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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While the Greens and MK turned to crowdfunding to fund their campaigns we can see why the three Westminster parties didn’t need to bother with such small stuff. Nonetheless, there are interesting differences between the three neo-liberal, centr[al]ist parties. For instance, 44% of Tory donations came from outside Cornwall. The United and Cecil Club gave £5,000 to Steve Double’s campaign in St Austell and Newquay, another £5,000 to Derek Thomas at St Ives and £2,100 to George Eustice in Camborne and Redruth.
This organisation is described as ‘low profile’ and is registered at a stables in Iver, Bucks run by a former tobacco lobbyist. It’s also the bunch that organised a Tory fundraising bash in Knightsbridge, estimated to have raised at least £100,000 from the assorted super-rich who attended. Basically, it’s a conduit for channelling cash to Tory marginals, in the process providing some anonymity for its donors. Steve Double has also been boosted by another £4,187 from the Tandridge Club, another shadowy organisation based in Surrey and one with presumably the same function as the United and Cecil Club.
Nevertheless, the Tories receive the bulk of their local donations from local party organisations, although this was heavily concentrated in just two constituencies – St Austell and South East Cornwall. The rest came from companies. George Eustice at Camborne and Redruth was presumably grateful for £2,000 from FalFish, of Cardrew Industrial Estate, Redruth. Meanwhile, the Offshore Group of Newcastle (north of Bude), a firm involved in offshore oil and gas and renewable energy gave £10,000, split evenly between Sarah Newton at Truro and Sheryll Murray in South East Cornwall. With no obvious connections with Cornwall the fact that this compnay chose to support the two Tories best placed to retain their seats may be interesting. Not much chance of getting Sarah and Sheryll voting to stop further public subsidies for offshore oil and gas exploration then. Sarah was also given £2,188 by the local branch of London investment company FC Fund Managers.
What about the other wing of the coalition Government, the Lib Dems? Only Andrew George at St Ives has received a donation direct from business. He got £2,000 from the Chadwick brothers of Falmouth, who own the fashion firm Seasalt. The other Lib Dem candidates, while rather surprisingly funded overall almost as well as the Tories, seem to be dependent on individuals rather than businesses or organisations. But the vast bulk of the money collected for the Lib Dems was in just two constituencies – St Austell and Newquay and Camborne and Redruth. Rather curiously, in marginal North Cornwall neither Lib Dem incumbent nor Tory challenger seem to have been recipients of any donations since 2011.
But the really big money locally has been flowing to the Labour Party. Or more precisely one Labour candidate – Michael Foster at Camborne and Redruth. His campaign has benefited from £119,121 of donations over the past year, £42,727 to pay for ‘administrative services’ and £76, 392 described as ‘other’, maybe including payment for the rather well-produced newspapers which have been regularly falling onto local doormats over the past year.
This money all comes from Fostermco Ltd, whose sole director is – you’ve guessed it – media entrepreneur and millionaire Michael Foster. The company appeared to have had a paid up capital of ten pence in June 2014. This self-proclaimed ‘new’ sort of politician actually seems to have reverted to the rather old 18th century practice of buying your constituency. Fostermco has also given £191,766 in cash donations to central Labour Party funds in the last couple of years, as well as £4,000 to Enfield North and £1,000 to Finchley CLPs.
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?
But, as the Westminster parties set about trying to buy the electorate over the next couple of months, how much money is being given directly to the local parties in Cornwall? All donations to a constituency party above £1,500 have to be reported to the Electoral Commission. The following analysis is based on details of donations provided on the Commission’s website for 2014 and the first few weeks of 2015.
Here’s the overall picture by party and constituency.
Donations of £1,500+ Jan 2014-Feb 2015 (£000s)
South East Cornwall
As the Greens and MK rely on crowdfunding we can see why the three Westminster parties don’t need to bother with such small stuff. Nonetheless, there are interesting differences between the three neo-liberal, centr[al]ist parties. For instance, 60% of Tory donations came from outside Cornwall. The United and Cecil Club gave £5,000 to Steve Double’s campaign in St Austell and Newquay and another £5,000 to Derek Thomas at St Ives.
Steve Double has also been boosted by another £4,187 from the Tandridge Club, another shadowy organisation based in Surrey and one with presumably the same function as the United and Cecil Club. The rest of the useful Tory war chest of £19,200 at St Austell and Newquay came from local Tories at Fowey, which is increasingly resembling Surrey on Sea.
While Sarah Newton at Truro and Falmouth and Scott Mann at North Cornwall received no large constituency donations last year, George Eustice at Camborne and Redruth was grateful for £2,000 from FalFish, of Cardrew Industrial Estate, Redruth. Meanwhile, over in in South East Cornwall Sheryll Murray was also funded directly by business. In her case, she received £5,000 from the Offshore Group of Newcastle (north of Bude), a firm involved in offshore oil and gas and renewable energy. The rest of her donations came from the Torpoint Unionist Club with individuals John Cotton and Timothy Rice chipping in £2,500 each. Can this be the lyricist Tim Rice, Cornwall’s richest ‘resident’, with an estimated wealth of £150 million and a house on the Lizard?
What about the other wing of the coalition Government, the Lib Dems? Only Andrew George at St Ives has received a donation direct from business. He got £2,000 from the Chadwick brothers of Falmouth, who own the fashion firm Seasalt. There was another donation to his campaign in the shape of £5,000 in the name of Joanna Crocker.
Other Lib Dem candidates, while funded overall almost as well as the Tories, seem to be dependent on individuals rather than businesses or organisations. Or at least that’s the impression of the database. Julia Goldsworthy at Camborne and Redruth was the focus of the highest amount last year, with John Howson, Ian Wright, Neil Sherlock, Ray Hancock and Leigh Ibbotson listed as her donors. Leigh Ibbotson, presumably the property developer and investor and holiday park owner of that name based at Truro, also gave £5,000 to Simon Rix’s campaign in Truro and Falmouth. But Dan Rogerson and Phil Hutty in the east received no donations in this period.
Curiously, in St Austell and Newquay, in order to counter the challenge from the Tory funders from south east England, Steve Gilbert seems to be digging into his own pocket to the tune of £3,600. This was boosted by £8,873 (with some in kind as ‘premises’) donated in the name of Joanna Kenny, Lib Dem Cornwall Councillor for Newquay Pentire. This (and other) donations could possibly originate in local Lib Dem organisations. It’s unclear from the records.
But the really big money locally seems to be flowing to the Labour Party. Or more precisely one Labour candidate – Michael Foster at Camborne and Redruth. His campaign has benefited from £119,120 of donations over the past year, £42,727 to pay for ‘administrative services’ and £76, 392 described as ‘other’, maybe including payment for the rather well-produced newspapers which have been regularly falling onto local doormats over the past few months.
This money all comes from Fostermco Ltd, whose sole director is – you’ve guessed it – media entrepreneur and millionaire Michael Foster. The company appeared to have had a paid up capital of ten pence in June 2014. The other recorded donation for a Labour candidate in this period was in Truro and Falmouth, where £4,100 was given by the Red Rose Club of Truro and Neil Morson. But at present Labour has no candidate in this constituency. Perhaps they should hand over the cash to neighbouring Camborne and Redruth and really try to buy that constituency.
Leigh Ibbotson is chair and fundraiser for Truro/Falmouth Lib Dems.
Ray Hancock is Lib Dem party secretray for Camborne, Redruth & Hayle
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.