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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Cornwall: Coalition to win

At last, this tedious charade nears its thankful denouement. Soon we’ll be spared the scaremongering, beancounting and ignoring the real issues we’ve had to endure for the last few months. Parliamentarians can then get back to the real business of making cuts and ensuring the most vulnerable pay to keep casino capitalism on the road. Let’s start the final constituency round-ups in the far north, Once upon a time, elections here were exciting as Liberals and Conservatives battled it out in a surrogate battle between church and chapel, booze and temperance, landlord and tenant, town and country. Now we only have the sorry spectacle of two coalition candidates vying for victory. Dan Rogerson and Scott Mann between them are, according to recent polls, attracting around three quarters of those who’ll bother to vote (although this is only half the registered electors in North Cornwall).

Rogerson doesn’t do social media but he’s quietly using the formidable local Lib Dem machine to corral the voters. Among his claims is credit for road improvements which will increase the capacity to continue the high population growth strategy that he seems to be so keen on. Although his majority may have slipped from 6% in 2010 to 2% in the most recent polls, those polls do suggest he’s been able to pick up more votes since last summer than Scott Mann, his Tory rival.

Tory Scott Mann, all rugged and Poldark-like
Tory Scott Mann, all rugged and Poldark-like

Turning from Tweedledee to Tweedledum, we read that Mann’s being getting a ‘great response’ (don’t they always – when’s a candidate going to say ‘crap response in X today’?) in Bude and Marhamchurch, where people were terrified of the prospect of the SNP propping up a Labour Government. Why this phobia should make them more likely to vote Tory is a mystery, unless they’re equally scared of the prospect of Rogerson again propping up a Tory Government. Scott has a small problem as there are now fewer ghost second home voters to rely on here. So to make up for that loss, he’s been turning to visits from top Tories. Such as Grant Shapps, or is it Michael Green, which he unaccountably appears to believe is a vote winner. If one dodgy character wasn’t enough, George Osborne also popped down to assure Scott that he wouldn’t reinstate a pasty tax. Although he doesn’t need to as they haven’t actually got rid of the last one yet.

Dan Rogerson - more pasty-like
Dan Rogerson – more pasty-like

Julie Lingard has watched support for Ukip steadily drift away since last summer, when for an instant Ukip looked to be picking up around a quarter of the vote in North Cornwall. It’s now down to the general GB average and an entirely more reasonable level as Ukip’s flock wanders dozily back to graze greedily on Tory and Lib Dem promises. Julie’s been busy publicising Ukip policies, such as tougher penalties for animal cruelty, which wouldn’t have been so welcome news for a previous Ukip candidate further west. She’s also been having throwbacks to the days when candidates had election meetings rather than hustings, holding a series of local meetings around the constituency. What next? Heckling? The open ballot?

It’s likely that John Whitby for Labour and Amanda Pennington of the Greens will be fighting it out for fourth place and the honour of saving their deposits. They’re presently neck and neck in the polls, although Amanda has the dubious advantage of an endorsement from Kernow King. While the King is going for MK in the rest of Cornwall, his attention was captured by Amanda’s energetic campaign (and her red hair.) When it comes to social media she’s way out in front, with 57 facebook posts last week alone, engaging 2,300 people. However, somewhat sadly, a video of her campaign which appeared in the Telegraph, paints a picture of a one-women campaign strapped for cash, with few posters and with only one leaflet to hand out. Are there no other Green Party members in North Cornwall?

rogerson voting for dcLabour’s John Whitby is also quite active on social media, although nowhere near as frenetic or compelling as Amanda. He’s been providing an admirable public service however, by informing voters of Dan Rogerson’s voting record. He’s also been holding street parties in Bodmin, Bude and Wadebridge, accompanied by a blues singer. Unfortunately, no-one seems to come to them though. Looks like fun, but may not win that many votes.

Not a voter in sight in wet Wadebridge
Not a voter in sight in wet Wadebridge

Finally, we have Jeff Jefferies for MK, a last minute candidate who thinks that Cornwall was ‘effectively self-governing until the 1750s’ and is therefore out-doing even Ukip in the nostalgia stakes, let alone the wishful-thinking zone. Then there’s an even more last minute candidate – John Allman from Lanson – who’s standing because every child needs a father. (Don’t ask me; I don’t know either.)

Without the second home voters, North Cornwall may be safer for Rogerson than it appears. Nonetheless, Scott Mann’s impeccable local roots will do him no harm. I can’t believe that last time around I called for a vote for Rogerson here in order to keep a particularly obnoxious pro-tourist lobby Tory out. How stupid was that? I must have been young and naive. I’m now older, more bitter, cynical and twisted. If this goes on, by 2020 I’ll be a Ukip voter. So this time anyone but Rogerson (oh, but not Mann, Lingard or Allman please).

Here’s my prediction for the seat …

1. Rogerson (LD) 39%
2. Mann (Con) 37%
3. Lingard (Ukip) 14%
4. Pennington (GP) 5%
5. Whitby (Lab) 4%
6. Jefferies (MK) 1%
7. Allman (Ind) <1%

The good, the bad, the ugly, and the school prefects: the election in east Cornwall

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.

Dressed just right for litter picking

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.

monk tweet

Cornwall's youngest candidate
Cornwall’s youngest candidate

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.

Who’s winning the Facebook war in Cornwall?

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.

Facebook Likes March 16th

1. Andrew George (LD, St Ives) 2,577
2. Sheryll Murray (Con, South East) 2,037
3. Michael Foster (Lab, Camborne) 1,454
4. George Eustice (Con, Camborne) 1,204
5. Steve Double (Con, St Austell) 949
6. Scott Mann (Con, North) 714
7. Amanda Pennington (GP, North) 544
8. Julia Goldsworthy (Con, Camborne) 434
=9. Bob Smith (Ukip, Camborne) 395
=9. John Hyslop (Ukip, Truro) 395

It may be no coincidence that Sheryll Murray and Michael Foster, one of whom viciously attacked the other with a mobile phone, are up at the top. But how are they getting their likes? The Tories at least have been discovered paying out vast sums of money amounting to over £100,000 a month linked to their Facebook activity. This presumably includes paying for likes.

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) +1,923
2. John Hyslop (Ukip, Truro) +178
3. Bob Smith (Ukip, Camborne) +116
4. Tim Andrewes (St Ives Greens) +96
5. Amanda Pennington (GP, North) +55

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) 26
2. Sheryll Murray (Con, South East) 22
3. Michael Foster (Lab, Camborne) 20
4. St Ives Greens 19
5. Steve Double (Con, St Austell) 16

Meanwhile, turning to engagement per post the top achievers are as follows.

Engagement per post, 25th Feb – 16th March

1. Julia Goldsworthy (LD, Camborne) 103
2. Michael Foster (Lab, Camborne) 47
3. Simon Rix (LD, Truro) 23
4. Steve Double (Con, St Austell) 13
5. Sheryll Murray (Con, South East) 13

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.

Green and MK candidates pull out – opportunity for a pact?

Yesterday, another brace of candidates in Cornwall fell by the wayside. The Green Party’s Sharron Kelsey, fairly invisible in Truro & Falmouth, pulled out for ‘personal reasons‘. As did MK’s Orlando Kimber, who is no longer intending to stand in North Cornwall in order to devote more time to care for his wife, who is unwell.

MK will now need to restart its search for the 84 further candidates it needs in order to qualify for a party political broadcast. Or does it? Don’t these unwanted developments offer an unexpected opportunity for these two progressive parties to combine forces against the four conservative parties in Cornwall in these two constituencies?

In North Cornwall, the Green Party has had an excellent and energetic local candidate – Amanda Pennington – in the field for momnths. In Truro & Falmouth, MK’s Stephen Richardson is a commmitted socialist and sound on the critical issue of global warming, about which we’re hearing so much in the media in this campaign.

So here’s a modest suggestion. Instead of doing the predictably boring thing, why don’t the Greens and MK enter into a pact in these two seats and help to prevent splitting the progressive Cornish and environmentalist vote even further?

North Cornwall constituency review: all round invisibility

This is Cornwall’s largest constituency. It sprawls from Morwenstow in the far north, remembered for Parson Hawker and the ‘Song of the Western Men’, better known as Trelawny, to St Merryn in the west, with its reputation for meat and holiday homes. In the past the north echoed merely to the wind soughing across its empty acres. Now the wind makes North Cornwall an ideal spot for turbines, inducing apoplexy in many of its inhabitants.

Meanwhile, the empty acres are fast being built on as the once small towns of Lanson, Bude, Camelford, Wadebridge and Bodmin ‘enjoy’ some of Cornwall’s fastest population growth rates. Gone too is the tradition of Cornish rural radicalism, gaining its strength from the small Methodist chapels dotted across the landscape and now converted into bijou houses for a new population.

The invisible man

Supposedly representing that radical tradition is Liberal Democrat and sitting MP, 38 year old Dan Rogerson. Founder and Chair of the All Party Group for Cheese from 2005 to 2014, Dan has a reputation for being a slightly left of centre Lib Dem. If this is true it shows just how far the Lib Dems have shifted rightwards.

If we look at his voting record we find that he voted in favour of the bedroom tax and reducing welfare spending, and against a banker’s bonus tax or increasing taxes on the rich. He was strongly pro lower corporation tax and for ‘reform’ of the NHS that opens the door wider to privatisation. He was strongly in favour of selling off the forests and supported the privatisation of Royal Mail. All in all, his voting record is very much in line with the mainstream Tory/Lib Dem position. The only major rebellion came early in the Parliament when he voted against raising tuition fees in 2010.

Dan Rogerson
Dan Rogerson charismatically extols the virtues of cheese

On Cornish issues Rogerson introduced a bill for a Cornish Assembly back in 2009 (hooray), but then voted for the Equal Constituencies bill in 2010 (boo). This latter would have given a whole new meaning to Hawker’s line in Trelawny – ‘We’ll cross the Tamar, land to land’, as the result would have been a cross-border constituency fatally compromising any future case for special treatment for Cornwall as a distinctive unit.

Dan found himself in an unaccustomed high-profile position a year ago as ‘floods minister’ for the coalition government. This was at a time when a lot of Somerset was under water. But, while David Cameron donned his wellies and commiserated with the locals at their inability to drive their 4x4s and stoke up global warming thus indirectly making the floods worse, Dan was nowhere to be seen. He was promptly dubbed the ‘invisible man‘. Word was put about that Number 10 had no confidence in their floods minister and he was being restricted to the high ground.

Presumably confidence was regained when Dan Rogerson refused to sign up to a letter of complaint to Euro Commission President, the evil Jean-Claude Juncker. A dozen or so other EU environment ministers were whinging at the Commission’s plans to ditch the EU’s recycling target of 70%. Interestingly, such a target would be most inconvenient for the profits of SITA’s brand new waste incinerator at St Dennis. This depends on a regular throughput of waste that’s not recycled. SITA’s incinerator was a pet project of the then Lib Dem controlled County Council.

The invisible issues
The big issue in North Cornwall that few care to address is climate change and the looming prospect of disastrous global warming. This is presumably because of the fear aroused locally by those nasty wind turbines. When it comes to this issue Dan has sat on the fence, a tried and tested Liberal Democrat practice. However, when it comes to wind turbines, the fence is somewhere you won’t find the Tory or Ukip candidates anywhere near.

attacketurbineClimate change and the rather urgent need to move rapidly from fossil fuels to renewables is not an issue giving Tory candidate Scott Mann or Ukip hopeful Julie Lingard too many sleepless nights. Scott thinks there are ‘far too many wind turbines in north Cornwall’, which may be because there’s far too much wind in north Cornwall. Meanwhile, Ukip’s Julie keeps repeating what she thinks is the killer question – would wind turbines get built without being subsidised? Ah ha; the answer is plainly no. Some might think this is the reason they have to be subsidised in the first place. But not Julie. Turning a blind eye to the £700 million in tax breaks for North Sea oil or the £400 million of public money used annually to fund fossil fuel exploration, Julie is horrified merely by the smaller subsidy for renewables.

fuel subs

The Tories used to select members of the landowning class as their candidates. In the late twentieth century we saw St Aubyns at Truro and Boscawens at Falmouth-Camborne, while it wasn’t so long ago that Bolithos (albeit nineteenth century arrivistes) represented St Ives. And very fine chaps they were too. But now they’ve decided on a new tack.

Scott Mann prays for an end to Lib Dem tyranny in the streets of Wadebridge
Scott Mann prays for an end to Lib Dem tyranny in the streets of Wadebridge

In North Cornwall they’ve selected a postman who lives in that rare thing in Cornwall, an ‘affordable home’. Scott Mann (36) from Wadebridge enjoys darts, flyfishing and Xbox, and has spent his ‘whole life growing up in Cornwall’. In his off-moments from that onerous and time-consuming task, Scott tells us he’s working for all those ‘struggling’ folk who would appreciate the extra money ‘for that Chinese meal at the end of the week or the gym membership’. These two desires neatly cancelling each other out in some sort of Zen Buddhist way. Scott was at one time deputy leader of the Tory group on Cornwall Council, not a group known for its Buddhist tendencies. He resigned in 2012 in protest against the possibility of using public money to fund a sports stadium for Cornwall.

But for a whole new level of mesmeric mysticism we have as usual to look to Ukip’s members in north Cornwall. Julie Lingard, like Scott Mann a resident of Wadebridge, was selected over two locally born and bred candidates last October. At the hustings Ukip’s North Cornwall chairman said ‘they were fortunate to have the luxury of three credible candidates to choose from‘. Indeed, most unusual.

Julie LingardJulie hails originally from Gloucestershire and came to Cornwall in 2009. She says that Ukip is ‘stronger than Lib/Lab/Con. We are driven by conviction and belief in factual arguments’. She can’t therefore spend too much time reading the blog entitled ‘UK Independence Party North Cornwall’. If you scroll well down you find a disclaimer that ‘this site isn’t an official Ukip website‘, despite its very misleading name. It might be interesting to get Julie’s take on the blog though, with all its ‘news about the real world’. Because it opens a window into the Ukip soul.

It’s a cross between North Korea and the more bizarre reaches of redneck America, truly unsettling and brain-cell curdling. Nigel Farage is the ‘World’s Greatest leader‘ while every possible conspiracy theory is rolled out, laced by plentiful exclamation marks in case we’ve somehow missed the point. Chemtrails are an elite plot to engineer the weather! Agenda 21 is forcing vaccination on us in the name of sustainable development!! Global warming is not happening and in any case is a trick foisted on us by the Club of Rome to ‘cull humanity‘!!! Ebola is a ‘genetic bioweapons attack strategy‘!!!! And probably orchestrated from Brussels!!!!! Welcome to the wilder fringes of Ukipworld.

Now there’s a possibility for a new tourist theme park venture in North Cornwall – UkipWorld. Julie Lingard kindly informs us ‘how important tourism is to Cornwall’. Here’s a perfect opportunity to boost it.

Invisible voters
Julie’s keenness on tourism may be a result of her relatively short time in Cornwall and time spent as a property manager at Cornish Horizons (Holiday Lets). She’s also a private landlord and property developer. The Rogerson family are keen supporters of building a lot more houses, especially in Bodmin. And Scott Mann, while dutifully voting for a Tory amendment to reduce Cornwall’s housing target at Cornwall Council in January, ended up supporting the 47,500 house target.

He says he wants to ensure ‘new housing means affordable housing‘. A laudable aim but you’d think a postman in the Camel estuary district would know that it clearly doesn’t mean anything of the kind. In fact North Cornwall is Cornwall’s second home mecca, with easily the highest proportion of second and holiday homes in Cornwall. Over 50% of the housing stock is unavailable to permanent residents in some parishes around the Camel. This has triggered accusations that the Tories have in the past manipulated this ghost second home vote. The argument is that they persuade second home owners to vote in marginal North Cornwall rather than the safe Tory Home Counties where they have their first home. But now the Tories face Ukip competition for the second home vote.

amanda penningtonThe Greens have declared their candidate. Amanda Pennington, also from Wadebridge, is director of the Wadebridge Renewable Energy Network. This presumably means she doesn’t share the consensus north Cornwall view of wind turbines. Her awareness of the invisible issue of climate change and the environment thus marks her out as a bit strange. She reminds us of the World Wildlife Fund’s finding that globally we’ve lost half our wildlife in the last 40 years. A good proportion of those were presumably victims of the Chelsea tractors heading for their second homes at Rock. Amanda optimistically asks the voters of North Cornwall to ‘get rid of the government who put corporate profits above all else’.

 

Invisible candidates
There are several invisible candidates in this constituency, yet to declare. One is an Independent who I’m reliably told will throw his hat into the ring this month. This will be on a platform that includes opposition to excessive unaffordable housing in the countryside, which should distinguish him from the three conservative candidates above.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party and MK have yet to declare candidates. They may still be searching for someone in Wadebridge to represent them. Labour in North Cornwall has the proud record of winning some of the lowest vote shares for the party anywhere in the UK. This is slightly more surprising when we consider that North Cornwall actually has the highest number of working class voters of any Cornish constituency. Remorselessly squeezed by the Lib Dems, Labour lost its deposit here in 2010 and was beaten into fourth place by Ukip.

In fact, in the two east Cornish constituencies (North and South East) in 2010 Labour went through four different candidate in the course of four months prior to the election. So there’s still plenty of time for movement in that respect.

If MK stands, it’s likely to be a paper candidate like last time. Probably a better idea to save their money and leave the sad remnants of North Cornwall’s once vibrant radical vote to be shared between Green and yet to be declared Independent candidates.