Thursday, 22 September 2011

2nd home voters; a lot of fuss about nothing.

pic from
a once residential street lies empty

Cornwall Council has decided to strike off second home owners from the electoral register. Headlines, praise and criticism include Cornwall second home owners banned from votingTake your vote home with youNo taxation without representation. This is a welcome move, it is an unacceptable situation when ordinary Cornish people who live and work in the community they are part of have as much say as some rich person from London who spends a few weeks there a year. One person one vote, ought to be the principle adhered to, it is fundamentally undemocratic and unfair that people who own second homes get to potentially vote multiple times where they live and where they own a holiday home. That said this is no big deal, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are busy telling everyone that they have made Cornwall more democratic or fairer but this is at best a half truth.

Cornwall Council's actions actually mean very little, existing legislation means that it is illegal to vote in a general election or referendum twice. As to local elections the legislation forbids voting from a non-residential property as the Electoral Commision website explains.

A person’s name may appear on the electoral register only if they reside at an address within the electoral area. Residence is not defined in law, but it has been held by the courts to entail a ‘considerable degree of permanence’. Based on this criteria, it is possible for a person to be registered to vote in two different electoral areas. A person with two homes who spends about the same amount of time in each can be lawfully registered at both addresses.
However, it is unlikely that ownership of a second home that is used only for recreational purposes would meet the residency qualification. Ownership of a second home that a voter pays council tax on but is not resident in does not qualify them for electoral registration in that area. It is for the local Electoral Registration Officer to decide in the light of an individual voter's circumstances whether they may be said to be resident at an address, and therefore eligible for registration. Electoral Registration Officers are required to consider each case on its own merits.
If an elector is registered to vote in two different electoral areas, they are eligible to vote in local elections for the two different local councils. However, it is an offence to vote twice in any one election. Such an offence could result in a fine of up to £5,000.

It's not an exact way of doing it but removing all people claiming a second home discount from the voting register (or not sending poll cards) is within existing legislation and would remove most of the 2nd home voters. That is to say that by using the law which prohibits voting twice in a general election and using the law to prohibit non residents voting the same result could be achieved. So in effect the Conservative- Independent coalition on Cornwall Council could have used these rules to make sure second home voters didn't vote in last years general election. Similarly the last Liberal Democrat administration on the old County Council could have done the same thing. Neither actually did anything when it mattered, why?

This issue is a lot of fuss about something important, but it's a fuss about nothing actually because the rules already are in place to stop people voting twice and in non-residential households. What is actually lacking by both this Tory-Indy administration on Cornwall Council and the last Lib Dem administration is the political will to enforce the rules.  Hopefully the current administration will enforce the rules and prosecute those that break the law.

So is Cornwall banning second home owners from voting? no existing Westminster legislation already does this.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Cornwall Council talking tough on emergency tugs...

The council has sent a very strong message to government, they argue that the Maritime Incident Response Group (MIRG) should not be scrapped. The centerpiece of the Cornish MIRG is the West Cornwall based Emergency Tow Vessel (ETV). (I have blogged before on this subject e.g. is the government oblivious to maritime safety?)  Some choice phrases to Westminster from Cabinet Support Member for Community Safety and Public Protection Lance Kennedy included:

"This is a reckless decision which will have very serious consequences for both the safety and economy of coastal areas such as Cornwall."

To which I can only agree, also he goes on to say:

"I find the decision to discontinue the MIRG in favour of a system of assessment and advice using commercial salvers to be unbelievable."

(Both from Atlantic FM news)
Well done Lance Kennedy, it's a very strong statement to Westminster highlighting the strength of feeling over this vital service. This strong message was the first part of Lance's message the Tory councillor for Bodmin East, the second part was a reminder about the implications of Cornwall Fire and Rescue and ship fires/ incidents. At the moment the Cornish fire brigade in coordination with the Royal Navy 771 squadron and the Anglian Princess ETV stand ready to fight fires at sea.
The picture above is taken from the This is Cornwall newsite, it pictures the Athena, the fish factory ship that was on fire in the Channel last autumn. Brave Cornish firemen later suffered from smoke inhalation aboard the vessel, but the incident highlighted the coordinated response from the Royal Navy, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and the Coastguard tug the Anglian Princess,(MCA press release). This is a prime example of the Maritime Incident Response Group in action, it shows the need for cooperation and the need for the tug here off the Cornish coast.

As Lance explains Cornwall's fire brigade relies upon the Anglian Princess to operate from

"Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service does not have a statutory responsibility to respond to fires and other emergency incidents on vessels at sea and, with the resources available to us, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to continue to support this area of work. The current system works by Fire and Rescue MIRG services across the country supporting each other. This decision will remove this support. "
Cornwall Fire and Rescue exercise aboard the Scillonian III

Effectively Lance is reflecting the reality that commercial tugs and salvers would have no obligation to work with the fire service either in training/ exercises or to respond to actual emergencies. As a side point the same arguments go for Search and Resuce helicopters when they are privatised. The future is very uncertain over maritime safety off our vital coast.

The Governments argument for abolishing the MIRG and the Anglian Princess, is mostly about cost and lack of use. In the same Atlantic FM story it is stated that the MIRG has only responded to 6 incidents since 2006.   There is some merit to the logic here, why pay everyday for a service you barely use every year? It's a question I ask myself everytime we renew the car insurance. We have never claimed on the insurance why are we paying this money? To which my wife invariably explains the concept of insurance and the simple fact we could not afford another car if ours was stolen or set fire to. 

It's about time someone explained this concept of insurance to the inland dwelling Transport Minister, what would the cost be if a ship ran aground off Cornwall and we had no assets to prevent this? What would the cost be (heaven forbid) if we had another incident like the Torrey Canyon and again we had no assets to deal with it? The cost argument holds no water, yes it's a lot of outlay for what statistically is an unlikely occurrence but it's such a gamble to go without this cover. 
Torrey Canyon

For me though the prime argument for keeping the MIRG and all it's components is about preservation of life. I am sure there are many people in Cornwall that have not known people lost at sea, it's tragic and it does happen. Thankfully over recent years this is less of a common occurance partly thanks to government assets such as the Royal Navy's 771 squadron, the Anglian Princess and of course the brave volunteers of the RNLI. For me, safety has to come first, I do not want to live in a society where a ship in trouble miles from shore has little hope of salvation because of government cuts. I do not want to live in a society where a ship is on fire and able and willing fire-fighters miles away are completely useless to help.

If you remain convinced that the commercial salvers would happily take over the role of the MIRG, consider this: 6 incidents since 2006 for an approximately £8 million a year outlay, there's no commercial case at all for this. There's no money in it. When the Anglian Princess is gone it is very unlikely that a commercial replacement will be seen around Cornish shores or the Western Approaches.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Devonwall is not about fairer votes

The Coalitions plans to reduce the number of MPs also includes plans to equalise constituencies. The primary government aim is to save money by reducing the number of MPs. In a distant second, the argument goes that numbers of voters in seats should be more equal to make democracy fairer, to rid ourselves of the system whereby some voters have more influence than others. A laudable aim indeed, but this is part of plans that will impose a Devonwall constituency on Cornwall and rob us of half an MP, is this too much of a compromise for fairness? I think so. But the new system will not be fair to Cornwall anyway, it takes democratic representation away from Kernow and will not give us parity with any other area.

For in Cornwall we have a democratic deficit, that is to say Cornish voters have far less power than voters up country. As people no doubt remember, the district council tier of government was stripped from Cornwall by the last Liberal Democrat administration at County Hall and the last Labour government in Westminster. In exchange for our local councils, we got a centralised system in Truro with the one monolithic Cornwall Council. So in essence we have one less level of representatives than we did have, we have less democracy and less chance to express our vote at elections. So let's have a quick compare and see what this means:

Say for example if you live in the (less than half) of the Cornish side of the Devonwall seat, you will be represented by that MP and one Cornwall Councillor.

Cornish democratic representatives:

Bude South: Cornwall Council N Pearce LD.

                   Westminster         D Rogerson LD.

Tintagel:       Cornwall Council G Brown LD.

                   Westminster         D Rogerson LD.

Cameford    Cornwall Council K Goodenough Con.

                   Westminster         D Rogerson LD.

Launceston  Cornwall Council A Folkes LD.
                   Westminster         D Rogerson LD.

Whereas across the border, representation has another tier with Torridge and Devon councils as well as Westminster.

Devon democratic representatives:

Bideford:    Torridge District   T Johns LD.
                  Council                 D Fulford CON.
                                              P Christie IND.

                  Devon County      S Robinson CON.

                  Westminster         G Cox CON.

Holsworthy: Torridge District  H Ratledge LD.
                   Council               M Footitt CON.
                   Devon County     B Parsons CON.
                   Westminster        G Cox CON.

Hartland      Torridge District  B Redwood LD.
and              Council               A Dart LD.
                   Devon County     A Boyle CON.

                   Westminster         G Cox CON.

Appledore  Torridge District    A Eastman CON.
                  Council                 B Edwards IND.

                   Devon County      A Eastman CON.

                   Westminster         G Cox CON.

I mean no offence to the good people of Devon and I wouldn't for a minute argue that they should abolish a level of local government as it has done no good west of the Tamar. But the fact remains, despite claims that this reform will save money and make votes fairer. This is not true, the people of Cornwall have already 'saved' money by having less democratic representation, consequently our voters have far less democratic power than our friends in Devonshire. Cornish votes are not fair, this is typical of coalition politics, they ignore their party members in Cornwall and propose schemes without thinking them through. There are many arguments against this Devonwall abomination, so far no good arguments for it.

As a side note, interesting to see most of the Devon councillors are Tories and most Cornish are Lid Dem. I wonder if Dan Rogerson fancies his chances on the far side of the border? I expect renewed vigorous arguing from Cornish Liberal Democrats against their own party's policies.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Devon and Cornwall Police relocate their helicopter to Cornwall

Only joking it's nowhere near Cornwall, it's moving further away.

Last week in the news, was the story that the police force have relocated the force helicopter from thehere on the BBC Devon site. I must confess at the outset that I had no idea that D&C police even had a helicopter, until the Keep Cornwall Whole rally in Saltash last October (where it was buzzing overhead). The simple reason for this is that is based miles away from Penzance in Exeter. Even with such a new and fast machine the chances of it getting this far west in time to do anything useful are very slim.
Headquarters in Exeter to Exeter airport. The move will bring the police millions of pounds by freeing up the Middlemoor site (for development presumably) this in itself is good news, this is the sort of thing that should happen before sacking people and raiding people's pensions.

Map of the force area, note the helicopters location in Exeter

So I wondered why is the helicopter based in Exeter and funny enough this is answered on the police website:

Weather conditions are better in the Exeter area; it would be more difficult to fly from a location further west in the Force area.
The Air Operations Unit is next to the motorway, which is convenient considering that crime frequently enters and exits the Force area via the motorway.
There is a mutual aid scheme with Dorset and Avon & Somerset Constabularies; Air Operations in these forces cover one another in case of emergency. If the Force’s Air Operations Unit were based in Cornwall, for example, it would be too far west to assist these two forces.
If the helicopter base were in Plymouth, it would need to stop more frequently to re-fuel each time it flew east for a job and then back west to Plymouth. The helicopter’s endurance is limited to just two hours’ flying.
The helicopter has always been based in Exeter and it would be expensive for the Air Operations Unit to move location. Air Operations staff all live locally so it is a convenient location.

Notwithstanding a semi-tropical Exeter micro-climate I am unaware of, I doubt the validity of the argument about weather, the Cornish air ambulance is a familiar site throughout Cornwall and here in Penzance we are used to British International's frequent flights to Scilly in all but the most extreme weather. Not to mention the very frequent helicopter flights from Culdrose. All helicopters seldom affected by the weather save for storm conditions.
an EC-145 model, presumably Exeter type snow

The mutual aid scheme is interesting, no word whether the people in Dorset and Avon & Somerset pay for the service and I doubt we'd ever see one of their helicopters in Cornwall, due to distance.
As to the comment about Plymouth, I would use the same logic to argue in favour of a Cornish location or even Plymouth as a location. That is, as the base is in Exeter, it needs to return there more frequently when deployed to Cornwall and West Devon.

Here if you are interested in working it out fro yourself, is a link to a useful google maps based tool that works out distance 'as the crow flies', google maps distance calculator, from Penzance to Exeter International Airport is 89 nautical miles. Also if your interested here's the specification of the police's Eurocopter EC-145 an aircraft capable of a maximum speed of 133 knots. Without working out the maths fully and finding out the response time to get in the air, it is obvious that to reach anywhere in West Cornwall from base would take at least an hour, or if you prefer £1675 each way.

There are two points here, there seems little logic from a Cornish perspective to have the helicopter based in Exeter it's too far,  one it reduces operational effectiveness and two it increases costs. This is yet another example of the Devonwall/ centralisation process that takes jobs and services out of Cornwall. There seems to be some blinkered logic that shoving everything into Exeter is necessary and useful, this is not the case for this helicopter or anything else. As an alternative Newquay airport would be a much better solution for both Cornwall and Devon (59 nm to Exeter, 33 to Plymouth, 28 to Penzance) especially if Cornwall Council would rent facilities at cost. Ultimately though Cornwall would be much better served by our own police force, a Devon based force concentrates it's resources nearby, high time we did the same.

see also Andrew Wallis's blog on the way D&C police is funded in favour of Devon: Paying for the police

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Total Politics left wing blog awards: great news for Mebyon Kernow

Cllr Richardson and Cllr Cole

Regular readers will have seen my post thanks to all my readers about my surprise and delight at coming 39th in the Total Politics non-aligned blogs awards. Today Total Politics announced the top 75 left wing blogs, again I am surprised and pleased that I came in at 65. But the real success story is for Mebyon Kernow, with Dick Cole's coming in at 42 and Stephen Richardson's coming in at 54. I think this is a real testament to the work put in by both of them and I always enjoy reading their blogs, their opinions and research are always informative and important. I do hope next year that the newest MK blog will be rewarded too

Generally as a party, I think Mebyon Kernow can take a lot of heart from this, we're a small force in politics, we don't have great amounts of cash and we are given short shrift by the mainstream media. These awards are a real sign that MK do blogging well and it's something we have to do well because of our size, our resources and our media presence. I am glad that we are punching above our weight in this regard and I hope that MK as a whole can take the example of blogging success and convert it into getting noticed in other areas of campaigning.

Besides Mebyon Kernow I am very glad to see come in at 48th up from 99th last year, it's a great blog well researched and scathing opinions, not one I always enjoy but one I always read. Also very pleased to see some decent Scottish and Welsh nationalist blogs (that I always enjoy reading) in the top 75, Better Nation, Lallands Peat Worrier, A Burds Eye View, Bella Caledonia and Scot Goes Pop and from Wales Leanne Wood and Welsh Ramblings. Well done all!
Link: Total Politics top 75 blogs

Monday, 12 September 2011

The new Devonwall (Bude and Bideford) constituency

The Boundary Commission intial proposals for new constituencies has been leaked by Tory blogger supremo Guido Fawkes, they of course will reignite the debate about the new Devonwall constituency proposed by the Conservative/ Liberal Democrat government. The axe will fall in the north, crossing Cornwall's millennia plus old frontier over the small land crossing. The new constituency will be called Bideford and Bude and incorporate everywhere from Tintagel and Camelford east and north incorporating Bude and Launceston and up across out of Cornwall to include Bideford. By the numbers the new seat will include 35,272 Cornish voters and 39,413 Devonian, again the balance is against the Cornish truly DEVONwall.

The total number of registered voters in Cornwall and Scilly (not including of course those not on the electoral register and those that shouldn't be i.e. second home owners) is 458,278. By the Coalition's "mathematics only" considerations the desired number of electors in each constituency must be between  72,810 and 80,473, so even if Cornwall had 5 MPs representing 80,743 we would have 16,500 voters left over. To have 5 Cornish only MPs would require seats of 83,733. But no we couldn't have Cornish constituencies with an extra 3,300 voters, quite why who knows? All attempts to gain special consideration for our ancient Celtic nation and it's border were flatly refused by the government and at no point did Clegg or Cameron seem to take the issue seriously.

Realistically the Boundary Commission want constructive criticisms during their consultations, they want alternatives but within the constraints of Devonwall. The Cornish border has been voted into oblivion and only the Coalition government can stop that now by voting against the government when the bill returns to parliament. If you are interested in going to the consultation in Truro (frustratingly the only Cornish venue) it's on the 10th and 11th of November at the Alverton Manor Hotel on Tregolls Road link.

I don't have a lot more to say on the subject more than I have done already:
Undemocratic, disengaging, insulting, stupid, and unsympathetic..
also see Dick Cole's blog on the subject:
Bad news coalition plans for Devonwall

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Thanks to all my readers!

Hi all, just a quick blog to say thanks for reading my blog and I am highly honoured to make it into the Total Politics top 50 non-aligned blogs, If you voted for me thanks very much, it's nice to know that people enjoy reading my blog and come back for some more. Also, thanks to all the people that follow me on twitter and read my blog, putting up with my ranting through two different mediums is commendable in itself. I am not a good enough writer to express how happy I am about making it to 39th, umm!?! I just can't believe that my little blog focussing on Cornish politics and Mebyon Kernow is somehow in the same competition as some of the other names on the top 50 list.

Again thanks for reading my blog, I've been blogging just over a year now, I really enjoy writing it and I hope you all like reading it, cheers! (",)

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Fair funding for Cornwall, an insight into Cornish democracy?

On the 27th of July 2010, at a full meeting of Cornwall Council Mebyon Kernow councillors Dick Cole and Stuart Cullimore, proposed and seconded respectively a motion for fairer funding of Cornwall. The vote was passed and so accepted by the council, quoting from the minutes on (Agenda no 15.2 pages 19/20)

RESOLVED that Cornwall Council : 
(a) Notes that hospitals, schools and vital public  services in Cornwall 
receive less funding than other parts of the United Kingdom; 
(b) Notes that public sector cuts will have an especially adverse impact on 
Cornwall, if we continue to receive less than our fair share of government 
expenditure in the first instance; 
(c) Writes to the new Coalition Government to seek  a Commission to 
investigate the full extent of the underfunding of Cornwall, similar to the 
recent Holtham Commission in Wales; 
(d) Agrees to produce a briefing document, outlining our broad concerns 
about the underfunding of Cornwall, which can also  be forwarded to 
central government; and 
(e) Notes the action of the 6 Cornish MPs resulting in Andrew George MP’s 
adjournment debate, and agrees to support our MPs in lobbying for fairer 
funding for Cornwall in support of (i) the 2011/2012 financial settlement; 
and (ii) the revision of Local Government finance, recently announced by 
the Coalition Government.

It should be noted that the Conservative leader of the council Alec Robertson, sought to remove reference to the commission, as the minutes explain:

Part (e) of the recommendation was an addition to the original 
motion in recognition of the Leader’s suggestion that it replace part (c).  
However, it was considered it should be an additional element 
of the motion to further strengthen its intent; 

So it occurred to me a while back that no information had been forthcoming about this motion, so it got me to wondering what had Cornwall Council actually done over the last year about this? were they busy organising a commission with the coalition government? Might we expect fair funding of our services in Cornwall? So I thought I would fire off a Freedom of Information request to Cornwall Council, I worded it as such:

Rob Simmons

22 August 2011

Dear Cornwall Council,

On the 27th July 2010 Cornish councillors voted for the council to
both lobby central government and write to them requesting a
commission to investigate the issue of fair funding for Cornwall
and specifically how much Cornish public services were underfunded.
Could you please provide all correspondence, file records,
telephone notes and any communication sent/ received from Cornwall
Council with relevant government departments, from the 17th June
last year to the present day (todays date 22/08/2011)in relation to
fair funding and the proposed commission.

Yours faithfully,

Robert Simmons

I have had an answer the sum amount of correspondence forwarded to me by Cornwall Council is two letters, one dated the 6th of October 2010 14th of January 2011, the former addressed to the Secretary of State and the latter to Eric Pickles. It must be stated at this point that Cornwall Council have a terrible habit of replying wrongly to FOI requests, so this might not be the total correspondence between Cornwall Council and relevant departments. Both letters are very instructive into the situation Cornwall Council faces and some of the problems of our geography and status as a unitary authority. What does stick out is they make no reference to the motion passed by a majority of Cornwall councillors on the 27th of June last year. The words fair funding are not mentioned once (and surprise surprise?) the commission proposed by Mebyon Kernow and voted for by councillors from every party against the wishes of Cornwall Council leadership  not mentioned once. Also too there is no replies from central government.

I have updated the request to ascertain whether the Council has indeed lobbied the government on this issue and requested a commission to investigate Cornish funding from central government. Any replies that are forthcoming I will blog about. Please feel free to chip in any comments on this subject, especially if you know whether it is legal for the council to democratically adopt policy and then not act on it.... 

The full FOI request is available here, including the replies and the letters sent to govt attached to the CC reply: correspondence on fair funding.