Constituency review 3: The Lib Dem chances – North Cornwall and St Ives

There’s another pair of politically similar constituencies at either end of Cornwall. St Ives, the most westerly, in some respects looks remarkably like North Cornwall, the most northerly. Both have high proportions of second homes, elderly voters galore and few students. Moreover, they are both among the handful of seats which the Lib Dems might have expected to gain at this election.

In both constituencies Labour is well behind. In both Lib Dem success hangs on convincing Labour leaners to vote tactically. In North Cornwall the gap between the sitting Tory MP and challenging Lib Dem appears to be narrowing as polling day focuses people’s minds, but it’s perhaps happening too slowly to give the Lib Dems’ Dan Rogerson the win.

Dan is lumbering back into the fray for a second joust with the Tories’ Scott Mann. Neither candidate is over-endowed with charisma, however. The Tories long ago stopped the practice of importing grandees from upcountry to command the peasants to give them their vote and in North Cornwall have an impeccably local and working class MP. Scott Mann claimed he’s ‘spent his whole life growing up in Cornwall’, a task clearly requiring all his concentration, before getting elected in 2015.

Community politics

On the Lib Dem side, Dan Rogerson is equally anodyne. He was a little bit rebellious but not too much so during the Lib Dem/Tory coalition, although he did vote against his party’s U-turn on tuition fees. Any further tendencies to rebellion were tamed by becoming a junior minister. During the floods crisis however, he was confined by the Government to the high ground while David Cameron stanked around in his green wellies looking business-like. Rogerson was promptly dubbed ‘the invisible man’ by the media.

Dan presents the familiar although frustrating Lib Dem enigma of soundbites for Cornwall but precious little concrete achievement. In 2015 I was so irritated by this I called on people to vote for anyone but him (or the Tory, Ukip and Independent candidates some to that). I’ve now changed my mind. He’s preferable to a Tory cipher who will act as uncritical voting fodder for his plutocratic masters (and mistresses). Moreover, Dan Rogerson has categorically stated that if elected he will not support another coalition with the Tories. That’s a promise that, if broken, will surely be his last.

For Rogerson to succeed however, he’ll need to convince those intending to vote Labour in North Cornwall to vote tactically yet again and not for Bodmin’s Joy Bassett. And in large numbers.

Unusually for Cornwall in this election, other candidates are standing here. Rob Hawkins is flying the flag for Arthur Scargill’s (yes, he’s still alive) Socialist Labour Party and is probably their sole member west of Bristol. In 2015 John Allman stood because every child needs a father. He’s a bit less cryptic this time, standing for the Christian Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) on a platform of Christian values, pro-Brexit, traditional family and anti-abortion.

If the CPA seems to be a more evangelical version of the Conservative Party in North Cornwall, in St Ives there’s little space for it. In the far west, Andrew George is also whipping up election fever and portraying the battle as one between good and evil. Here Manichean politics blurs into manic politicking as efforts are made to push the idea of a progressive alliance. The problem is that local Labour supporters are proving surprisingly resistant to it.

In St Ives the choice does appear to be clear. This is an election between Christianity and Cornishness, between the politics of fear and the politics of hope, between deference and freethinking, between authoritarianism and freedom. Or at least Andrew George would like us to believe so.

Voter hurries to polls in St Ives

Sitting Tory MP Derek Thomas has denied his evangelical Christianity affects his voting, although as his record loyally toes the party line, it’s difficult to know. In 2015 he was already prefiguring Theresa May by bemoaning the absence of the ‘leaders’ needed to create ‘healthy and stable communities’. He must now be squealing with delight as Theresa May offers him both strength and stability. Over and over again.

While Thomas should appeal to the deferential ex-Ukip vote in St Ives, George has the Cornish patriotic vote sown up, having a long record of standing up for Cornish causes. He’s also making the NHS an issue and has been regularly involved in local campaigns against the consequences of austerity politics.

At present the polls are suggesting St Ives is too close to call, although the YouGov model has shown the gap closing and George now slightly in the lead. The bookies are less sure but nonetheless their odds against Andrew winning have shortened significantly from 7/2 against a week ago to 15/8 yesterday (meanwhile Dan Rogerson is stuck on 4/1). To win however, Andrew George has to convince the one in five voters in St Ives who are still leaning towards Labour’s Chris Drew to vote for him. The choice seems a clear one. Stick with a loyal Tory cheerleader for Theresa May with some very illiberal ideas or restore a Lib Dem MP who was one of their more rebellious MPs before 2015.

Andrew’s vulnerability still lies in the fact he’s tied to the rusty old tub of Liberal Democracy. That put paid to his chances last time around. Can he avoid going down again with the rest of the ship’s crew or will he thrown a lifebelt this time by local Labour voters? A pity he’s not a fully fledged independent but beggars in St Ives can’t be choosers.

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.)

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%

Is there any point in voting Liberal Democrat?

Let’s take a short trip down memory lane and remember those days in the spring of 2010. Bliss it was in that dawn to be a Liberal Democrat, brimming with youthful energy and enthusiasm in their quest to slay the Tory dragon.

Dusting off those old election leaflets from that year, what do we find and how does it then compare with what happened?

Oh look, Stephen Gilbert, bless him, was opposed to the incinerator at St Dennis and he was against plans for an eco-town in the clay country

  • the incinerator, instituted and pushed by the Lib Dems, got built
  • the eco-town is going to get built with the plans being proposed by Cornwall Council, controlled by … err, the Lib Dems

Up in the north, Dan Rogerson was going to help ‘make Britain a fairer place to live’

Meanwhile in 2010, the Lib Dems promised to ‘give people the power to sack corrupt MPs’

  • they haven’t

In Camborne-Redruth, Julia Goldsworthy said ‘we need strong local MPs to fight the Tory cuts’ and protect ‘vital public services’

Julia was arguing that the Lib Dems would stop housing on greenfield sites by opposing ‘top down housing targets’ while introducing powers to stop the spread of second homes

  • the Lib Dems have been part of a government that has stealthily re-imposed top down housing targets
  •  second homes are still spreading

Julia promised a lot more money for Cornish schools if the Lib Dems were in government

And whatever happened to that famed Liberal Democrat ‘fair deal for Cornwall’?

  • Cornwall is still underfunded
  •  in 2011 all three Cornish Lib Dem MPs voted for the final reading of the Government’s Equal Constituencies Bill. If implemented, this will demolish Cornwall’s historical political border and set back the struggle to obtain special treatment for Cornwall by decades
  • and despite five years in government that elusive Cornish Assembly remains just as elusive

In 2010 the Lib Dems told us that ‘a vote for Labour or the smaller parties will only help the Conservatives’

  • and then they helped the Conservatives.

Don’t get fooled again. While we’re at it, we might also note the long list of Tory broken promises. And when we listen to all the spin about which party will join which or refuse to join another in potential coalitions, bear in mind this gem, printed in the Telegraph just four days before the last election.

tories rule out coalition

North Cornwall poll: Lib Dems shading it though still too close to call

The last Cornish constituency poll of the election appeared yesterday. This was for North Cornwall, now polled four times in a year by Ashcroft. Over that time, the share of the vote for Lib Dem Rogerson and Tory Mann has risen, while that for Ukip and Labour fell. The Greens have hovered around the 5% mark.

VI change North Cwll May 1

Although there’s been a considerable shift back to the two familiar parties since last year, this poll shows very little change since the last one taken in March. Rogerson continues to eke out a narrow 2% lead, but one still uncomfortably within the margin of error. It looks like the winner here will be he who squeezes the other parties most in the last five days. Mann has a 14% Ukip share to aim at, while Rogerson can try to steal back a 13% Labour/Green/MK share. Neither has an obvious advantage in the tactical vote struggle, therefore.

Moreover, the total score for others, at around 27%, has not shifted over the last month of campaigning. It could be that the low hanging fruit was picked over the winter. The Ukip and Green vote now looks fairly stable. Moreover, the leap in the score for others over the last month by 2%, from 1% to 3%, may prove welcome news for MK. Here’s the change since the last election.

VI change NC May 2

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.