Even though the Labour and Lib Dem leaderships turned their backs on a so-called ‘progressive alliance’, we have a de-facto one in Cornwall in St Ives. But how likely is it that Andrew George and the Lib Dems can unseat the Tories’ Derek Thomas? Here are the voting figures for St Ives in 2015.
Progressive alliance fans tend to approach things a little simplistically. They assume that all the voters for ‘progressive’ parties will vote for the ‘progressive’ candidate. On that basis things look good for Andrew, who can add another 8,079 to his total. Hold on though. The ‘progressive’ alliance is facing a ‘regressive’ one, as Ukip isn’t standing. So on the same basis add another 5,720 votes to Thomas’s total. This gives us
You might have spotted a small flaw in the logic here, with a Labour vote that even the Tory press might not expect. Because Labour is standing. Its local candidate, Chris Drew, is well-known in the Penzance area. It’s hardly likely that no-one will vote for him even if the Labour campaign is extremely low profile. Current polling indicates that around two thirds of Labour voters last time intend to do the same this time, with one in five still undecided and the rest scattering, including 10% to the Tories. But let’s assume that in St Ives only half their voters stick with Labour, while 10% go Tory. This leaves 1,804 for Andrew.
Let’s also assume Andrew picks up 90% of Green and MK votes, which may be taking things for granted a little. This gives him another 3,212. But what will happen to the Ukip vote? Across Britain 60% of Ukip’s voters in 2015 now intend to vote for Ukip-lite – the Tories – in the absence of a Ukip candidate (45% will do so even if there is one!). Eight per cent are considering voting Labour and just 4% for the Lib Dems with the rest undecided. Let’s assume St Ives’ kippers vote the same way but that the non-Tory vote splits evenly between Labour and Lib Dem.
All this surmising gives us the following.
Oh dear, it’s still a majority for Thomas, and a fairly healthy one at that.
Moreover, so far this exercise has made the further very questionable assumption that every single Lib Dem voter in 2015 will stick with Andrew. This is very unlikely. Recent polls suggest that Lib Dem voters are more volatile than any other party apart from Ukip. Only half of Lib Dem voters in 2015 are contemplating doing the same in 2017, with nearly one in five saying they’re going for that strong and stable, but nice, Mrs May and one in ten to Labour. The rest are dithering.
So, in order to win, Andrew has to pick up at least nine out of ten Green and MK voters, retain ALL his own voters from 2015 and get at least half the Labour vote. A tall order. But even all that isn’t enough. So he needs to do all or some of the following as well.
Attract Tory voters. This will be difficult as Tory voters in 2015 are proving the most resilient to changing their votes. They’re not called conservative for nothing.
Attract more of the Ukip vote. This is made more difficult by the Lib Dems’ strong anti-Brexit stance.
Pick up support from non-voters. Easier said than done.
There’s one final possibility. In 2015 Andrew went down with the good ship Lib Dem, sunk by the general swing away from the party across the UK. If there were a rising Lib Dem tide this time it could take him back to Westminster. The problem is that there isn’t. Lib Dem support in the polls is stubbornly languishing at levels similar to or even a little down on 2015. The Lib Dem vote in the Cornish local elections also stagnated and was hardly encouraging.
To win, Andrew has to hope that the remaining three weeks of the campaign see an uplift in Lib Dem prospects generally. Otherwise, you can safely place your bets on Derek Thomas.
This morning confusion surrounds the whereabouts of the ‘progressive’ alliance floated for St Ives constituency in the general election. Last Saturday it was revealed that Green Party members meeting at Redruth had decided to stand a candidate in St Ives, thus dealing a cruel blow to those who’d been hoping for a ‘progressive’ alliance. The news was broke by Milo Perrin of Cornish Stuff.
No source was given, although a quote from Tim Andrewes, the Greens’ sole Cornwall Councillor, that he was not putting himself forward, implied that the story was based on a Green Party source. However, there was no actual Green Party news release or, indeed, any kind of official comment, just an uncorroborated facebook account of a secret meeting between unknown Lib Dem, Green and Labour participants last Tuesday at which agreement was not reached.
Since Saturday morning, after a predictable outburst of spleen from Lib Dem supporters in St Ives, things have been surprisingly quiet on social media about this purported development. Nothing seems to have appeared in the old, anti-social media either. We remain in the dark as to what may have happened to change Green Party minds since this appeared on the Progressive Alliance for Cornwall website on Thursday, the 20th.
It’s fair to say the supposed decision also came as a surprise to Green Party members themselves, judging by comments on the West Cornwall Green Party facebook page, which were not exactly favourable about the decision to stand.
More interestingly, Jacqueline Merrick, Green council candidate in Camborne, rather cryptically stated on that site on Saturday evening ‘stop jumping to conclusions, please’. Last night Amanda Pennington, Green candidate for Truro & Falmouth, followed that up by tweeting ‘nothing decided yet’. An official Green Party statement on who stands where will follow the local elections.
So was Saturday’s report fake news? Were the Greens bluffing? Or have they blinked and changed their minds in the face of a generally hostile reaction? Perhaps, just perhaps, electoral pacts in Cornwall shouldn’t be written off just yet. Perhaps also, more open discussion and fewer secretive meetings might be a good idea.
Phew, just woke up from a horrible nightmare. Dreamt that the polling companies had got things totally screwed up. Instead of the hung parliament everyone predicted, with Labour and Tories neck and neck, there was somehow a Tory lead of 6%. In the dream a wasted landscape was disgorging thousands of blue zombie neoliberals, shuffling through endless acres of supermarkets and housing estates, waving English flags and forcing people into food banks with cattle prods.
What the hell happened? Confounding every single pollster, the Tories are on course for a majority after all. We can look forward to enjoying another five years of smarmy David Cameron preening himself and crossing the Amazon Tamar for the occasional holiday in Kensington by the Sea. While the sinister George Osborne dons his hard hat and visits all the building sites. And for the first time since the 1930s all Cornish seats have gone Conservative. The future is blue. Look on the work of the great voting public and despair.
For the sake of posterity I suppose I’ll have to record the results. Here they are.
Camborne & Redruth
George Eustice (Conservative)
Michael Foster (Labour)
Bob Smith (Ukip)
Julia Goldsworthy (Lib Dem)
Geoff Garbett (Green)
Loveday Jenkin (MK)
Scott Mann (Conservative)
Dan Rogerson (Lib Dem)
Julie Lingard (Ukip)
John Whitby (Labour)
Amanda Pennington (Green)
Jeff Jefferies (MK)
John Allman (Independent)
St Austell & Newquay
Steve Double (Conservative)
Stephen Gilbert (Lib Dem)
David Mathews (Ukip)
Deborah Hopkins (Labour)
Steve Slade (Green)
Dick Cole (MK)
Derek Thomas (Conservative)
Andrew George (Lib Dem)
Graham Calderwood (Ukip)
Cornelius Olivier (Labour)
Tim Andrewes (Green)
Rob Simmons (MK)
South East Cornwall
Sheryll Murray (Conservative)
Phil Hutty (Lib Dem)
Bradley Monk (Ukip)
Declan Lloyd (Labour)
Martin Corney (Green)
Andrew Long (MK)
George Trubody (Independent)
Truro & Falmouth
Sarah Newton (Conservative)
Simon Rix (Lib Dem)
Stuart Roden (Labour)
John Hyslop (Ukip)
Karen Westbrook (Green)
Loic Rich (Independent)
Stephen Richardson (MK)
Rik Evans (NHAP)
Stan Guffogg (POP)
So how do we explain this victory for zombie politics? Clearly, either a good number of Tory voters were lying through their teeth to the pollsters, or there was a very late (as in picking up the pencil in the polling booth and changing your mind late) swing to Cameron and Co. It’s easy to come up with a list of possible explanations. Pick from the following. Enough people have been insulated from the aftermath of the 2008 crash. Pensions and incomes for the elderly (who vote) have held up. The media has kindly disseminated the Tories’ magical and mendacious narrative of creating economic ‘success’ while Labour left us ‘with no money’. Those who endure the brunt of austerity policies don’t tend to vote. The population is becoming more politically illiterate and can’t tell s**t from sugar.
The Tories’ success is also greatly aided by a rigged voting system that allows expats on the run in Spain to vote for 15 years but makes it more difficult for students, tenants, the mobile and dispossessed to register in the UK. And of course, you can win a majority of seats with the votes of just 24.1% of the registered electors. Or put it another way. The Tories win 36.5% of the vote and get 330 or so seats while Ukip gets 12.5% and just one. There’s something a trifle unfair about this but for the life of me I can’t quite put my finger on it.
So what can we look forward to? Manifestly, for the moment we’re locked in a neoliberal future. That was always going to happen, as a stunning 87.5% voted to continue the politics of austerity. Whatever cuts the Tories eventually make will impact on the poorer and more vulnerable just as they did during the last parliament, while their chums in the City and financial sector can look forward to big handouts and tax cuts to come.
Local government will continue to disintegrate, while public services and chunks of the NHS are sold off to the first spiv or con-artist who happens to show up with a wad of cash. The Equal Constituencies Act will become law, entailing a complete re-shuffling of parliamentary seats every five years and consolidating the Tories’ hold on the levers of government, as they fasten their suckers more firmly on us. The planet will go on frying as little real effort is made to decarbonise energy. Indeed, expect the continuation of massive subsidies for fossil fuel companies as we stick our collective ostrich heads deeper in the sand.
The prospects for Cornwall over the next five years look dismal. Look forward to the ongoing de-Cornishization of our communities as developers celebrate the return of the Tories and get the green light to run rampant over our land. The affordability crisis will worsen as another wave of second home owners greedily cast their eyes west to England’s first colony. Anticipate the crumbling of local services and an increasing gulf between lifestyle Cornwall and lifestruggle Cornwall. Count on the promise of never-ending population growth as the unstated Con/Lab/Lib promise of a million people in Cornwall by the end of the century moves closer to fruition. Contemplate the growing congestion as our towns become monuments to the slash and burn neoliberal consumerist vision. Watch zombie politics tighten its grip on our little, pumped-up, local council elite, myopic, mistaken and misled by assorted bureaucrats and ‘opinion-formers’ in hock to the parasites who’re plundering our land.
So how wrong were my predictions? Clearly, I was a gullible idiot to believe in the polls. I didn’t think they could all be so wrong, but they were. In particular, the hints of a last-minute swing to the Lib Dems in the polls turned out to be in fact a last minute swing to the Tories. Although, as it’s become so difficult to tell them apart, you can surely cut me some rope here, folks.
If we look more closely at my predictions earlier this week and compare them with the actual results we can see that I badly underestimated the Tory vote in Cornwall across the board by 6-10% and overstated the Lib Dems by 4-8%. On the other hand my predictions for Labour, Ukip and the Greens weren’t that far out at all and I was bang on the MK share, with the sole exception of St Austell, where I was just 1% out. Moreover, I got the order of the top four candidates correct in South East, Truro and St Austell and was almost right in Camborne-Redruth. In Truro & Falmouth my predicted scores were right for six of the nine candidates, which can’t be bad. My biggest failure however was in not seeing the Tory clean sweep and predicting the Fib Dems would hold on to two seats.
But let’s not waste any tears on them as they brought their downfall entirely on themselves. They should now do the decent thing in Cornwall, dissolve their party and get out of the road. Moreover, their incompetence over the past few decades must take some share of the blame for allowing the toxic English nationalist Ukip to gain a foothold in Cornwall.
Meanwhile, the Greens’ surge came and went three or four months too soon. As for MK, although their vote held up from last time in the face of a squeeze from five other parties and the usual BBC ban, is it not time to rethink the strategy of contesting parliamentary elections and throwing away £3,000 every five years? Now the focus must be the Cornwall Council elections in 2017. The work of stopping people wasting another vote on the Lib Dems, Labour or Ukip becomes the urgent task. More imagination and involvement in bottom-up local campaigning is likely to be the key.
Although in England the politics of fear, scaremongering and greed have triumphed, there are some silver linings to this train crash. The Scots have shown us that the politics of hope are always possible. Turnout rose by up to 10% in Scotland but was fairly static in England (although rising slightly across Cornwall). Levels of disaffection and disillusion remain at record levels. The trick is to turn those disillusioned non-voters into voters for change. The SNP has done this; it should not be impossible here. Labour and the Liberal Democrats’ pathetic caving in to Tory bullying when they joined in demonising and isolating the SNP has backfired very badly. Even had Labour held on to its Scottish seats it wouldn’t have prevented a Tory majority, so it’s lucky for the Scots that they proved immune to that particular canard.
The danger now is that the Tories will cynically find some way to remove the Scottish MPs from Westminster. That, plus the Equal Constituencies Act and a dysfunctional voting system, will then cement them in place and make it very difficult to see how they will ever be shifted by a politically torpid and dumbed down English electorate. More hopefully, the election has driven another nail into the coffin of tactical voting. All those people in Cornwall who at the last moment voted ‘with their head’ but now see it had zero effect on the outcome should hang those heads in shame. Until we resist the siren call of tactical voting we will never rid ourselves of this antiquated electoral system and join the vast majority of more enlightened democracies elsewhere in Europe.
Finally, there’s the question of legitimacy. As the Tories gloat their way back to their Westminster sinecures and set about allowing their mates to go on plundering the planet, they’ll be doing it with the active support of less than a quarter of the British people. Is this right? Is it fair? Is it proper?
Two parallel elections take place tomorrow in Cornwall’s most westerly seat. The first is to elect the MP. Will Andrew George be returned for the fifth time? Or will it will be second time lucky for his Tory opponent Derek Thomas? And then there’s the race for third place. The Greens have made this one of their top ten targets and are pushing hard. A few years ago Ukip were doing relatively well in west Cornwall although, as they’ve hunkered down in the far east of England, their support in Cornwall has, relatively, been sliding. And then there’s Labour, which as recently as the 1980s was contesting second place here with the Lib Dems. Those days are gone but a traditional Labour vote still lurks in this constituency, unlike in east Cornwall.
The Greens’ challenge is key to Andrew George’s survival. He must be more than a little peeved as his record is the most progressive of the Cornish Lib Dem MPs, which is not saying a lot admittedly. He opposed the bedroom tax and selling off the forests; he worked with Green MP Caroline Lucas to introduce an NHS Bill and he’s generally on the side of animals, atheists and angels. Andrew might feel he least deserves a serious Green challenge. But if you live by the sword of an antiquated disproportional voting system then you must die by it.
The Greens’ Tim Andrewes is fending off the inevitable Lib Dem squeeze and his success in holding their vote together is key to the outcome. The Greens are calling for people to ‘vote for what you believe in’ and ‘vote positively’. They might also remind people what a certain Nick Clegg said back in 2010 – ‘Vote with your heart; vote for the values and the policies you believe’. The Greens are also appealing to those ‘tired of the same old parties’ who aren’t living up to their responsibility for the planet. With this clearly including the Liberal Democrats, there are signs that Andrew George might be getting worried.
He also has to resist a less organised effort to siphon off voters on his Cornish flank. Again, he’s been the only Cornish MP to stand up consistently against second homes and oppose the ongoing colonisation of our land and at least he abstained on the Tory/Lib Dem plan to introduce a Devonwall constituency. His presence has succeeded in reducing MK support in the constituency to a rump. But the voting system serves to conceal a potentially much larger pool of support for MK and its active local candidate Rob Simmons. It’s probably fair to say that MK wouldn’t exactly be weeping with sorrow if Andrew George lost, as the longer he stays on, the longer they’re marginalised electorally.
Then there’s Labour. Cornelius Olivier, yet another local candidate, began with a burst of energy, trying to capitalise on the second homes issue, although a difficult area on which to confront Andrew George convincingly. This has since seemed to falter and his presence on social media has tailed off. It’s likely that Labour voters may be more prone than others to fall for the tactical voting ploy now being played to the hilt by the Lib Dems.
Of course, the Tories could also lose votes to their right – to Graham Calderwood, who’s standing for Ukip. At one stage Derek Thomas, whose public statements are otherwise fairly anodyne and uncontroversial, was posting on social media that a vote for Ukip was a vote for the SNP. He didn’t care to specify the convoluted logic behind that particular nonsense. Thomas’s apolitical politics, taking the Sarah Newton route to Parliament, may not prove that attractive to those toying with voting Ukip however, who may be looking for more red meat.
It will be close, but on the basis of his local record, plus the evidence that sitting Lib Dem MPs are holding on to their vote share much better than others and the possibility of a late swing to the Lib Dems as people fall (yet again – will they ever learn?) for the tactical voting trick, I reckon he’ll sneak it. St Ives will stick with him rather than a relatively unknown Tory who’s reputedly a creationist. Should anyone who thinks the earth is younger than farming be allowed anywhere near the Commons?
So what will Andrew do when the inevitable Tory/Lib Dem coalition emerges from the horse-trading? It could have been so different. If only Andrew had taken one of those many opportunities to resign the Lib Dem whip and build up a base as an outspoken, environmentally aware, Cornish independent MP, he could have made his mark in Cornish history. If he loses this time, he’ll be just a footnote. What a pity.
Postscript As I write this, I’m informed that two Green Party acquaintances in St Ives have decided to vote for Andrew to stop the Tory. How many more times? But I’ll tweak my forecast to give him another percentage point. Perhaps it’ll turn out to be less close than I thought.
Here are the headline shares of the poll, with the change since the last Ashcroft polling done back in June (Camborne-Redruth) and August (the other three seats). Truro is now deemed to be safe for Sarah while everyone is assuming the Tories have South East Cornwall stitched up.
Constituency voting intentions, March 2015, Ashcroft polling
Since last summer there’s been a swing back to the old familiar territory of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The bar chart shows the average change in the four seats.
The Tories are up across the board. It’s a somewhat more mixed picture for the Lib Dems. Their vote has risen in St Ives and North Cornwall, but in Camborne-Redruth it’s fallen slightly (through within the margin of error) and in St Austell it’s stagnating. It seems that while Andrew George can hold on to a personal vote and Dan Rogerson rely on North Cornwall’s Liberal voting tradition to fend off the Tories, in St Austell Tory Tory Steve Double is doing a lot better than Lib Dem Tory Stephen Gilbert.
It’s bad news for Ukip as across all four constituencies their support of last year is fast crumbling away. From being the main challenger to the Tories’ George Eustice in Camborne, they’ve slipped to also rans and only in St Austell does there remain a sniff of a possible upset.
As a protest vote for Ukip becomes increasingly pointless, voters might as well cast around for other more radical options. On paper the Greens look to be doing well, pushing up their vote since last summer. However, as the ‘Green surge’ peaked in mid-January and then turned into a Green slide, it’s likely that something similar has happened in Cornwall and been missed by these polls. They must be disappointed that there’s no evidence at all of any Green surge in St Ives, one of their ten target seats. In fact the Greens are somewhat surprisingly doing better in neighbouring Camborne-Redruth. Nonetheless, the party enters the election campaign proper with a solid base to build on and can look forward to saving their deposits.
There’s even some cheer here for MK, ignored and marginalised in the grand carnival of Westminster elections. In all seats except North Cornwall (where they’re presumably not standing) the vote for Others has consistently risen. This is likely to understate potential MK support as polling organisations do not prompt with their name, unlike Ukip and the Greens. Indeed, when voters mention ‘another party’ the secondary prompt includes the BNP. Yet the BNP is not standing and only had one candidate in Cornwall last time around, whereas candidates for ‘the party that must not be named’ have been in place for over a year now.
Overall then, from this it looks like four Tory/Lib Dem coalition MPs and two Lib Dem/Tory coalition MPs in May. No change basically. Although the share of the poll for the coalition parties has slumped from 83% in the 2010 general election to 62-63% now in these four seats, the majority of the great Cornish electorate prove they can be comprehensively fooled yet again. Even now. Exit stage left, muttering.
The election campaign proper is upon us. Let’s ignore the fatuous farce that passes for electioneering in the London media and concentrate on the local more grassroots battles, as the streets of our fine old Cornish towns echo to a collective stifled yawn. What are our candidates up to as the phony war ends? Let’s look at the two West Cornish constituencies first.
Down in St Ives, Andrew George has been cuddling badgers and badgering electors about the environment for all he’s worth. The environment joins the NHS as as his preferred campaigning themes. In the dying days of the old parliament he joined with Caroline Lucas to promote an NHS Bill, abolishing the internal market and reducing reliance on the PFI. That’s Caroline Lucas of the Green Party though, not Andrew’s former Conservative colleagues, who he seems to have divorced. All of which body language suggests a desperate damage limitation exercise directed at fending off the challenge of the Green Party’s Tim Andrewes.
Tim is concentrating on climate change, unlike the Westminster parties and their leaders. Although the St Ives Greens’ most popular Facebook post last week was actually not about climate change at all but carried a much more important photo of a labrador who’s apparently intending to vote for the Greens. This is quite common these days given the ridiculous ease of obtaining postal votes. I expect the lab probably has several postal votes tucked away in its collar. The neighbouring Green Party’s campaign for Geoff Garbett in Camborne-Redruth has no dogs, but monkeys. Three daft ones will be at the Big Green Party this coming Saturday. Where they will presumably discuss soil erosion, surveillance, coal plant emissions and Natalie Bennett’s brain fade.
Climate change doesn’t seem to worry the Tories’ Derek Thomas too much. He wants more people to drive to Penzance and St Ives to do their shopping and thinks the car park charges are far too high and is putting us off fulfilling our duty as good consumers. MK’s Rob Simmons was going to the other extreme and avoiding such localism by blogging about Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the need for a moral foreign policy. Will the Gaza Strip run in Gulval though?
Up the A30 at Redruth 38 degree supporters were accosting members of the public last Saturday looking for more signatures supporting the NHS. Although most of the campaigners seemed to be MK activists. Where were all the Labour, Green and Lib Dem activists? Sorry, did I really write ‘Lib Dem activists’? Obviously a senior moment.
Julia Goldsworthy has been busy reminding us yet again that the Lib Dems need only an extra 66 votes to get her back to Westminster and rather forlornly pleading for volunteers. A pity however that most of the other 16,000 odd votes she had in 2010 are now just history. Several nice comments about Mr Milibland on her Facebook page suggests the Lib Dem strategy in Camborne-Redruth is if you want Miliband vote for Julia. So that’s one thing the Lib Dems and David Cameron still agree on then.
While Julia angles for Labour votes so does Labour’s candidate, big-spending businessman Michael Foster. While Ed Miliband turns for support to a hobbit, Michael insists on inviting all his old celebrity chums down to talk to us. Last week it was the turn of someone called Larry Lamb. Although how a character from Toytown will play on the Pengegon estate and why getting him down from London is supposed to convince us to vote Labour remains a bit of a mystery.
As Camborne Labour Party was looking froward to being addressed by something they would later eat with mint sauce, sitting MP George Eustice was getting into trouble at the other side of town. Campaigners against the inexorable sprawl of Camborne into the surrounding countryside think that George (rather than eating a lamb) is trying to have his saffron bun and eat it. He’s said so many contradictory things about plans for massive housebuilding in and around Camborne, Pool and Redruth that voters are having difficulty seeing where he stands on the issue. No matter; he tells us he has a plan. Oh bugger it, it’s the same as the last five years.
I almost forgot all about Ukip. As supposedly serous challengers (according to their house newspaper the Western Morning News that is), they’re strangely invisible in west Cornwall. In St Ives, the Ukip south west candidates’ page tells us that in St Ives Graham Calderwood has a twitter account. But the party’s mastery of this new-fangled social media lark appears less than impressive as we then discover the account doesn’t exist.
Over in Camborne-Redruth Bob Smith has finally got Ukip’s first leaflet out (commercially delivered). Although this single effort has been rather drowned out by the tons of Tory, Lib Dem and Labour stuff that weekly passes from doormats to recycling bags with scarcely a glance, causing a mounting capacity crisis for local paper recyclers. Bob promises that if we vote Ukip, we’ll get Ukip. Now there’s a novel thought. Or is it a threat?
Tomorrow – what’s going on in Truro/Falmouth and St Austell/Newquay?
At first glance St Ives, Cornwall’s most westerly constituency, looks remarkably like North Cornwall, the most northerly. They both share very high proportions of second homes, elderly voters abound and there are few students. Both have a sitting Lib Dem MP and they’re the only straightforward Lib Dem/Tory marginals left in Cornwall, according to last year’s polling.
But St Ives’ political history is very different. It only became a Lib Dem/Tory marginal fairly recently. Before the 1990s, a strong Labour presence split the anti-Tory vote, leaving the seat for almost three quarters of a century in the hands of the Tories. It also feels less conservative than North Cornwall, with a much lower rate of in-migration since the 1960s and a stronger tradition of Cornish nationalism, although that’s nationalism spelt with quite a small ‘n’.
Two Mr Nice Guys?
Reviewing the constituency it seems as if we’ve stepped into a time warp. The two main candidates, Derek Thomas for the Conservatives, and Andrew George, the sitting MP, are resuming their contest of 2010. At first glance, they don’t seem that different. Both are family men with children. The younger Derek Thomas (42) is a local man, living in St Buryan. He was formerly development manager of a charitable trust and has been involved in a variety of community projects working with vulnerable adults. According to what appear to be three separate Conservative websites he’s now a trained mason and runs a small business.
Derek tells us he supports West Cornwall Healthcare, defending the local NHS ‘against cuts and privatisation’. He also makes ambitious promises to ‘improve our economy, deliver good jobs for our young people and improve the quality of life for everyone’. With free pasties thrown in and empty roads for all no doubt. Good to see that old election tradition of promising the earth still survives in the far west.
Andrew George (56) is a local man, living in Hayle (though this is now part of Camborne and Redruth) and brought up in Mullion. He formerly worked for the Cornwall Rural Community Council. He supports West Cornwall Healthcare, defending the NHS by rebelling on several occasions against the Tory/Lib Dem Government’s Health and Social Care Act, which built on Labour ‘reforms’ to further extend the role of the market and private sector healthcare in the NHS. He ‘supports the underdog’ and wants a ‘fair deal’ for several things, including Cornwall. With free saffron buns thrown in and good surfing conditions guaranteed no doubt.
What distinguishes these two is what drives them. Andrew seems to gain his motivation from his Cornish roots. A former member of MK, he’s carried over campaigning against the suburbanisation of Cornwall into his parliamentary career. During the Scottish referendum Derek criticised Andrew for ‘encouraging the break up of the UK when the rest of us are working so hard to keep us united‘ by having the temerity to call for devolution to Cornwall. This picks up the baton from former Liberals Bessell, Pardoe and most notably David Penhaligon. Moreover, not content with providing the strongest Lib Dem voice in support of real devolution to Cornwall and in defence of Cornish issues, Andrew has been the third most rebellious Lib Dem MP in this Parliament.
On the issues of equality and human rights, the bedroom tax, increasing welfare benefits in line with prices, NHS reform, raising tuition fees and culling badgers Andrew has voted differently from his Government colleagues and much closer to the Labour Party. However, it remains to be seen whether the subtleties of his parliamentary voting record will prove sufficient to differentiate himself from the toxic Tories or the even more toxic Clegg in the eyes of the man or woman on the Penzance, St Ives or Helston omnibus (if it’s survived the cuts).
We have to take Derek Thomas’s promises on trust. If Cornishness is what drives Andrew, then it seems that Christianity is what inspires Derek. Born to missionary parents, he claims that ‘leaders are needed’ in order to demonstrate how the quality of life can be improved by ‘healthy and stable communities’. ‘Health’ and ‘stability’ can of course be defined very differently from within different belief communities. Or political ideologies. At a time when religious politics elsewhere in the world are producing their fair quota of mayhem and barbarism, people might be wary of buying into explicit religious convictions. Especially when those convictions appear to find no problem with sentences such as ‘the Conservatives’ welfare cap will reward hardworking families‘, a neat non-sequitur if there ever was one. St Ives just doesn’t look like the sort of constituency that yearns for strong leadership anyhow.
Reality and rhetoric
The relatively small gap between Andrew George’s positions on welfare and health and those of the timid Labour leadership creates a problem for Cornelius Olivier, Labour’s own local candidate in St Ives. He has to accentuate the differences between himself and Andrew. Cornelius was previously employed at Penzance Jobcentre and worked for the Citizens Advice Bureau. As Penzance contains the most deprived wards in Cornwall, this must have given him an insight into the gap between local standards of living and the lives of the rich and comfortable.
Yet, interestingly enough he’s not chosen to attack Andrew George over his voting record on taxing the rich, a bankers’ bonus tax or corporation tax, where Andrew has followed the line taken by his bosses, thus ensuring the uninterrupted transfer of wealth to the rich since 2008. Instead he’s chosen to accuse Andrew of hypocrisy on the issue of the bedroom tax.
This is because Andrew George abstained on a Labour Party motion in the Commons against the tax in December. Cornelius asks whether that makes him ‘a principled rebel or an embarrassing fencesitter’. Andrew responds by accusing Labour of playing games and pointed out that their motion was restricted to social housing, not private tenancies, for which housing benefit was capped in a similar way to the bedroom tax back in 2008 … by the Labour Government.
On the other hand, Cornelius can point to the fact that he’d launched his campaign for a second home levy in June or earlier but it had only begun to be reported in November when the media began to take an interest in the issue. And so it goes on. Back and forth. To and fro. Tit for tat. And we can now expect four more months of this! It’s enough to make even election anoraks blanch. Let’s come to an unfashionable conclusion and suggest that perhaps both of them might be right. Andrew is genuinely opposed to a bedroom tax despite propping up the Government that introduced it; Cornelius is genuinely in favour of a second homes levy, despite being in a party led by politicians who aren’t.
Cornelius wants to make housing his campaign priority. But while campaigning heavily on second homes, he hasn’t said too much in the social media about his (successful) attempts early last year to convince Cornwall Council to bump up the numbers of unaffordable houses that will be built in and around Penzance over the next decade and a half. His first tweet also backed the populist calls for a stadium at Truro. But that comes with 1,500 houses and the developers are now demanding another 150 plus a supermarket in return for a shrinking stadium. None of which he mentions in his campaign material.
Not to disregard the others
The other parties will be challenging Labour hard for third place. Derek Thomas will not have been overjoyed to have heard that former Tory MP John Nott voted Ukip in last year’s Euro-elections. Ukip has gone to form in St Ives and chosen Graham Calderwood (69) as their candidate. Graham is a solicitor who opened an office in Penzance in 1972 and then extended his practice to other places in west Cornwall. Now semi-retired and living in Lelant, he comes originally from Wiltshire.
He stood as an Independent in the 2012 Police Commissioner elections but came ninth out of ten candidates (the others including Bob Smith, the Ukip candidate in neighbouring Camborne and Redruth). Graham thinks Cornwall’s potential is ‘hampered by a remote unitary authority and Euro rules’, EU farming and fisheries policies are ‘disastrous’ and tourism is ‘essential for our economy’. He wants to ‘stop other councils paying Cornwall Council to send people here, taking precedence over local people’. If he has evidence for this persistent local rumour, dismissed airily by the Council as an unsubstantiated urban myth, then he really should make it public. Or are they all Romanian?
The Greens’ candidate is Tim Andrewes (49), originally from Southampton and with an educational background of Shrewsbury School and Oxford. A self-employed transport consultant, Tim has several years experience as a councillor in Shropshire and fought St Ives in 2010. Since that election, the Green Party has achieved some take-off here. Tim won its first Cornwall Council seat – at St Ives East – in 2013 and the party also came very close in St Ives West, while doing well in St Keverne and some other wards too. On the back of these encouraging local election results the party has decided to make St Ives one of its target seats and the constituency has already received a visit from Natalie Bennett, the Greens’ Leader. This would seem a tad ambitious as St Ives just does not have the large student and middle-class vote usually associated with the places where the Green Party performs well, like Brighton, Norwich, Oxford, or Lancaster. But it does convey an impression of slight wackiness and the back to the earth desires that might also be found in Stroud in Gloucestershire, another place the Greens are well planted.
Whether real or not, the Green surge was given a boost when Andrew George suddenly called for an electoral pact between the Lib Dems and the Green Party in October. Never a runner, given Lib Dem support for the least green government in decades, this smacked of a rather desperate effort to limit losses from his environmental flank. It probably won’t though.
He’ll probably be more successful in again limiting possible haemorrhage towards MK and its candidate Rob Simmons. MK here has a love/hate relationship with Andrew George. They have to applaud his calls for devolution to Cornwall and his support for the campaign for a Cornish Assembly or his opposition to the disastrous Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill which would have destroyed Cornwall’s political unity and set the autonomist struggle back decades. But they also have to deplore the way he ended up rather feebly abstaining from the final reading of that Bill rather than clearly opposing it.
In the long run Andrew is a huge block on MK progress in this constituency. It once contained their best prospects for success. Colin Murley’s 4% of the vote here back in 1979 remained the best MK parliamentary performance until Dick Cole beat it in St Austell and Newquay in 2010. But the rise of a more Cornish-orientated Liberal Democrat presence in St Ives paralleled the collapse of MK organisation, as possible supporters were siphoned off into the Lib Dems.
MK activists are left dreaming of what have been. What if Andrew George, appalled by the coalition, its austerity policies and its centralism, had taken that extra principled step early in the present Parliament and rejoined MK, becoming its first MP? Even in a more sober alternative history, one must wonder what might have happened had Andrew relinquished the Lib Dem whip and decided to make a name for himself in Cornish history by becoming a Cornish independent. In the process he could have built up a personal base of support in the constituency that would have included green and nationalist activists and encouraged community level resistance to the ongoing colonisation of Cornwall by neo-liberal developer-led politics. This could well have pre-empted support for the superficially anti-politician rhetoric of Ukip and in the bargain left Andrew in a less vulnerable position than he now appears to be, tied to the anchor of that fast-sinking rusty old tub known as the Liberal Democrats.