Thursday, 13 March 2014

Cornish Assembly and the Lib Dems

After months of campaigning for a Cornish Assembly by Mebyon Kernow. Liberal Democrats are the first political opponents to break cover and engage with the issue. No word yet from the other political parties, perhaps an idea yet to break into the Westminster bubble. Or perhaps Labour and the Conservatives are waiting to see what the other does.
Days after MK launched the document Towards a National Assembly for Cornwall (pdf link), the Lib Dems voted at conference to make devolution party policy. Allowing Cornwall and other areas to have more say, the exact details are sketchy but not a million miles from my position and indeed Mebyon Kernow's.
But why now? Coming up for 4 years of having Lib Dems in coalition government, 4 years of 3 Cornish Liberal Democrats at "the heart of government", 4 years of policies galore, 4 years of localism. This is the first we hear of it and not in the corridors of power or parliament itself no bills being drafted just a party conference. 4 years of government decades of opportunity and Cornish devolution has only just become party policy. Which kinda contradicts the years of support claimed by Lib Dem press releases.
You might be able to tell at this point that I have some scepticism about this (I feel warranted). So being sceptical how can we explain the push? At the outset it must be said there are some in the party that realise centralised rule has done Cornwall little good. The recent storms, severing of the rail line at Dawlish and the overall lacklustre response from the government has highlighted this. It's not a great surprise then.
But why now and not 4 years ago? I think the answer is simple, it's election tactics. As we've seen with Clegg ruffling Farage's feathers, the Lib Dems are picking weaker opponents. For a number of reasons, firstly it reflects their support and polling they're no longer strong enough to challenge Labour and the Tories. Secondly they want Labour and the Tories to go easy on them in the general election and are hoping to again be peacemakers post 2015. Therefore they don't want to upset red or blue nor do they want to sound too much like them. So rather than challenge the big parties on key issues they're looking to park their tanks on Mebyon Kernow's lawn.
Sound a bit far fetched? Mebyon Kernow an electoral threat to the mighty Liberal Democrats? Consider this before the 2010 election they were polling around 30% of the vote, this worked out in the election as 23% of the vote i.e 59 MPs. These days they're polling around 10% of the vote. In this scenario every single vote counts. Cornish constituencys are all held with single point % majorities, 10% of voters lost equals no LD MPs west of the Tamar.
If polls are correct, half of Lib Dem voters in 2010 won't make that mistake again in 2015, MK are looking to pick up these disenchanted voters and the Lib Dems know it. They know to win in Cornwall they need to win over voters considering switching to MK and stifle our support. They obviously believe sending out press releases and calling meetings is the way to do it. But they are a party of government, for the idea that they are fighting for a better deal in Cornwall to stick. They need to pursue these policies in government.
I'm reminded of Cameron's Minister for Cornwall, an empty pre election promise to take advantage of Cornish disquiet with a distant and uncaring government. I'd love to be wrong, but I'm really sceptical.
In other news Andrew George tweeted triumphantly that Cornish schools will benefit from an extra £3.5 million in funding +1.2%. I asked why Devon was enjoying an extra £16.2 M +4.5%. And the answer was....