but she’s been a tad reluctant. A bit like David Cameron in his Oxfordshire seat. I wonder why.

Stephen Richardson of MK is the only explicitly socialist candidate standing. He has a tough task however as the previous MK candidate, later Tory, now Independent Loic Rich, mayor of Truro, is also standing. He’ll no doubt siphon away any potential MK votes, despite now thinking that a Cornish Assembly would be ‘a bit of a distraction’. From what is unclear. Loic is playing the Truro boy card and has a respectable poster presence in the town.

Moving to the neoliberal side, there’s John Hyslop of Ukip. He’s a consultant at Treliske who offers a ‘Cornish voice in Ukip’s NHS policy’ but also seems to think making ‘St George’s Day a bank holiday’ is of relevance to us in Cornwall. Though confused, he seems civilised enough. More that is than some of the thoughtful and well reasoned commentators on his facebook page, such as ‘we cannot let this fascist dictator Sturgeon rule our country!!!’ with the mandatory three exclamation marks that denote the barking mad. Funny, I thought it was the EU that ruled ‘our country’.

For Labour, we’ve the curious and frankly incredible spectacle of the distinctly unimaginative, though well-meaning, union man Stuart Roden welcoming the endorsement from hairy-chested celebrity pseudo-anarchist Russell Brand.

If that’s unexpected, then even more unexpected would be victory for the Lib Dem’s Simon Rix. The Lib Dems came second here last time but their campaign doesn’t have the feel of victory about it. Rix, who can’t tell a Cornish Assembly from Cornwall Council, claims to see no green surge in Falmouth. Instead the town is ‘turning gold again’. Perhaps he meant ‘turning cold again’ – bleddy weather. Anyhow, he’s ‘your local champion’ and ‘on your side’ and refers to a website misnamed ‘Vote Smart’. This humorously calls for ‘left of centre’ voters to vote for him in Truro rather than any of the five further left candidates available. As ‘Vote Smart’ also recommends Liberal Democrats for the discerning ‘left of centre’ voter in every single Cornish constituency, including Camborne-Redruth, it’s either an elaborate spoof or should be renamed ‘Vote Liberal Democrat and act like a gullible idiot’.

Which is precisely what the majority who vote in Truro and Falmouth are set to do on Thursday. Not vote Lib Dem though, but vote for that nice Tory Sarah Newton.

Too nice to vote against
Too nice to vote against

Sarah may have floated spectrally over mid-Cornwall since 2010, an insubstantial phantasm wrapped inside an enigma, seemingly obliviously unaware of the tawdry business of Tory politics, with its naked appeal to the selfish and the greedy. In Sarah’s world Tories never lie, education in Cornwall is ‘world-class’, you need a commission stuffed with the great and good to find out why people are having to use food banks, and it never rains in Truro or Falmouth. Nonetheless, despite, or perhaps because of, her Alice in Wonderland approach to politics, she exudes quiet confidence, effortlessly batting away what she terms Lib Dem ‘dirty tricks’. Although by Lib Dem standards they look like normal campaigning to most people. No matter, Truro and Falmouth is set to return the nice Ms Newton again, and remain safe for neoliberalism, developers and consumers young and old.

Hoping to be proved very wrong, here’s my prediction …

1. Newton (neoliberal Con) 37%
2. Rix (neoliberal LD) 21%
3. Roden (neoliberal Lab) 15%
4. Hyslop (neoliberal Ukip) 12%
5. Westbrook (anti-neoliberal GP) 9%
6. Evans (anti-neoliberal NHAP) 2%
7. Rich (Ind) 2%
8. Richardson (anti-neoliberal MK) 1%
9. Guffogg (anti-neoliberal POP) <1%

Party donations in Cornwall update

Back in February I revealed the sources of local party donations received in 2014. I’m updating that blog here and extending the coverage back to January 2011, although that earlier piece contains some information not repeated here, for instance about individual donors in Cornwall. All donations to a constituency party above £1,500 have to be reported to the Electoral Commission. The following analysis is based on details of donations provided on the Commission’s website for the period from 1st January 2011 to now.

Here’s the headline picture by party.

Donations of £1,500+ Jan 2011-Jan 2015

Type of donor Conservative Liberal Democrat Labour Ukip Greens MK
Local individuals £16,287 £64,858 £2,500 none none none
External donors £38,436 none none none none none
Companies £14,188 £2,000 £119,121 none none none
Total £68,911 £66,858 £121,621 none none none

While the Greens and MK turned to crowdfunding to fund their campaigns we can see why the three Westminster parties didn’t need to bother with such small stuff. Nonetheless, there are interesting differences between the three neo-liberal, centr[al]ist parties. For instance, 44% of Tory donations came from outside Cornwall. The United and Cecil Club gave £5,000 to Steve Double’s campaign in St Austell and Newquay, another £5,000 to Derek Thomas at St Ives and £2,100 to George Eustice in Camborne and Redruth.

This organisation is described as ‘low profile’ and is registered at a stables in Iver, Bucks run by a former tobacco lobbyist. It’s also the bunch that organised a Tory fundraising bash in Knightsbridge, estimated to have raised at least £100,000 from the assorted super-rich who attended. Basically, it’s a conduit for channelling cash to Tory marginals, in the process providing some anonymity for its donors. Steve Double has also been boosted by another £4,187 from the Tandridge Club, another shadowy organisation based in Surrey and one with presumably the same function as the United and Cecil Club.

Nevertheless, the Tories receive the bulk of their local donations from local party organisations, although this was heavily concentrated in just two constituencies – St Austell and South East Cornwall. The rest came from companies. George Eustice at Camborne and Redruth was presumably grateful for £2,000 from FalFish, of Cardrew Industrial Estate, Redruth. Meanwhile, the Offshore Group of Newcastle (north of Bude), a firm involved in offshore oil and gas and renewable energy gave £10,000, split evenly between Sarah Newton at Truro and Sheryll Murray in South East Cornwall. With no obvious connections with Cornwall the fact that this compnay chose to support the two Tories best placed to retain their seats may be interesting. Not much chance of getting Sarah and Sheryll voting to stop further public subsidies for offshore oil and gas exploration then. Sarah was also given £2,188 by the local branch of London investment company FC Fund Managers.

What about the other wing of the coalition Government, the Lib Dems? Only Andrew George at St Ives has received a donation direct from business. He got £2,000 from the Chadwick brothers of Falmouth, who own the fashion firm Seasalt. The other Lib Dem candidates, while rather surprisingly funded overall almost as well as the Tories, seem to be dependent on individuals rather than businesses or organisations. But the vast bulk of the money collected for the Lib Dems was in just two constituencies – St Austell and Newquay and Camborne and Redruth. Rather curiously, in marginal North Cornwall neither Lib Dem incumbent nor Tory challenger seem to have been recipients of any donations since 2011.

But the really big money locally has been flowing to the Labour Party. Or more precisely one Labour candidate – Michael Foster at Camborne and Redruth. His campaign has benefited from £119,121 of donations over the past year, £42,727 to pay for ‘administrative services’ and £76, 392 described as ‘other’, maybe including payment for the rather well-produced newspapers which have been regularly falling onto local doormats over the past year.

This money all comes from Fostermco Ltd, whose sole director is – you’ve guessed it – media entrepreneur and millionaire Michael Foster. The company appeared to have had a paid up capital of ten pence in June 2014. This self-proclaimed ‘new’ sort of politician actually seems to have reverted to the rather old 18th century practice of buying your constituency. Fostermco has also given £191,766 in cash donations to central Labour Party funds in the last couple of years, as well as £4,000 to Enfield North and £1,000 to Finchley CLPs.

Vlad the Impaler, flip-flops and fair play: the election in mid-Cornwall

It’s still ominously quiet in the two constituencies of Truro & Falmouth and St Austell & Newquay. In Truro, Sarah Newton curiously thought it was a vote-winner to ask Iain Duncan Smith to visit. This took place in that strange ToryWorld where £12 billion more welfare cuts is an example of ‘improving people’s lives’. As a shiver of fear ran through the disabled and vulnerable across the land, Radio Cornwall interviewed Duncan Smith about ‘welfare support’, which is a bit like asking Vlad the Impaler for his views on blood transfusion.

Sarah and Vlad visit a centre for the jobless
Sarah and Vlad visit a centre for the jobless

While Sarah was hosting Vlad, Ukip’s John Hyslop was inviting Paul Holmes, leader of Cornwall’s equally long-dead Liberal Party, to address Ukip’s Truro constituency AGM. The Liberals were formerly supporters of a Cornish Assembly but presumably now feel, like their new chums, that it’s all a European plot. Strange times.

The Green Party’s new candidate Karen Westbrook was down at Falmouth joining a demo by University of Falmouth students against cuts in contemporary arts courses. All the protesting students assured Karen they were going to vote for her. So now all she has to do is persuade them to register and then get up before the polls close.

Meanwhile, what about the others, the (five) dwarves to Sarah Newton’s Snow White? They’ve all been too busy doing other stuff (or perhaps some of them are actually out leafleting and canvassing instead of producing an avalanche of old-style paper-pleading) to dent this media image. Simon Rix for the Lib Dems can’t be bothered with Facebook any more. But he still found time to pop up on Spotlight calling for the abolition of Police Commissioners. This couldn’t possibly be the same Police Commissioners our hapless three Cornish Lib Dem MPs all voted to introduce in 2011 could it?

While Simon was frantically flip-flopping in time-honoured Lib Dem tradition, Labour’s Stuart Roden, wearing his UNISON hat, was ‘pragmatically’ supporting the amalgamation of police services with Dorset while drawing the line at privatisation. As yet it’s unclear whether, wearing his Labour hat, he’ll also draw the line at something his party was quite keen on from 1997 to 2010.

MK’s Stephen Richardson was asking for money. Unlike Labour, MK has no millionaires or East End actors to call on; unlike the Tories it has no shady organisations in the Home Counties funnelling hedge fund money their way; unlike the Lib Dems it has no idiots willing to dig into their pockets for a lost cause. Ex-MK candidate Loic Rich, now Independent via a detour among the Tories, was too busy being mayor of Truro while Rik Evans of the National Health Action Party also has a surprisingly subdued online presence, given the steady drip feed of news about a disintegrating NHS.

Moving east to neighbouring St Austell & Newquay, sitting Lib Dem MP Stephen Gilbert was enthusiastically re-tweeting a tweet from a new member.
maynard tweetExcept that it would have been more convincing evidence for a huge turn to Stephen in order to ditch the dastardly Tories if only Mr Maynard hadn’t been a Lib Dem candidate at the Mevagissey by-election last November. Perhaps he left and then re-joined. Stephen followed this patent act of desperation with a fierce attack on Labour’s record on privatising the NHS.
gilbert tweet nhsIn case voters in St Austell are forgetful, at this point we have to perform a public service and remind them Stephen Gilbert also voted moderately in favour of the Tories’ ‘reform’ of the NHS. While we’re at it he voted 98.4% of the time with the Tory/Lib Dem governing coalition in the last parliament. (Dan Rogerson in North Cornwall voted with them 97.8% of the time and even Andrew George managed 92.4% support.)

Turning from one government loyalist to another, the Tory Tory Steve Double might be forgiven for getting a little over-confident. Confidence oozing from every pore, he told us he was lying in bed (too much information Steve) contemplating his role in the next coalition government and looking forward to being in the Commons for the next Prime Minister’s Questions circus. Those whom the gods wish to destroy etc …

Labour’s Deborah Hopkins continues to churn out Facebook posts as if they were going out of fashion. She kindly informs us of scores of Labour pledges, including building 200,000 houses a year, ‘focusing on’ (?) social housing. That’s Newquay accounted for then so what about a few more for other places? But where’s Labour’s pledge to reduce the deficit by £30 billion? Or Ed Ball’s pledge not to raise any of those nasty taxes, thus condemning us to even more ‘sensible’ cuts?

Come on Nige, another Tribute can't hurt you
Come on Nige, another Tribute can’t hurt you

If Deborah leaves us a little confused on that issue, that’s nothing compared with the confusion we encounter when consulting the website of Ukip’s David Mathews. This can only charitably be described as a complete mess. A quote from William Wallace (of Braveheart, not Bugle), photo of a quizzical Nigel Farage and other stuff jostle for space with ‘100 reasons to vote Ukip’. Be warned though. Anyone intrigued by how there can be 100 reasons when they’re struggling to come up with one will need the patience of Job. In fact, given the average age of Ukip fanciers, they may well have expired long before the page has uploaded.

The Greens’ Steve Slade is fairly invisible in the media, presumably soliciting votes rather than surfing. Meanwhile Dick Cole of MK was coming over all presidential on the Daily Politics Show, beamed at us from the imperialists’ Sodom and Gomorrah of London. Make the most of it as this is probably the last time we’ll see any MK candidate on the telly this side of May 7th. The BBC will now be putting in place its traditional ban on any mention of the party over the election period. Already BBC SW has excluded MK, along with TUSC and the Communist Party of Britain, from its election Question Time in Plymouth. For some reason MK seems peeved they have to put up just 89 candidates to get a party political broadcast, while the SNP only has to stand ten, Plaid seven and Sinn Fein three for the same privilege. If only there was another party calling for a fair deal for Cornwall.

Truro and Falmouth constituency review: candidates galore

If candidates keep appearing at this rate in Truro and Falmouth, the constituency may have more candidates than voters come May. Not that this is particularly bad news for the incumbent, Conservative Sarah Newton. With votes split across the spectrum she seems set fair to retain her seat on a third of the vote or less. With the normal recent level of turnout this suggests that she only needs the active support of one voter in five to win. Which might suggest a growing crisis of legitimacy here and elsewhere in Cornwall for our parliamentary representatives. If anything, this is likely to grow, as it seems possible that the Tories will take all six Cornish seats with only around 30% of the vote.

The acceptable face of modern Conservatism?
Sarah Newton (53) is a typical example of the modern Conservative Party. On the surface she seems quite acceptable. But you can’t escape the nagging feeling there’s something less appealing and more worrying hiding behind the bland exterior. Yet, although one might harbour doubts about some of her colleagues on the Tory benches, there seems no solid reason to assume that she’s either an alien or a Stepford wife. Or that she wasn’t born, as is claimed, in Gloucestershire or brought up in Falmouth. Now living at Mylor, she has ‘family roots stretching back for generations’ in the constituency. She was also Director of Age Concern in the 1990s. But before that, there were spells as a banker with Citibank and American Express.

She also has a ‘vision’ for 2020. This turns out to be the usual end of history capitalist utopia. We’ll all be in well-paid jobs, have higher incomes, better access to healthcare and will ‘cherish’ the environment and our communities. Farming and fishing will ‘thrive’, Cornwall’s communities will be ‘in charge’ and connected, their residents will be fulfilling their potential (as consumers and wage slaves presumably). Hmmmm, nice. And all this is to happen within five years. The exact road map from vindictive austerity politics to the sunlit hills of contentment aren’t exactly spelt out though.

Sarah, like our other MPs, lives in a strange parallel universe where support for the Government has little connection with everyday lives back in Cornwall. For instance, she’s pleased that the woodlands remain in public ownership. Yet confusingly she voted very strongly for privatising those same woodlands a few years ago. In fact, she’s been a super-loyal Government supporter, a ‘caring Conservative’ who’s nonetheless voted for the whole package of vicious cuts while colluding in the handing over of massive benefits to the rich and corporations.

Voters in Penryn  overheard criticising the coalition
Voters in Penryn overheard criticising the coalition

In Sarah’s parallel universe the Government’s actions are relegated to some sepia-tinged dream world which has no impact on local services or decision-making and has nothing to do with her. Instead, she sees the glass as always half-full as she spends ‘a lot of time listening to local people. Most tell me what a good job the Government is doing’. Is she only choosing to talk to a very select sample or doesn’t she get out and about much? The disconnection between image and reality is nicely illustrated by her recommendation of a ‘great article’ in the Times. This is ‘very positive’ about ‘happy Britain’. But reality intrudes. Try to access this good news and you’ll find the article is hidden behind a paywall and unavailable without signing up to a load of other Murdoch media propaganda, a good metaphor for modern Conservatism perhaps.

This jarring disconnection also emerged when her father, John Hick, was found to have mis-used up to £2 million taken in excess service charges from holiday home owners on his holiday estate at Falmouth. The money had been used for, among other things, wining and dining. Local calls for Hick, chairman of a local tourist and business organisation, to resign and hand back his MBE were met by a brusque ‘I do not think my father should resign his position as chairman of Falmouth BID or the Falmouth Tall Ships Association or return his MBE’ from Sarah.

The three chasers

If we leave Sarah no wiser than we met her, we can move on to her three nearest challengers in order of their current support in the polls. Currently in second place according to those polls is the most recently selected candidate, Dr John Hyslop of Ukip. John grew up in Welwyn Garden City but moved to Cornwall to take up a post as consultant radiologist at Treliske in 1985. In his early 60s and living in Falmouth, this can’t be the same John Hyslop who stood as Lib Dem candidate in Feock in 2009, can it?

Labour is in third place in the polls. Its candidate is Hanna Toms, who has sound local roots, born in Truro, schooled on the Roseland and now Cornwall Councillor for Falmouth Penwerris. She’s a former youth worker and an IT support helpdesk manager. Hannah combines Labour’s rather ineffective ‘cost of living crisis’ campaign with local issues. She points out how tourism and second homes push prices up while keeping wages low. She also publicly welcomed the granting of national minority status to the Cornish last year, which was nice. Although, when the temporary excitement wore off, she was back to the more familiar centralising Labourism when she dismissed calls for a Cornish Assembly. Like Deborah Hopkins in neighbouring St Austell and Newquay, she joined Labour after being disgusted at the Lib Dems’ Great Betrayal in 2010. Labour morale has presumably rallied after their low point when previous candidate in 2005 and 2010, Charlotte Mackenzie, left the party after being suspended following ‘alleged breaches of the Data Protection Act‘.

In fourth place in the polls is Simon Rix for the Lib Dems. Its seems like just a bad dream now that at one point the Lib Dems actually thought Truro and Falmouth would be winnable. Simon (43) is now an also-ran, despite having that shape-shifting, rather vague career profile common to the parliamentary class. He’s been described variously as a marketing professional, business advisor and book publisher and was at one time head of public engagement at Treliske. He lives in Bugle which he also represents on Cornwall Council. Although born in Exeter, Simon has ‘deep family roots‘ in Truro and Falmouth. These are a little elusive however as they seem to amount to his mother being married in Truro in the 1950s and his brother being born in St Agnes. That would give the Camerons’ offspring deep family roots too.

The unlucky Simon was pitched into a scandal almost as soon as he was selected as candidate. His friend, who just happened to be Tim Farron, the Lib Dem President, was revealed to have rung around local Lib Dems urging them to vote for him rather than popular, local Lib Dem councillor Rob Nolan. In the event Simon got the nod, leading one Lib Dem parish councillor to leave the party for Ukip in disgust. Since then, he’s also tangled with the anti-wind turbine brigade. They felt his involvement in the past advising wind energy companies compromised his judgement on a local turbine application. Luxulyan Parish Council passed a vote of no confidence in him.

Recovering from that political blow, Simon declares himself in favour of ‘stronger, fairer Cornwall’. Like all Lib Dems (and Sarah Newton come to that) he seems blind to the fact that his party has been part of government for five years and has had ample opportunity to bestow some of that fairness in a westerly direction. He also says ‘it’s clear, only a vote for me and the Lib Dems can secure a new, better government’. If anything is clear, its clear that a vote for him and the Lib Dems next May is wasted and that in any case a vote for the Lib Dems is very likely to secure the same government as we’ve already got. Simon’s claims to be able to foresee the outcome of the election in Truro and Falmouth in this way should be taken with a very large pinch of salt. For this is the same Simon Rix who, when standing at Croydon South in 2010, confidently claimed that he was ‘neck and neck’ with the Tories. That’s ‘neck and neck’ as in Tory 28,684 votes and Simon 12,866, just pipping Labour for second place.

A rainbow of others

Newquay street on a Sunday morning
Newquay street on a Sunday morning

The Greens polled strongly in Truro and Falmouth in last year’s constituency polling, gaining 8%, as high as in their target seat of St Ives. Yet their candidate here, Sharron Kelsey, has so far been fairly invisible. She is rumoured to live in Newquay so, as a former aid worker in Somalia and Palestine, she should feel at home. She’s issued a rather vague statement – ‘Cornwall has the potential for a prosperous sustainable economy that everyone can benefit from whilst supporting and improving the environment we live in‘. Oh dear, this looks like a slightly more environmentally friendly version of Sarah Newton’s meaningless politico-babble ‘vision’ than the radical politics we might expect from the Greens.

Truro and Falmouth’s profile might actually make it quite a good prospect for the Greens, or for progressive politics more generally. It has the lowest number expressing an explicit English identity (and thus a likely tendency to vote Ukip), it has by far the most educated electorate in Cornwall and the highest number of young voters and students. It’s the most middle class and least working class constituency, with the lowest proportion suffering severe deprivation.

The Tremough campus - educating the voters or merely boosting the student vote?
The Tremough campus – educating the voters or merely boosting the student vote?

The presence of an articulate middle class, many of whom work or worked in the public sector – in local government, the health service and higher education – resonates with two other issues in this constituency. These are mounting concerns over the destruction of the countryside in pursuit of mindless housing and population growth and the associated pressure on infrastructure and congestion, and the state of the NHS.

The Tregurra Valley gets destroyed in the pursuit of supermarket competition and Duchy profits
The Tregurra Valley gets destroyed in the pursuit of supermarket competition and Duchy profits

Sarah Newton has called for Cornwall Council to reduce its housing target to 33,000 houses from the proposed 47,500. But she’s prone to believe government ministers when they assure her it’s all a decision for local authorities and nothing at all to do with developer-friendly central government planning rules or Pickle’s hit squad of planning inspectors riding roughshod over local communities. Honest, guv. This misapprehension that ‘localism’ actually means what it says is either evidence of extreme gullibility or makes Sarah the perfect front for corporate politics. Meanwhile, both Hanna Toms and Simon Rix voted for the Council’s housing target of 47,500 and neither has been spotted vigorously condemning the high rate of housing and population growth being stoked up in Cornwall.

However, MK’s candidate in this constituency, Stephen Richardson, is making the concreting of Cornwall a central plank in his campaign. Stephen, originally from the West Midlands, is a fish and chip owner in Illogan in neighbouring Camborne-Redruth. Paralleling and predating his conversion to Cornishness is a career switch from legal consultancy and conveyancing to the restaurant trade. Stephen has been an active blogger, is a parish councillor and describes himself as a socialist. he’s a living example of the adage that it’s not important where you come from, but where you decide to fight. If there were more who threw themselves into the struggle for Cornish recognition MK would have less difficulty in breaking through.

Unlikely to describe himself as a socialist is Loic Rich, who’s standing in Truro and Falmouth as an Independent. Loic (41), a copywriter, freelance journalist and composer/singer grew up and still lives in Truro and is currently its mayor. He was also MK’s candidate in 2010, which nicely complicates matters for Stephen. Having joined MK in 2008, he abandoned them in 2011, joining the Tories. Another two years on and he’d dumped them too and become an independent. MK claimed to be surprised at his moonlit flit to the Tories. But they ought to have been warned by his answers to an online candidate opinion survey in 2010. Then, he coudn’t bring himself to agree that higher earners needed to pay more tax, even though he was in favour of increased spending on welfare. He was also against tackling climate change aggressively. When joining the Tories he stated he could not remain in a party ‘in deliberate denial of the UK’s economic and social needs’. Which might be why he’s left them again.

The other big issue in Truro is the NHS as the constituency hosts the Royal Cornwall Hospital at Treliske, on which services have been aggressively centralised. Sarah Newton voted very strongly for the Health and Social Care Act. This opened up the road to privatisation and the Hospital Trust duly voted to privatise its portering and ‘hotel’ services last May.

As a consultant at the hospital Ukip’s John Hyslop has stated ‘our health services must be protected from external pressures, EU regulations and topdown interference’. He is against further use of the costly and inefficient PFI contracts and for treatment ‘free at the point of delivery’. But he hasn’t said much about the ongoing privatisation. It turns out he was one of a ‘small minority’ of doctors at a BMA conference in 2011 who offered ‘conditional support’ to Lansley’s health ‘reforms’.

RCHIn contrast, the final candidate in Truro and Falmouth offers total opposition to privatisation of NHS services. Rik Evans (69) resigned last May from the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust over its decision to privatise services. He was also the only member who had previously voted against the disastrous award of the out of hours contract to SERCO. Rik is against the flow of taxpayers’ money into the bank accounts of private health companies and is standing under the label of the new National Health Action Party. A Canadian and a humanist, he came to the UK when young and began his marquee hire business in Cornwall in the 1960s. A former Labour candidate and experienced campaigner, Rik asked the local Labour candidates an excellent question last October.

rik evans tweetSomeone who is so explicitly (and unusually) standing on the basis of his principles means that voters in Truro and Falmouth have the luxury of at least three candidates worth considering when they come to vote in May.