Constituency review 1: The outliers – South East Cornwall and Camborne-Redruth

The two constituencies of South East Cornwall and Camborne-Redruth may be far apart. But they share the distinction of being the weakest Liberal Democrat prospects in Cornwall. South East Cornwall is now a pale shadow of the constituency that once gave us Isaac Foot and Peter Bessell. It’s been transformed by in-migration into one of those Surrey seats that in the 1960s and 70s always had huge majorities for a red-faced, complacent, fat Tory, with Labour and Liberals left hopelessly floundering for second place thousands of votes in arrears. With a very large bunch of Ukip votes now up for grabs the swashbuckling Cornish fisherwoman Sheryll Murray should again reach harbour very safely with well over 50% of the vote.

The good ship Tory heads for shore

Sheryll made headlines when she celebrated joining the political class in 2010 by indulging in an all-nighter during the budget debate and being allegedly drunk on duty. Last year she endeared herself to many of her constituents when she was accused of filibustering a Disability Capability Training Bill for taxi drivers. She of course voted to slash benefits for disabled and ill claimants, supporting cuts in the Employment and Support Allowance, and only a few days ago managed to enrage some at a hustings by saying she was ‘really pleased we have foodbanks’ and then threatening to have the police eject an audience member who disagreed with her. Not that her fans would think there’s anything wrong with any of that. Her robust response to those misguided wimps who dare to criticise her is that she ‘will not tolerate keyboard warriors and trolls‘. So there.

She’s opposed by the Lib Dems’ nice but interesting Phil Hutty. Last time Phil erroneously claimed South East Cornwall was ‘very close’, just before losing by a stonking 17,000 votes. So this time take what he says with a large dose of salt. He faces a much more credible Labour opponent in Gareth Derrick, who may even threaten his second place. Meanwhile, the Greens’ Martin Corney has just posted a photo of his first new potatoes of the year on his Facebook page. Better things to do, Martin?

While there’s no point in voting ‘tactically’ in South East Cornwall to get rid of Sheryll Murray (it just won’t happen), there’s every reason to consider doing so in Camborne-Redruth to unseat George Eustice. Despite help from the Tories’ dubious practice of bussing in activists to marginal seats, resulting in a close encounter with prosecution for breaking electoral law, George sits on one of Cornwall’s lower Tory votes – 40% in 2015. Yet he still has a healthy majority of 7,000 to play with. Moreover, there’s another potential 7,000 homeless Ukip voters waiting in the wings and presumably very willing to vote for this former Ukip member with a long-standing eurosceptic record. All this should have made Camborne-Redruth, like the South East, a safe Tory seat. Until, that is, the recent Tory poll wobbles.

Labour is in a clear second place here. Yet, on the streets Camborne and Redruth haven’t been exactly pulsing with excitement at the prospect of losing its smooth PR lobbyist/earthy local farmer [delete as appropriate] Tory MP. At first, Labour appeared to be running a strangely lackadaisical and not a little shambolic campaign. A scattering of Labour posters were popping up in windows and odd people with dogs were spotted wandering the streets doing some canvassing. And then it suddenly dawned on Labour supporters a week or two backalong that they may have a bit more than an outside chance.

Graham Winter getting closer at Camborne-Redruth?

Their candidate, Graham Winter, provides a big contrast to their 2015 campaign, which was fronted by an abrasive second-home owner with anger-management issues. This time, their candidate appears calm and collected, with more than a passing resemblance to a competent if slightly boring local government officer. Whether this is a good thing or not is of course debatable.

The Tory campaign also seems pretty low key and a little complacent, perhaps over-confident, with George playing the local card as always, but again as always, not entirely consistently. For instance, a few years ago he was supporting campaigners who were appalled at the massive housebuilding and population growth targets being foisted onto the district, calling the targets ‘bonkers’. But then he enthusiastically supported a link road which would ‘unlock’ lots of lovely land for …. massive housebuilding and population growth in the district.

Meanwhile, there are two candidates called Geoff. Geoff Williams has been a local Liberal activist since the days of Lloyd George but is likely to see the Lib Dem vote here follow the Welsh wizard into the history books. According to the West Briton he also has a ‘MBW for services to local government’. This is presumably a typo for ‘BMW as a present for agreeing to step up for the Lib Dems in this lost cause at such short notice’.

Geoff Garbett is again standing for the Greens and must be getting used by now to George Eustice’s arguments on the hustings. Hopefully he’s retained his sanity. But at this election he’s vulnerable to serious squeezing by Labour. Even those rejecting tactical voting as the devil’s work are reputedly having second thoughts.

Final line-up in Camborne & Redruth confirmed: the Geoffs versus George

We now know the 99% certain line-up for Camborne & Redruth a few hours before nominations close for the general election. After several days of prevarication the Liberal Democrats finally revealed their candidate as Geoff Williams. As predicted here, Illogan-based Geoff was chosen, according to the Lib Dems, at a ‘packed’ meeting. Might have been a small room though. Geoff was a founder-member of the Lib Dems in the 1980s and is described as a ‘veteran’ local politician, having been around since the time of Gladstone.

Farmer/PR man and sitting MP George Eustice, won’t lose many nights sleep over the Lib Dems. Now buoyed up by escaping a spell in prison, George will be even less worried by the Greens’ announcement that their candidate is strangely also called Geoff. Coincidentally, Geoff Garbett (68), who contested the constituency in 2015, is, like the other Geoff, also a retired teacher and lecturer. Even more uncannily, he’s also a founder member of his party in the ‘south west’. And, stretching the bounds of credibility to their utmost, he’s also a parish councillor.

The Greens, having, as implied here last week, eventually decided not to stand in St Ives, will be trusting local Lib Dems might do the decent thing and return the favour. Fat chance. So far Liberal Democrats have displayed not a glimmer of any willingness to reciprocate in Cornwall and indulge in so-called ‘progressive’ allying. They’re sticking to their tried and tested Gilbert and Sullivanesque presumption that anyone who isn’t a little Conservative must be a little Lib Dem. The Greens’ less than startling performance in the local elections is unlikely to alter that.

And sadly, there’s no MK candidate. For a few moments last weekend MK considered standing in St Austell & Newquay and Camborne-Redruth. But instead the party has decided to save its money and go into hibernation for four years. Knackered by the locals, they’ve been wrong-footed by the TMaybot’s evil plan to call a general election merely in order to undermine the chances of Cornish nationalism for another generation. It remains to be seen whether Cornwall will survive this latest blow.

Not that, for the Tories, there can be any Cornish nationalism of course, as there’s no Cornish nation. And if some people, like the Council of Europe, say there is, then they’re European and automatically wrong and deluded and, well, just foreign and can’t be believed. So, you Cornish oafs and mugwumps, clear the road and leave ‘our country’ safe from the separatists and fit for foxhunters, offshore investors, hedge funds, speculative developers and the super-rich.

P.S. There’s also a Labour candidate called Graham.