Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 a pivotal year for Cornish devolution

In early 2013 I wrote a post reviewing the last year and focusing on devolution in 2012. The idea was to highlight how the debate had come along in that year and how publicity for the cause had grown. Looking back at that no, it is easy to see how far the issue has come. Back in 2012 there was the odd mention here and there in 2014 it has ballooned and it would now be an unenviable task to link to all of the mentions of a Cornish assembly and devolution. 2014 was an important year in this debate and I review some of the debates below, for MK and the other political parties, Cornwall Council's recent interventions and looking to the new year and the future for the Cornish devolution movement.

Part of this story can only be understood by casting our gaze north and looking to Scotland and the huge events around the independence referendum. Mebyon Kernow's reaction to the indyref was to welcome the opportunity to rethink the structure of the UK. Whilst everyone considered the previously unthinkable idea of Scotland breaking up the union. MK set to the task of making people consider the idea of more power to Cornwall, not independence but devolution to Cornwall.

The Tory MP Sarah Newton had a cynical take on this approach as she put it: “Predictably supporters of a Cornish Assembly are jumping on the independence bandwagon." link Since the referendum was called MK had worked hard getting Cornwall's claim to more powers on the agenda. Cynical? perhaps. A great opportunity to strive for a better Cornwall and to make that argument? definitely.

For Mebyon Kernow's part we've launched an assembly document titled: "Towards a National Assembly for Cornwall" (pdf link). This outlines our ideas for devolution and the powers we think Cornwall needs under a law making assembly. This document sparked debate and went out first to consultation of the party membership and latterly a public consultation. Alongside the donkey work of laying out this vision into a 28 page booklet. We have campaigned online, through blogs and social media, press releases, tv appearances and roadshows at events around Cornwall.

However we are not the only ones campaigning for devolution There have been notable interventions by members of the Cornish Constitutional Convention, most notably 2 senior Cornwall Councilors Julian German and Bert Biscoe (both Independent). Julian wrote a piece called "Why Cornwall's case for a regional government is strong" in the Western Morning News. Bert wrote in the same newspaper: "We are the region most likely to make a success of devolution." as you can from the titles, they're strong pieces and both well worth a read.

In terms of parties the Greens are worth mentioning first. They've always been technically in support of devolution to a Cornish Assembly but are not always that forward about it. Their intervention at the start of the year was bold and brave. They endorsed MK's devolution plans and even the leader of the Green Party came to Cornwall to meet Dick Cole and pledge that parties support for a Cornish Assembly and ultimately Mebyon Kernow's vision. I say bold as most parties go to great lengths to undermine other parties, nice to see someone willing to do politics differently.

Of the established parties the Lib Dems seem the most enthusiastic about Cornish devolution, mostly due to the fact that Labour and the Tories have very little interest. But Clegg's party puts out muddled comments about Cornwall and more powers and their campaigning is on the subject is very limited. The cause of this inertia seems to be disagreements between what shape devolution should take. On the one hand there is MK's position devolution needs to be to a new body, that has law making powers and is not run by Westminster. On the other there's an idea of having more responsibilities to Cornwall Council but leaving central government most of the say. The Lib Dems seem on the fence. Some talk of a legislative assembly others more powers to local government.

This is all despite the fact they passed at Spring Conference a policy on devolution titled: "Power to the People" which was lauded as a great leap forward for Cornwall. But is in itself muddled it mentions Cornwall a few times: "Propose an English Devolution Enabling Act whereby
legislative devolution is in principle available to Cornwall" (P.11)

Then later:
"Our vision is of greater power being exercised by either:
• Strengthened, existing institutions (such as the unitary
Cornwall Council), or
• Agreement to new institutions covering a wider area than
existing local authorities, or
• Simple associations of existing local authorities working
together to exercise the powers they choose to have
devolved (this scenario is most likely in areas where fewer
powers are sought)."

Despite this confusion between a legislative assembly and more powers for Cornwall Council, Julia Goldworthy uses this to boast: "Ours is the only UK party committed at the highest level to a Cornish Assembly, and we have the capacity to deliver it." link. The reality is this commitment is confused and muddled and not backed up by firm ideas. Which is a shame because the Lib Dems have been in government for five years and have failed to use this time to push Cornish devolution (in whichever form) onto the government's agenda. With bleak prospects for the general election, the idea the Lib Dems will have the capacity to deliver it post May is looking very unlikely.

In the last year much has changed in the devolution debate, the Lib Dems have talked about it. Mebyon Kernow and the Greens have supported firm ideas and campaigners and councillors have expressed opinions. The debate has changed and developed. However for the Tories and Labour this process has passed them by completely. The important Survation Poll which asked people about devolution, revealed 60% in favour of taking power from the center to Cornwall a further 49% were in favour of a Cornish Assembly. This must have phased them, as both remain both against a Cornish Assembly and generally dismissive of the idea of devolution.

Both Labour and Tory supplement their support for central rule with vague ideas about giving more powers to Cornwall. unfortunately these ideas solidify into little else but glib comments. There is no detail, no plan, no party policy, it is almost as though both wish to stick their heads in the sand and not have to deal with the question of Cornwall's governance and the opportunity more powers presents to Cornwall. UKIP in this regard seem similar. It's to the detriment of Cornish politics that neither of the three will dedicate any time or energy to constitutional matters and enter into the debate in a mature and interested fashion. This inertia has led to all three being rudderless and adrift from public opinion which is generally in favour of more powers to Cornwall.

The most impressive intervention (to my mind) in 2014 was from John Pollard. An independent councillor and leader of Cornwall Council, under his leadership the council has produced plans. I may not agree with all of the points. But I haven't talked about them thus far so won't be too critical on them (I'll lave that for a later date). As John Pollard himself wrote:

"Mebyon Kernow, not surprisingly felt that the whole document lacked ambition. While understanding that view, I am certain that we need to discuss the achievable and then build to anything more. This is why we have published a list of the things we need now and a list of what we would ask for next.

So the next few weeks will be interesting to say the least. I was sent a cutting from the Metro – the free London newspaper which had the headline – Council Leader ask for Home Rule for Cornwall! Well hardly, but…………………………………"

The next year has the massive event of the general election, this will politicise the debate on Cornish devolution. Hopefully the debate will widen and Tories, UKIP and Labour will realise that this may not be their idea but it is an elephant in the room and that big beast may well sit on them if they aren't careful. Hopefully the Lib Dems will gain some realism and work towards proper plans with other people and retire their notion that they are a big player in UK politics and will continue to be. For Mebyon Kernow and other campaigners dedicated to getting powers for Cornwall. We have the opportunity of a general election and a new government. 2014 is a year that people have pushed like never before, 2015 will be no different. After the general election and whatever happens in it, devolution campaigners ought to put aisde their differences and work to get a deal that Cornwall wants. The first step in this process is by talking to people, taking time to understand what people want, not what politicians want. 2015 is a year of opportunity, those that like central rule will try to distract and derail the push for more power, but I could well imagine sitting here this time next year with significant more progress towards a National Assembly for Cornwall. Well that's my new year wish.....

Blydhen Nowydh Da
Happy New Year

p.s. you know the debate is getting more varied when you can review the year without finding time to talk about the recognition of the Cornish people back on St George's day, good times :)

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Pensions: Betrayal of firefighters by Cornwall's MPs

The coalition government is seeking to 'reform' firefighters pensions. As with all Conservative and Liberal Democrat reforns this means one of two things privatise or cut. This is the case of the latter and a harsh cut is planned. As many of you will have noticed fire service personnel under the leadership of the Fire Brigades Union FBU have been striking on the pensions issue. Despite gaining a Common's vote, from an EDM, for MPs to look in their hearts and reject the reforms this failed and Cornwall's loyally did the government's bidding and failed to support our fire service workers.

The government's plans amount to expecting firefighters to pay more contributions and retire at an older age. Pushing the retirement age up to 60, despite the fact even the government's own advisers warn that fitness tests will not be met at such a high age. The idea that to gain the full pension would require a firefighter to work 40 years from 20 to 60 is terrible. 40 years service in such a demanding and stressful job is an unrealistic aim. Common sense is severely lacking in this case. As always those we should be supporting in society for their own sakes are being betrayed and pushed upon in the name of austerity.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Firefighters are incandescent following two months of negotiations which have led to no new proposals...The public do not want 60 year olds tackling fires. Everyone understand the stupidity of these plans – except government Ministers." 

Added to this lack of understanding was all of Cornwall's MPs Tory and Lib Dem. George Eustice and Andrew George did not vote. Sheryll Murray, Sarah Newton and Dan Rogerson voted against the EDM in defence of the new pensions. Meanwhile in a quizzical move Stephen Gilbert signed the EDM (which you'd imagine signified support) turned up for the vote. Then voted for and against the government, does he support worse terms for firefighters? Umm the answer is yes and no.

Even in this season of good will, we have to remind ourselves of the unfairness of austerity. Ask ourselves do we wish to live in a society whereby numbers in columns are the ultimate aim? Where morality and justice play second fiddle to the push to cut public services and taxes for corporations and higher rate earners?

Unfortunately we don't live in a society where MPs have to ask people what they think. We don't get a say day to day or even every year but only every 5 years. Use your vote wisely.

For information how MPs voted:

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Penzance Town Council and Jubilee Pool, let's dive in when we see the detail

Sometimes at council things change and sometimes these changes are significant, other times councillors reaffirm and clarify what already takes place. Last night at the full council meeting it was more the latter, in regard of Jubilee Pool.

Back in May on the 6th there was a special town council meeting to discuss a proposal put forward by Cornwall Council for the town to support them in their Coastal Communities Fund bid. In the meantime this bid has been successful, which is great news, other than that nothing has actually happened. No funds have been spent on the pool, there are various behind closed door meetings that the Mayor and Cornwall Councillors attend on progress, as all of them are tight lipped about it, I can only surmise there has been no further progress. Yet in spite of there being nothing new we found ourselves as a council discussing the matter last night and asked to commit to taking over the pool. The justification for this was a rumour that Cornwall Council officers had heard rumours that town councillors were having second thoughts, a rumour I wasn't actually aware of.

To backtrack in May the town council unanimously agreed 1. to put funds towards the pool bid and 2. well read for yourself:
Penzance Town Council committed to working with Cornwall Council and The
Friends of Jubilee Pool to form a partnership in respect of taking an active role
in the operation and management of Jubilee Pool.
Minutes 6th May
The motion before full council last night was as follows:

That Penzance Town Council agrees to formally become the lease holder and management body for the Jubilee Pool. 
I spoke against this as did the majority of other councillors. As I was quoted in the Cornishman  I would not rent a house without reading the tenancy agreement first. This is not because I have changed my mind, I still think the pool is a great asset to the town. as I said at the meeting I think the decision of the 6th was the right decision. But as other councillors explained Jubilee Pool is a multi million pound asset and  multi million pound liability. The former ought to be obvious the latter as it could well be prone to storm damage again, it will cost to keep it running etc. The reality is that the town council has a limited budget and as much as we'd like to have ultimate control over it the risks are very severe. This is why the terms of any lease an/or operating licence need to recognise our position.

I couldn't support the motion put to the town council as it was, we need a lot of reassurances not to mention an actual lease agreement to consider. Frankly agreeing to take over a pool that currently lies derelict is unwise to say the least. I did however support the amended motion. That I scribbled down as:

That Penzance Town Council agrees in principle to formally become the lease holder and management body for the Jubilee Pool. Subject to further discussions with Cornwall Council.

This carried with 9 votes in favour, 4 against and 1 abstention. There was also a guarantee that any lease agreements would be brought to the full council meeting to be approved.

There we have it folks a vote on a lease that has not been offered for a pool that has not been fixed. If you think that's pointless think yourself lucky I haven't blogged about the other riveting developments recently. Standing orders, media policies, terms of reference, mission statements and other great things to send aid those who have trouble sleeping, I'd probably nod off writing them. I can only hope with the various meetings that are going on behind closed doors that something actually of benefit to the town is going on because I have crick in my neck from all this navel gazing.

I must say however there was an item of note to the world outside of procedural anoraks last night. Cllr Axford proposed a motion that the town council write to local GPs asking them to support local hospitals and spell out for patients that the 2 options they are supposed to ask are not simply public/ private, RCHT/ Duchy. That RCHT also covers local hospitals such as West Cornwall and St Michael's in Hayle not just Treliske. That there is a risk without people using them the justification will be there to centralise and privatise these services and close them. Thankfully this passed unanimously.


Thursday, 11 December 2014

My response to the BBC's party election broadcast criteria

The BBC is at the moment running a consultation on Party Election Broadcasts for the 2015 general election. They are asking people to review the criteria they use. As many of you will have seen Dick Cole has challenged this (Mebyon Kernow set to demand fair share of tv election broadcasts). He has also encouraged people to submit their own responses and put pressure on the BBC to include Mebyon Kernow.
Mebyon Kernow should be treated fairly by the BBC

I also implore people to email, the BBC website page on the consultation is here and you just need to answer 2 questions:

Do the proposed Party Election Broadcast allocation criteria seem appropriate? Please explain why.

Do you have any other comments on the proposed Party Election Broadcast allocation criteria?

Then email your responses to this email address

Here's my submission:

Dear sir/ madam,

Below are my responses to the questions on the consultation document, any questions/ queries don't hesitate to get in contact. 

Do the proposed Party Election Broadcast allocation criteria seem appropriate? Please explain why.

The UK is a parliamentary democracy not a presidential model, we vote for constituency representatives not for a president. On ballot papers across the UK people will have the option of several candidates. Perhaps half of these candidates will benefit from seeing having television exposure to gain electoral support and galvanise their faithful. In turn half the candidates will be excluded from this process and placed at an unfair disadvantage. Television is a powerful medium in politics and there is an onus upon a public service broadcaster to wield this power in the public interest and respect diversity and difference. 

The number of candidates needed to pass the threshold for a PEB is overly centralised and does not take into account regional differences. Parties like mine (Mebyon Kernow- the Party for Cornwall) are discriminated against, however accidentally, by the need to field so many candidates outside of our area. Unlike Wales and Scotland where the thresholds are much lower there is no similar dispensation for Cornwall. The UK is a huge place what matters in politics in one place may well be meaningless in another. Here in Cornwall the debate about devolution rages in the local press and online as well as debates about our poor economic output and poor transport links. These are the matters Cornish politicians will address up to (and hopefully after) the general election. By not including Mebyon Kernow in the PEBs and making no allowance for Cornish difference the BBC will be stifling debate and not serving the interests of democracy in Cornwall. 

This system of standing nearly everywhere is skewed in favour of bigger parties. Despite the fact opinion polls and party membership figures show that the numbers supporting the established parties is at an all time low. Politics has moved on from the era of bi-partisan or tri-partisan dominance. People are looking at other parties to lend their support to. The model of only allowing parties that stand near enough everywhere is one that has not moved with the times. This PEB system effectively entrenches the existing parties and stifles the room for growth for alternative political ideologies and parties. I question whether the public interest is served by effectively limiting broadcast time to the old guard parties and providing little for those looking for something different in politics. There is a risk of inadvertently increasing voter turn out, by the BBC ignoring the diversity of opinion across the UK not currently catered for by existing political parties.  

Do you have any other comments on the proposed Party Election Broadcast allocation criteria?

Cornwall ought to be treated as a special case. For two major reasons, firstly the Cornish are now recognised as a national minority. Hitherto there has been little evidence that the BBC has factored the terms of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities into their broadcasting, there is most certainly a need for allowances for Party Election Broadcasting. Article 9 of the FCNM covers the need for allowance to be made of members of national minorities and should be relevant to PEBs and a special case for Cornwall. It is incumbent upon the BBC to understand and respect the national minority status of the Cornish people. The other national minority groups such as the Scottish and the Welsh are given their own broadcasts and the national majority the English are treated similarly. Although recognition of the Cornish is a relatively new development, it is nonetheless a development, if the other national groupings of this isle are singled out for preferential treatment, it would be a disgrace that Cornwall is ignored. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Cornwall needs politicians to care and not just in election leaflets

I'm sure I'm not the only one that has a recycling bag filled with glossy pamphlets, leaflets and sales pitches from politicians. Looking through them, you'd think Cornwall has a bright future the fundamental issues are all addressed. The low wage economy, high house prices, second homes, the saddecline of traditional industries like fishing and agriculture and the lack of support of small businesses, over-development and the list goes on. MPs and prospective MPs know what needs to change, it's not a question of misunderstanding Cornwall, but yet nothing changes?

I could have written this blog and talked about this 5 years ago or 10 years ago or at any point during my lifetime and anywhere in Cornwall. The same leaflets were sent around then, slightly different pictures granted but the same issues over and over again. Like Groundhog day without the charm and humour of Bill Murray and the slight variations of the theme are far from humour and are to the detriment of Cornwall.

I just feel a sheer sense of frustration that nothing ever happens, that change is so hard to come by. It's almost like a conspiracy of ineptitude no matter who we send to Westminster, Tory, Lib Dem or Labour. Especially now when we have 6 Cornish MPs at 'the heart of Westminster' all in the ruling coalition. What exactly is the problem? Is it just a cynical attempt to garner votes? Do they not really care about these fundamental issues?

Please readers do me a favour if the suits from the big parties call, ask them what exactly they do when they go to Westminster? are they not trying or just don't care when they've got people's votes?

Come polling day think about what you would like to change and ask yourself will the person I elect do that, or even bother?

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Clegg's visit to Penzance and absence from the Autumn Statement

Today 2 things happened in politics, 1 there was the Autumn Statement setting out the Coalition government's priorities for the next budget. 2 Nick Clegg came to Penzance to talk about money put into a breakwater study.

A month ago Penzance Town Council voted to put a contribution towards a study into a breakwater. I blogged about it here. Nick Clegg was in Penzance today announcing the government will put forward their contribution. A welcome step? Yes of course. News? Not in the slightest, the town council was asked by government for a contribution with the understanding they would fund the rest.

This is a welcome step, having proper sea defences is a must for Penzance and is long overdue. As I've written before this is the start of a journey. Having a study conducted will be a step forward, the first if many, afterward funding will need to be found.

So why would the Deputy Prime Minister come all the way to Penzance for a small step? The Cornishman asked Clegg if it was a deliberate snub of the Autumn Statement. Nick of course denied it. I can definitely see why they asked the question. The Deputy Prime Minister avoiding the Autumn Statement is a snub and a silly one. Budgets are massively important things, it lays out what will happen next year or indeed not happen, not being there for essentially a preview of the budget is odd to say the least.

Although I have a different theory. There is a definite reason to snub the Autumn Statement for Cornwall's MPs. We aren't mentioned once. Not especially unusual but when one of the themes of Osborne's speech was devolution and we aren't mentioned (again). Another section titled Northern Powerhouse detailing investment in the North of England. No powers nor including in regional infrastructure funding.

There's no good story there for Cornwall there's nothing for our MPs to be proud of. When the local newspapers hit the stands don't be surprised if the front page is Clegg in Cornwall. Not that Cornwall has missed out on any new spending in next year's budget.

Monday, 24 November 2014

What is the point of the Liberal Democrats?

Reading through the latest batch of Liberal Democrat press releases and perhaps the tired old rhetoric, those weary words but it soon sent me to sleep. I guess that's causality, one thing causes another. I awoke and y'know when you just get up and you feel a bit confused with reality? Well I was in that stage pondering what I'd read. Was it real? Had dreams impinged upon reality?

Thankfully not! Alas it was real, even bleary eyed I can tell the and difference between reality and smoke and mirrors. And I thought what's the point of the Lib Dems?

(Other than to send you to sleep of course!)

Look at the subjects of their statements and they all tug at the heart strings, who in the right mind would want to close libraries? Bulldoze woodland for housing? Spend millions on a police commissioner and lay off front line officers, front desks and run a 101 service to rival pigeon post? Who would want to privatise the NHS and open it up to sale to all kind of speculators like Lockheed Martin? Enforce regional pay and take more money out of Cornish workers pockets?

Which brings me back to the subject of causality, none of these things would be possible without people like yourself, your friends, neighbours and family voting Liberal Democrat. Despite their words they ought to be judged on their record not what they should, could or might've done but what they teamed up with the Tories to do to our communities. Perhaps when you next awake you too might ponder what is the point of voting Lib Dem? Before we all wake up next May to another nightmare coalition, enabled by Clegg's Cornish chums, convince someone to think about the last 5 years of dissapointment and betrayal.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Tories block devolution to Cornwall to keep power in Westminster's hands

Whilst here in Cornwall we might fantasise about how things could change with devolution. How powers to make decisions in Cornwall would lead to solutions suited to us not to central government. How we might break the status quo of low wages, high house prices and being one of the least economically productive parts of the EU. At the same time David Cameron has pledged to keep the status quo and retighten the grip on the purse strings. Ruling out devolution of tax raising powers
This is ridicously short sighted and ignores the fact most states in the world are happy for not every simple decision to be made in the capital. Local tax raising is a common sense solution. As anyone can see, without a vested interest in how much tax is raised and thus how well the economy is doing, what is the impetus for authorities to focus on growth?
The system of the vast majority of taxes going to the center and it deciding what to distribute outwards is a nonsense and leads to an economy where the capital grows and the periphery struggles. A situation where Cornwall will always struggle and continues to face a future where infrastructure investments lags decades behind.
The Prime Minister shows an abject lack of faith in the people and the usual unambitious desire to limit decision making to the inner circle of the M25. As with Cornwall's Tories response to devolution to Cornwall it's about keeping power in the hands of the select few in London including them and in the hands of George Osborne. The party interest trumps the interests of Cornwall. The same is true of Labour they do not want power distributed across the UK and something as powerful as a Cornish assembly is so hated as it suits their parties and their desire for retaining ultimate control in Downing street. This self serving interest is why none of them, including David Cameron, even think of asking people here what they think, what their ambitions for Cornwall are. The lesson from Scotland is the Tories and Labour will offer considerable powers if it curtails independence and losing of much more power.
This whole process of the PM deciding off the cuff what wil happen, illustrates what is wrong with the current system. The decisions about Cornwall's future are not decided by the people of Cornwall nor people elected by us. So much for democracy!

Friday, 14 November 2014

The road to May starts with the Mebyon Kernow conference and engaging more

This sunday is the Mebyon Kernow conference. Every party conference is an important one,  The focus this year is engagement, the conference is a great time to see more of a party and find it's members, spokespersons and leadership all in one place ready to speak to people. It's a time to inform policy, hold debates and engage with both the membership and the public. Below is a blog with some of my thoughts about the conference and a link to the agenda for sunday's event.

This conference is more important than most. For a number of reasons: firstly there's the general election looming large on the horizon, make no mistake this is the most unpredictable election in a long long time. Opinion polls reveal there is a record low of people that will vote for Labour and Tory next May. The polls also tell us only a fraction more voters will vote Lib Dem next year (across the UK) then will vote for the SNP (just in Scotland). The three big parties will try to make out that this election is a contest between them, the reality says something completely different. The opportunity for Mebyon Kernow to make a mark is huge.

Secondly the issue of devolution has never been higher on the agenda. The time to push for ambitious devolution and for Cornwall to have the say on what powers we want, rather than politicians in London deciding, is now. Government occasionally glances it's eye over devolution, but these opportunities do not happen that often. At previous times, like when Labour was in power last, Cornwall got nothing our voices were not heard by the powers that be. There is not greater time then now to make our voices heard and we need to look to members of the party to help us do that.

These things combined, now is the time for Mebyon Kernow to step up. To think harder about how we do things, work harder and smarter and make our impact on politics. To be honest and to be frank this is not an easy thing to do, as unpopular as they are at the moment the 'Westminster' parties dwarf us in terms of budget, organisation and paid staff (of which we have none). Add to this people are very familiar with the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and Labour, turn on the tv to watch the news and they'll be there. David versus Goliath seems a worthy example to draw here but in fact our sling is not aimed at one Goliath it's aimed at a number of them. We have to be better at engaging people, both voters and supporters of the party. We don't have the easy option of a top down campaign reliant on huge sums of money for advertising and a regular slot on the news. We have to be bottom up, we have to learn from the Scottish independence campaign that their 45% of yes voters were won against the odds, by a grass roots campaign. We don't have the big corporate donors of Tory, Lib Dem and Labour we need to look instead to hard work.

With that in mind the format of the conference is different this year. There's still the engagement we do very well as a party and we're one of those rare beasts in politics these days that decides policy based on debate and voting by the membership. Added to that we've cut down on the number of speeches and the focus of the afternoon session -which is open to the public- is engagement.  Starting at 2 it kicks off with a keynote speech from Dick Cole. There then follows a roundtable discussion with Mebyon Kernow's parliamentary candidates on the implications of the Scottish independence referendum and the campaign for a Cornish Assembly. I think it will be a good opportunity for us (meaning specifically Andrew Long, Loveday Jenkin, Stephen Richardson and myself) to explain how we view things and to see what the conference thinks.

In the second part there follows a more open discussion with the same candidates on Mebyon Kernow priorities for the general election campaign. This part I'm looking forward to most and I have little doubt it will be a robust debate with people that want the party going in one direction or another making their case for it. Politics is a complicated subject, although MK is borne out of being what is essentially a single issue party there are many things officials of the party and members care about.

Looking at the morning session there are 3 motions to conference, the first is on sport and the need for investment and better facilities in Cornwall. The second is votes for young people, which I will be seconding and speaking on, which seeks to get 16 and 17 years old the right to vote. The third is reversing the devastating austerity cuts to Cornwall. As you can see these are 3 complicated and varied issues. I hope the motions all pass, these are 3 things I care about deeply. That said, they are not the only issues. That's why I will find the second roundtable discussion the most fascinating and I hope to learn the most from it. I sincerely hope party members are active in this discussion and members of the public, to tease out the issues and indeed strategies and make the party better.

Here's a link to the agenda and the venue is of course Lys Kernow (New County Hall) in the main chamber, more details and directions here.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Another nail in the coffin of localism as Pickle's rejects supermarket levy out of hand

The Tory minister Eric Pickles has denied local councils the right to choose to levy a big business. I wrote about a large retailer levy a while back in perhaps an overly academic fashion looking at the pros and cons. I did have some conversations with senior councillors and officers at Cornwall Council and a few months later they did write to government asking for those powers. I have a lot of sympathy with the idea of a big retail tax, all of our town centers have empty shops, yet Cornish towns are increasingly encircled by supermarkets and out of town retail. The small independent local businesses are obviously losing out to the multinational chains and as a consequence money is leaving Cornwall faster than tourists in late August.

What's so thoroughly depressing and frustrating about it all is that man Eric Pickle's again acting like lord and master over local government and indeed local communities. In an amazing act of hyperbole even for Eric he sent out a personal press release the DCLG website states: "Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, stood up for hard-working people today." Is frankly bizzare and falls into that typical lazy politician trap of saying what people want to hear regardless of the reality. Is it just hard working people that shop in supermarkets, don't lazy people, unemployed people, students, children and those not able to work shop there too? Do hard working people not shop in town too? or is it just the feckless found on the high street?

This case is so typical of Eric Pickle's despite the fact he said things like this a couple of years ago when he unveiled the localism bill:

"It is the centrepiece of what this Government is trying to do to fundamentally shake up the balance of power in this country. For too long, everything has been controlled from the centre - and look where it’s got us. Central government has kept local government on a tight leash, strangling the life out of councils in the belief that bureaucrats know best."

He doesn't understand localism, him and his government have backtracked on nearly every principle of this forcing councils to accept housing figures they don't want and to effectively cap council tax to pursue their ideology of cutting public services. Recently William Hague ruled out a Cornish Assembly without even asking anyone in Cornwall! The same is true of Eric's refusal to tax big retailers. It's not about what the local areas want, Cornwall Councils can't even ask people if they want this. Eric has decided from his office hundreds of miles away, end of story. This control freakery of Westminster needs to stop, Supermarkets like housing so much else should be our choice not the distant government, which is why I believe a Cornish Assembly is the answer.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Penzance Town Council votes for a breakwater

Amongst other things this evening the town council voted to support a feasibility study into a breakwater for Mount's Bay. A study is crucial to prove the viability of such a sea defence. This would be essential for pulling in any funding from the government or through EU funds.The amount is a £10,000 from the town out of an estimated £100,000. It does seem like a large amount of money, but unfortunately the nature of consultancy and expertise is such that it is expensive. Without any such report a future breakwater to protect Penzance harbour and seafront would be impossible.
This is a significant step forward and the large amount of support from the town council tonight and on the issue if sea defences more generally bodes well for the future. Of course we are still talking about the future. A report will not automatically mean a breakwater will be built nor the money found. But if the report finds a realistic option we will have a lot of ammunition to lobby for funding.
Also tonight we heard from Cllr McKenna on the works to fix the prom. This stage replacing the parts of the damaged sea wall is nearly complete. We look to the future and funding being found for new railings and a new surface for the promenade.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

A step closer to a Breakwater for Penzance?

It's certainly not new news that a breakwater in Mount's Bay is widely desired. Personally I think it's long overdue and I hope the winter will not again prove that the sea defences of the town are inadequate. Regular readers will remember my posts on the subject earlier this year. Thankfully this is one of those issues that looks to pass from the realms of press releases to reality (or nearer to it).

At Monday's Penzance Town Council meeting it will be put to the councillors that a feasibility study is needed to investigate options. That with the backing of the town council and crucially a £10,000 contribution, the Department for Transport could find the rest of the £100,000 cost. Quite why Cornwall Council as owners of the harbour and promenade are not involved is puzzling to say the least.

A breakwater would be a small step in the right direction. Perhaps the much fancied ideas about rejuvenating the harbour and prom might, with a breakwater come into fruition. After consistent lobbying and making arguments parts of the Penzance Harbour Users Association plans look to take shape.

But we nevertheless must be cautious. A £10,000 payment by the town council can't be taken lightly, it is a lot of money. We might doubt that the feasibility study will not be used and sit collecting dust. There's enough studies, consultant reports and plans on Penzance seafront to fill a small library. I'm not arguing that we ought not try, this is indeed the perfect time, but we should be wary and realise the enormity of the task before us.

The feasibility study will (or might) be the first step toward a sustainable future for the seafront a place protected and worth investing in. It will take further work convincing the government to part with the money, but there's an election coming up folks lobby those standing for election and hold them to their promises.

I hope the vote will go the right way on monday and we can look to build a brighter future.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Residents survey reveals Cornwall Council's poor reputation in Penwith

Cornwall Council's poor reputation in the old Penwith area is confirmed by residents survey. From the general view of the council, through to value for money, how well the council listens and even cleanliness the west has the lowest levels of satisfaction. This should be of great concern for the administration at Cornwall Council and local Cornwall Councillors and accept the widely held view that Cornwall Council doesn't work for Penwith and that we were much better off before centralisation. A situation that need resolving.

In total 60 people in West Penwith, (an area called Penzance, Marazion and St Just but here West Penwith) and 57 in Hayle and St Ives responded out of a total of 1,212 across Cornwall. Although this is only a small amount of people there are some interesting trends to note.

Unfortunately neither of the places that the information is displayed (here) and (here) give the full information and break down every answer by area. Instead both (seemingly identically) draw out some of the best and worst answers. For example the areas/ groups of people most satisfied and most dissatisfied everyone in between is left out. Many areas in the middle ground don't come up very often e.g. Helston and the Lizard is mentioned once (88% resounded positively as a place to live). 

As the map above illustrates the areas most satisfied with Cornwall Council are Launceston then Camborne then Bude. West Penwith is bottom of the list with the least satisfaction in the local authority. Which contrasts starkly with the 51% of people across Cornwall who are satisfied. This trend continues of difference with the Cornish average continues.

56% of people in Penzance, Marazion and St Just thought Cornwall Council was not value for money with 50% of Hayle and St Ives agreeing with that sentiment. Both being the worst answers throughout Cornwall, further West Penwith had only 15% of respondents agreeing that CC provided value for money. 

In answer to a question about Cornwall Council making the area cleaner 36% of people agreed in West Penwith that this was the case, compared to 47% across Cornwall. 

Across Cornwall 34% agreed the council was trustworthy with 24% disagreeing. Whereas in Hayle and St Ives 39% didn't agree that Cornwall Council was trustworthy and 37% in West Penwith taking the same view. 

Whether Cornwall Council acts on the concerns of local residents was another question, across Cornwall 26% agreed they did and (worryingly) 37% disagreed. As always the further west the worse it gets 51% in West Penwith didn't agree that residents were being listened to. 

40% of residents agree Cornwall Council treats all people fairly, 22% disagreed. West Penwith 44% disagreed that this was the case. 

50% of the population think the council is standing up for Cornwall 24% disagree. Only 38% of people agree in West Penwith think that the council is doing enough in this regard.

More generally these comments submitted as part of the survey are very at odds with current policies pursued by Cornwall Council:

There's some real food for thought here. I find myself in the majority view on a lot of these questions. There is not a positive view of Cornwall Council in the west. From talking to people I know, comments I see online, people I spoke to on the doorstep, campaigners and an interesting conversation I had with a group in Marazion last night the same messages come across. The poor perception that Cornwall Council doesn't listen, that issues like housing are decided with no meaningful public consultation, that we aren't getting a good deal from Cornwall Council. The same issues are cited: planned housing around Gulval, Heamoor, Carbis Bay, Ludgvan and St Ives, Sainsbury's, the harbour, the town center. 

The cynical part of me asks why at this juncture Cornwall Council has undertaken the first public survey, is it a coincidence that a general election is around the corner? Whether this is the case or not I hope politicians are taking note of what people are saying and actually work for change in these areas and not say what people want to hear and carry on regardless. Things need to change here.

One a sidenote I find it so frustrating that in a document that screams the west is not happy and not being listened to and understood that this issue is compounded by the fact Marazion is variously spelt Marazion, Marizion and Marzion in this document.

Monday, 13 October 2014

The bizarre logic of which political parties are allowed on tv

Today it has been announced that broadcasters have offered Nigel Farage a place in the televised
election debates for next year's general election. This will mean Labour, Conservative, Lib Dems and UKIP will form a part of the televised US presidential style leadership debates first seen in the UK in 2010. But the logic behind the thinking is bizarre to say the least, seeming to be made up more of a list of who's in favour at the time, more than a logical system of who might be next prime minister. What is needed in a genuine democracy is that the media offer the public all the options not simply their chosen few.

I know that there is a possibility Nigel Farage could be the next PM, I expect some in the media would like this to come true. But by the same logic the leader of the Green party could be next PM, granted Natalie Bennett is not an MP but neither is Farage. George Galloway could be the next PM as leader of the Respect party, unlike the other 2 he is a existing MP and has been one before. If we are going to entertain the notion that a party can go from 0 MPs in 1 general election and a majority in the next, then surely their leader being elected as an MP before hand would be a good start?

But UKIP, Greens and Respect are minnows in the grander scheme of things with one MP a piece, the big players are of course Tories with 303 MPs and Labour with 257. In the middle ground are the Lib Dems with 56 and smaller still the DUP with 8, the SNP 6, Sinn Fein 5, 3 independents, 3 Plaid Cymru, 3 SDLP and 1 Alliance. In effect Alliance, Respect, UKIP and the Greens are the joint tenth largest parties, or to put it another way the joint smallest parties in parliament. If it was right to give parties with the most seats a place in the leader's debates than surely the DUP should be the next in line after the Lib Dems?

In 2010 35% of the voting public voted for other parties, it is clear they are not everyone's choice. This is a long term pattern:
When in 2010 only 65% of the public vote and 65% (spooky I know) vote for Tory and Labour then having only them present in a debate is not a viable option. It must be welcomed that parties other than the Tories and Labour are given a place. But there is no logical reason that a few other parties in the media's favour should also be included. This is a democracy and the choice on the ballot paper next May will not be Tory, Labour, Lib Dem and UKIP. The media should reflect this, if that means 20 to 30 parties in televised debates so be it. Millions of people that do vote 35% of them don't vote for the same old faces, millions more don't vote at all, why not cater to them? give everyone something different and widen all our horizons. I know people across the UK might not want to watch the SNP or Mebyon Kernow on their tvs but many of us feel the same watching Cameron et al and have lived to tell the tale!

Just saw this as I was finishing: please sign this 38 Degrees petition: Invite all parties to join the election television debates

Friday, 10 October 2014

Eustice flashes a glimpse at the unambitious Cornish devolution fag packet

Conservative MP for Camborne, Hayle and Redruth, George Eustice has come out against a Cornish
Eustice's priority English votes for English laws

Assembly. As regular readers can tell I have some frustration that on one side of the debate Mebyon Kernow have detailed plans of what powers we would like to see devolved to Cornwall and how relationships with central government would be redrawn and on the other hand Tories and Labour making vague promises of more powers to Cornwall accompanied with various hollow soundbites. The Lib Dems typically are on the fence, at times pledging a Cornish Assembly, other times non specific powers to Cornwall and completeing all the possible options pledging more power to Cornwall Council. George Eustice has of course finally provided a glimpse of what powers he would 'consider' being devolved to Cornwall Council and the list is neither long nor ambitious.

George is quoted on the Cornishman website after waxing lyrical about English Votes for English Laws, as an afterthought he considers his constituency and Cornish votes:

"an opportunity to consider giving more powers over issues like heritage and culture to Cornwall Council which I would support." link.

Although I agree, heritage and culture should be devolved, there's no real reason these things need to be decided and administered centrally for Cornwall or anywhere. But in the case of Cornwall with recent recognition of the Cornish as a National Minority there is great utility in devolving this. So that the terms of the Framework Convention can be met and that organisations can work to specifically protect Cornish heritage, history, culture and identity in the way that is done for English heritage, history, culture and identity at the moment.

Back to devolution these are the things George would consider being devolved heritage and culture, interestingly the DEFRA parliamentary under secretary for state does not advocate devolution of nature, farming or fishing. Or indeed other vitally important things like transport, health and social care, policing, business rates or crucially spending. George is happy for Westminster to hold the purse strings and take all the important decisions that effect Cornwall. Even the city deals announced gave Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Nottingham, Manchester and Sheffield more powers than George Eustice wants for Cornwall. I'd love to say Cornwall was at the back of the queue for devolution but out Tories aren't even bothered to consider getting in line let alone push their way to the front.

As well as an off the cuff look at powers for Cornwall. George also said:

“However, we definitely do not need to waste money on flash new parliament buildings and yet another tier of politicians so I completely disagree with the idea of a Welsh style assembly in Cornwall.” link

It's worth considering other events along with these words. Recently George Eustice was one of the most active of the 91 rebels who fought against plans to shrink the number of members in the House of Lords and reduce costs (among other things) because "Lords reform isn't a priority for voters". Also the House of Commons is due to have a refurb that is estimated (politicians are coy on the subject) to be £3 billion, George Eustice's take on that? an ominous silence. If you want Mebyon Kernow's views on flash new buildings? this taken from our assembly document FAQs:

Q8. Would the new Assembly need a new purpose-built 

A8. Mebyon Kernow considers that the National Assembly of 
Cornwall would not need such a new building. It is the view 
of the Party for Cornwall that existing buildings already in 
the public sector, such as New County Hall, could 

accommodate the new democratic settlement for Cornwall.

It's depressing that the politicians elected to represent the people of Cornwall, can't take the issue of devolution seriously. In an ideal world George Eustice's priorities would be Camborne, Hayle and Redruth first and Westminster second but unfortunately he's more than willing to campaign for governance in Westminster on issues like English Votes for English Laws and to resist any modernisation of the House of Lords but when it comes to Cornwall's governance he can't even be bothered to consider lifting a finger. Perhaps George might find that campaigning so effectively for English votes and ignoring Cornwall completely might cost him Cornish votes at the ballot box? Vote for MK's excellent candidate next may Loveday Jenkin.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

No plan for devolution for powers and no understanding of a Cornish Assembly from political elite

I blogged a while back on the lack of plans for devolution to Cornwall Council as (flippantly) promised by the Labour and Tory parties. the title of the blog was: "When will Labour and the Tories let everyone see their back of a fag packet ideas for powers to Cornwall Council?" Which unusually for a title of one of my blogs, pretty much sums up my view on the subject, there's no clear plan. I've since realised that a lot of Cornish politicians are far from being on the same page with me about this. That nailing down what powers Cornwall should have, what laws we could write, what budgets we'd have to spend and what relationships it should have with Westminster, the EU, Wales, Scotland and the South West of England is actually something far advanced of where they are in the book. It's pretty clear many of them are stuck on chapter 1; what is devolution and how do people view it.

After watching BBC Sunday Politics South West, it was clear that particularly Michael Foster and
Sheryll Murray are very passionate about the deficit. They can quote facts and figures that show both Labour and Tories are absolutely wonderful and always did the right thing by the economy (yawn). Similarly on the subject of housing, they are well informed and both raise some interesting points. However when it came to devolution that passion was gone the facts and figures were absent. We might expect a debate about should Westminster retain power over business rates or should that be devolved to a Cornish Assembly? should the power to raise rates on second homes be Cornwall's choice? Or something like what are the pros and cons of devolution to Wales and Scotland, ought we skip the various commissions and argue for more powers now rather than over time? Or even fundamentally what priorities should Cornwall expect from government be it hundreds of miles away or closer to home?

The debate is currently a lot more superficial than that. The fundamental questions that are being grappled with elsewhere are largely ignored by the Conservatives and Labour in Cornwall. The proverbial wood is not even in the corner of their eyes, wholly obscured by a single tree (incidentally the Tory party logo). I know people like me that see direct rule from London as a bad thing are always going to want our politicians to consider these things properly. But it's not just me, devolution is being discussed everywhere. In the corridors of power they are discussing things like what relations local government should have with central government, what powers should be Westminster's and which should go to the nations, regions and cities, who should control spending. At the moment this is happening without meaningful input from Cornwall's Labour and Conservative politicians into these discussions. It's time for them to step up and actually care as much about Cornwall's governance as they do about the history of housing and the deficit in the UK. Because the risk is that this government or the next will come up with their own ideas and we won't like them, either because they ignore Cornwall (again) or because they want to foster some kind of odd South West/ Devonwall devolution or pretend Cornwall is a city and give us a mayor. Devolution will be opportunity that we miss out on if Cornwall's politicians are caught napping.

If any Labour or Tory politicians want to skip ahead a few chapters on devolution might I suggest, Mebyon Kernow's Towards a National Assembly for Cornwall or the Cornish Constitutional Convention website particularly their publications page. Or even talk to their party colleagues in Wales and Scotland who have repeatedly tripped over themselves to give more powers, proper devolution, more funding and a better deal for those places.

For everyone else why not sign the Cornish Assembly petition and email your local Tory and Labour reps and tell them Cornwall wants a fair deal for once.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

When will Labour and the Tories let everyone see their back of a fag packet ideas for powers to Cornwall Council?

Over the last week, various Cornish politicians have scampered to try to have a position on what Cornwall should get from any new constitutional settlement. They have unbelievably been caught on the hop by the fall out of the Scottish independence vote. Now they are finding themselves trying to both acknowledge Cornwall doesn't do well from direct London rule and at the same time say that bringing significant decision making to Cornwall would be a bad thing. That's quite a tight rope to walk, as such it would be no surprise that their ideas would be a bit of a fudge. But that's the rub, they don't really have any ideas, no proposals and no clue how devolution to Cornwall Council would work. Unless they smoke king size fags I expect the back only has room for "no to a Cornish Assembly, keep power in Westminster." But I'm willing to be wrong and I'd love to see what Labour, the Tories and the Independent group on Cornwall Council, would like to see the future to be. (I've left out the Lib Dems as some of them are in favour of an assembly and some in favour of more powers to Cornwall Council).

Thankfully this is unlike Mebyon Kernow as we were well aware that such a situation would arise from either result after the vote in Scotland. Our document Towards a National Assembly of Cornwall is due to be republished in the coming weeks, after going through a consultation of party members and the general public. We have clear ideas of what powers Cornwall should have, what responsibilities should no longer be in distant politicians hands. We've talked to people about these during various events across Cornwall and online. These are clear, well thought out ideas.

My challenge to the Labour and Conservative parties is for them to come clean, either separately or together spell out what powers they want for Cornwall. How they think it would work? How it would make things better?

Or even better to admit that they issued these hollow statements in response to Mebyon Kernow's ideas. In an effort to snub out growing support for MK by pretending to offer what we are. To come clean, that they are not really interested in devolution and the reason they have no plans and not even a coherent argument is that they are happy with direct London rule for Cornwall as that suits their parties better.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

5 things that might have been different with a Cornish Assembly

What is a Cornish Assembly? How would it be different from Cornwall Council? Mebyon Kernow's argument is that we need a legislative national assembly, meaning Cornwall can make it's own laws, decide it's own priorities but remain within the UK, it means fundamental change and for some that's scary. So I thought here I would talk about MK's ideas and provide some examples of what could have been different and hopefully show making decisions in Cornwall need not be feared.

I say could because the spending priorities and legislation would be the responsibility of the assembly members elected by the people of Cornwall. The public may have elected people to do things other than the 5 ideas listed below, but here's what I think would have been vote winners:

1. Temple would have been dualled ages ago.

Dualling of Temple (and indeed Goss Moor before it) well over a decade was spent lobbying government to improve the A30 here. Despite accidents, tailbacks, costs to Cornish imports and exports and the efforts of people, organisations and politicians from Cornwall it has taken so long. (Even now it will not be a proper dual carriageway and Cornwall Council is bearing the brunt of some of the cost, but that's another matter.)

The A30 is crucial to Cornwall as is the A38 but as they are trunk roads, the decision making on them is centralised to the Highway's Agency, the Department of Transport (DofT) and the Transport Minister Conservative MP for the Derbyshire Dales: Patrick McLoughlin. Which effectively means the people that decide may never have driven these roads at all. It is my belief that if the decision making for this had been devolved to Cornwall, it would have been a higher priority. That civil servants who know these routes well would realise their importance because of it. The same for the politicians and as they would be directly answerable and accountable to the people of Cornwall they would have bowed to public pressure much sooner.

2. Wave Hub would be up and running years earlier

The pioneering Wavehub, installed in 2010 is a device for testing experimental renewables, but did not get hooked up to any test devices until June 2014.  When the coalition government came to power they transferred ownership from the RDA to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) under the supervision of Vince Cable Liberal Democrat MP for Twickenham. Power and decision making went to London, to people not directly accountable to Cornwall.

Again bureaucrats and politicians in Cornwall would be well aware that economic development is needed. That there is a veritable treasure trove of wealth to be made across Cornwall through wind and tidal energy. The proving the both the concepts of test devices and the energy of Cornwall could spark more industry and jobs in Cornwall.

3. Housing policy could be made in Cornwall

There are a number of housing issues in Cornwall, the problem is indeed complex. There is the huge questions of people not being able to afford to buy homes, second homes, empty / derelict properties and overdevelopment. The solutions to these things aren't simple make no mistake, it would be a challenge for anyone to fix these things. However it is within the power of Westminster and Whitehall (i.e the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) under Eric Pickles Tory MP for Brentwood and Ongar) to make changes but unfortunately they flit between ignoring the issues and making token gestures. I have no doubt given the tools to address these issues civil servants and politicians in a Cornish Assembly would do so, they might not fully succeed but at least they would give it a go. Perhaps they could do things unthinkable up the line, like invest in (truly) affordable housing?

4. The damage for the floods would have been fixed sooner

The damage by last winters floods did millions of damage. Thankfully Cornwall Council have started work fixing the damage, Down this way Newlyn Green looks very good and work on Penzance prom has started. Unfortunately despite the money is no object rhetoric it is my understanding Cornwall Council has not yet received any of the promised monies from government.

Responsibility for government support schemes for flood damage falls into a few government categories David Cameron MP Conservative Witney, Pickle's DCLG, DEFRA, DOfT and BIS. All centralised in London. They have responsibilities for a huge amount of things across the UK, perhaps not surprising that getting Cornwall back on it's feet after the storms and honouring the PM's hasty promises is not top of the to do list.

5 Hospital services would not be centralised to Treliske and Derriford

Even though the management of hospitals and care in Cornwall has passed through various organisational changes. The policy of closing down smaller hospitals in the furthest reaches of Cornwall has continued without pausing for breath. Unfortunately none of these organisational changes have involved making management more open and accountable to the people of Cornwall. This is indicative of the changes Mebyon Kernow would like a Cornish Assembly to bring. To make decisions like closing down Poltair and downgrading West Cornwall Hospital the responsibility of people open and accountable to the people of Cornwall and elected by them.

These are only 5 things, there are perhaps hundreds we could choose, perhaps Cornwall couldn't afford to do all of them. There would still be discussions and debates to be had, there would still be decisions I or anyone else might not like. However we could all directly influence these debates, vote for the politicians directly involved with these important issues, or vote them out as we so wish. There would still be priorities but these would be set here in Cornwall, by people living here not by people who probably couldn't find Temple, or Hayle or Newlyn on a map.

Mebyon Kernow's plans for a Cornish Assembly are ambitious we don't want merely want more powers to Cornwall Council. Many of these 5 examples could not be done by anything short of a law making assembly. MK want Cornwall to make a huge leap forward in our governance to start having a say in the big strategic decisions, to take influence from Westminster and redistribute it locally. This would mean a big step up for Cornwall, making our own decisions would mean a big step up for politicians in Cornwall and it would mean a big step up for the voters of Cornwall. I hope people can see the positives of us all taking more responsibility.

Mebyon Kernow's Towards a National Assembly of Cornwall document is available here.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

A rebuttal of Cornwall Labour's lies and conjecture about a Cornish Assembly and Mebyon Kernow

Today there was a frankly bizarre rebuttal of the idea of a Cornish Assembly from Candy Atherton of the Cornwall Labour party. Bizarre not only because we disagree on the principles of the matter, but on the arguments used. I call on the Labour party to actually talk to people, recognise that there is a desire for more powers to come to Cornwall and not rely on lies, dubious facts and made up stories. The latter I will now explain.

The original article is here: Labour positions itself against Cornish Assembly in face of nationalist call. In it the argument, echoes the Tory line that people do not want extra bureaucrats and politicians. As I've written before, we are already governed at the moment, there are politicians and bureaucrats that deal with the business of administering Cornwall. They are in places like Bristol and London, the Tory/ Labour position is that they stay there. Mebyon Kernow's position is that these jobs, this decision making is brought to Cornwall.

Candy explains in that WMN article:

“The last thing the electorate want is more politicians. I challenge you to knock on doors in a wet October and find more than one in 100."

Interestingly this was done ten years ago, over a while year in wind, rain and sun, doors were knocked and people in town centres were asked. 50,000, 10% of the Cornish electorate signed declarations calling for a Cornish Assembly. The then Prime Minister Tony Blair dismissed these. A fact I'm sure Candy is aware of, as she was at that time a Member of Parliament for Falmouth and Camborne and steadfastly kept to Labour policy of devolving power to Exeter and Plymouth.

I digress, Mebyon Kernow has again taken up this challenge, personally I was with other members of Mebyon Kernow on Truro's Lemon Quay on a cold and windy day in January and over 200 people signed the new declaration that day. I was also at Trevithick Day again not October but soaking wet nonetheless and nearly 300 signatures were added. Now I can't tell you how many people on a wet October day would say yes to Cornwall having more say over our own affairs, I can't because I have not done it. But somehow I strongly suspect neither has anyone in the Labour party in Cornwall. But what I can tell you is that in the wind of january and the wet of april, it was much much higher than 1 in 10 let alone 1 in 100 that spoke to us and afterwards signed the petition. As proof there are over 500 signatures from those two days alone, testifying to that fact. Its a sad day when the only argument against something is based on something blatantly no one has tried. Perhaps we will have a wet october and Labour can try out Candy's theory?

Candy also goes on to say that:

"Mebyon Kernow are not exactly top of the pops. Mebyon Kernow’s vote has halved.”

Now this one is perplexing, firstly supporting a policy needn't mean supporting a party. The Cornish Assembly petition I mentioned above was written by MK and promoted by MK activists, yet MK has never received 50,000 votes even across the whole of Cornwall. 

Secondly, unless there's been an election I'm not aware of in which MK did spectacularly badly, this is not even factually correct. MK results in the 2009 Cornwall Council election: 3 candidates elected with a total of 4.3% of the total vote in Cornwall. In the 2013 Cornwall Council elections: 4 candidates elected with 4.8% of the vote. Unless I'm missing something 4 councillors is more than 3 and 4.8% is more than 4.3%. MK's general election record shows a similar trend more votes and a bigger percentage consistently each election. 

There have been 2 Cornwall Council by elections with MK candidates. Although Stephen Richardson's vote share went down by 6.6% from 25.2% to 18.6%, he rose from third to second. In Mabe Perranarwothal and St Gluvias, Karen Sumser- Lupson gained 4.7% of the vote, in a division we had not stood in before. Not a net gain for us over all but still by any ones maths our vote did not halve. It is clear "Mebyon Kernow's vote has halved" is a figment of Labour's imagination.

This is symptomatic of the whole Labour approach to devolution in Cornwall and the idea of a Cornish assembly. There is no considered thought, let alone research/ statistics or door knocking to base their views. It is a knee jerk reaction and one based on a very simplistic view of politics. Sadly (and I thought we could expect more from Cornwall Labour) conjecture intermingles with damn right lies about Mebyon Kernow- the Party for Cornwall. 

I strongly believe that devolution is a very real possibility for Cornwall at the moment and politicians need to give all of the options considered thought. I'm not saying everyone ought to agree that a Cornish Assembly is the way forward but it is a realistic proposal and needs serious consideration. I challenge naysayers like the Labour party to look at what Mebyon Kernow is proposing and whatever the Lib Dems or anyone else come forward with. Come up with criticism that shows you understand the issues, the proposals and the pros and cons, not just glib remarks. Better still try knocking some doors or talking to people in the street. 13 years ago a huge part of Cornwall's population were denied a referendum on a Cornish Assembly. It would be a mistake for Labour to continue the legacy of denying the people a choice out of hand.

On a side note how depressing is it that Miliband, Brown and Darling are putting a lot of thought and effort into offering a whole raft of powers to Scotland, yet here a fraction of those powers isn't even worth Labour making a coherent and factual argument. 

Friday, 19 September 2014

A plea to the Lib Dems, don't reinvent the wheel, get on board with Mebyon Kernow's Cornish assembly ideas

Over the last few weeks the Liberal Democrats have started to campaign on the issue of Cornish devolution. Various pleas have gone around to mount a campaign and lately even a survey on people's ideas. My plea here is for them to stop reinventing the wheel and work with the campaign Mebyon Kernow already have. Over the last year MK have campaigned on the issue of a Cornish Assembly, we've held roadshows, got petitions signed, talked about it in the press, launched a consultation document, posted about it online and a whole host of other things. Why start a ground up campaign, when there is a body of work already there? Especially as the need to make a case to government is now, if Cornwall is to gain devolution the case needs to be made very very soon.

I know the Lib Dems have officially joined Cornwall Council's campaigns to get more powers transferred to the local authority. To beef up local government. But I think many in the Liberal Democrats know in their heart of hearts that Cornwall Council struggles with the power it has. It is widely seen as distant and too centralised to adequately represent all of Cornwall at the same time. It's relationship with the towns and parishes is already strained and Cornwall needs local government reform. I know Liberal Democrats agree with me on this, I've read your election leaflets, tweets and spoken to many of you about it.

Besides which there is a distinct lack of ambition with these plans, slightly more say over this and that won't change a great deal. Whereas MK is calling for government departments, quangos and other public bodies to be devolved. We don't want a token power here or there, we want the power to make decisions and the people and offices moved here into Cornwall that will carry out this change. As a nice aside we would then with devolution take jobs the Cornish taxpayer already pays for and bring them back here, more jobs west of the Tamar.

The Liberal Democrats passed a Cornish Assembly as party policy back in March and no further work has been done on this. It is clear to me that the central leadership of the party are happy to play with idea but they will not bring it forward themselves. I'm trying to appeal to some of you so I'm sorry to be blunt but the chances of both the Lib Dems being in government again after the next election and the party leadership then pushing it onto the agenda are very slim. This is a unique opportunity and may not present itself again for a long time. I do think many grass roots Lib Dems in Cornwall are sincere about the need for a Cornish Assembly and don't want to rebrand Cornwall Council a Cornish Assembly, any more than I do. I appreciate no one wants to break ranks and disagree with the Cornwall Council group's policy of localism in conjunction with the Independents. But you don't really want that any more than I do. You voted at conference for a Cornish Assembly not this hotch potch of localism masquerading as proper devolution.

There is two things that need doing, firstly the argument to the Cornish public needs making, consensus needs to be built. Secondly the hands of those in Westminster need forcing. If the Lib Dems in Cornwall present ideas like Mebyon Kernow's devolution document with public support to local councillors and MPs they and the leadership will have to support it. Cameron will have to follow suit. The Tories in Cornwall have a poor understanding of devolution and thus a weak argument. This great demon of an 'expensive layer of bureaucracy' they so fear, already exists in Whitehall. A strong and wide assembly campaign can easily dismiss the notion we shouldn't move jobs and public spending west of the Tamar for fear of upsetting ministers.

The timetable for getting a proposal before government is tight, if the promises both made to Scotland and by Cameron are kept to. Plans need to be before government in a matter of weeks. If we don't get bespoke plans before government we will end up with whatever they think adequate and probably, what they offer everyone else. Which will no doubt be along the lines of what Cornwall Council is proposing. Or even worse perhaps they will offer us an elected mayor and rename us a city!

The time has come for Cornwall to take matters into our own hands. For the decisions crucial to us, to our environment, our people, our economy to be made here in Cornwall not 300 odd miles away. That process can start now with working together to get decent devolution on the agenda. I heard -for the first time in a long time- a Lib Dem saying on the news that the party wants a federal United Kingdom. Lets see Cornwall playing a full part in that federation.

The Cornish Assembly document is here
Please if you know a Lib Dem, forward to this to them or at least convince them to be bold and brave on this issue.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Pasty Munching ingrates and the shock as Cornwall features in a newspaper in something other than a lifestyle piece!

Thought I'd write something about Jeremy Clarkson's column/ diatribe on Scottish independence today....


It is a shock that Cornwall is not featured in the context of our great restaurants, food, landscape or coast or the opportunities for second homes. For a change Cornwall is talked about not as an abstract entity but a recognition that there are people in Cornwall and that there are politics here. Perhaps now pundits like Clarkson have noticed, the media might peer out past the M25 once in a while.

I don't take offence from Jeremy Clarkson, he can say what he likes, like so many comedians and pundits these days upsetting people is it's own genre. I have some sympathy with it I have a dark sense of humour and can chuckle at myself and not take it too seriously. Besides which I'm as much a 'pasty munching ingrate' as Jeremy Clarkson is a 'journalist'!

There is an interesting word he uses though ingrate, I've seen it a few times in reference to Cornwall as the debate on the future of the UK and the indyref heats up. So why exactly are we ingrates? what exactly does Cornwall have to be ungrateful for? Is it perhaps the second homes destroying our communities? Or our poor economic situation? Or is it the lack of opportunities that drive young people away in search of work? I accept there are things we might be grateful for, I'm not saying there is absolutely no benefit of the current situation. But why should we be grateful? Why exactly should we show gratitude and thankfulness?

I was brought up with manners and if I want something I say please and if I'm given something I say thank you. But this is a United Kingdom We're All In It Together, Better Together. The rhetoric constantly points to partnership of equal relations. But if this truly was the case why is there still an opinion that we are being gifted things? Gratitude in a partnership should be a two way street. Gratefulness implies not taking things for granted the UK would be a better place if it was realised that the Celts are not recipients of  English largesse...

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The indyref and the time Scotland dared to dream

The Scottish Independence referendum, although like many politically attuned people I've thought about little else recently. It's hard for the gravity of the situation to truly sink in. We can see from the scramble of politicians to Scotland and their frenzied activity to convince the Scottish people that the UK can change, that I'm certainly not the only one!

Events in Scotland, will send an earthquake originating in Scotland but with it's epicentre in Westminster and through UK politics (or perhaps rUK). In the event of either a yes or a no vote there will be chaos. The status quo will die this week, all of the assumptions about central government knowing best and blind faith in their judgement will end.

Quite what all of this will mean is yet to be seen, will the neo-liberal view of economics remain intact? or to put it another way will the market and big business remain so powerful in politics? Will austerity remain the basis for all economic thought? Will we see a resurgence in front-line public services? We might see the nature of the state being challenged? How the UK is governed being rethought? Could Mebyon Kernow's long held goal of a Cornish Assembly come into being? The whole of politics itself could be questioned from the House of Lords down to parish councils. What is the role of the monarchy? The UK's place in the world might be reconsidered. Whether the UK retains nuclear weapons and even remains at the top table of the United Nations Security Council will be questioned.

All of these things are mights and maybes, not because the people of Scotland will vote yes or no. But because the whole process of having a vote on the future of Scotland, calls into question the fundamentals of the UK. If the UK was the strong powerful, 'great power' it once was none of this would be possible. Nevertheless these matters are mights and maybes because there are powerful voices in the established order and throughout the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties that would defend the old order bitterly and would try to curtail even a serious debate on these subjects.

I think the permanent removal of the fundamentals of the UK as a debating point is an unteneable position for two reasons. Firstly as the whole Scottish vote, the whole process of the debate and referendum in Scotland has put them on the agenda. Secondly and this relates to the title of this blog 'The indyref and the time Scotland dared to dream' and dream it certainly has, with enough, imagination, energy and debate for scores of countries let alone one. I think the whole of the UK needs to have a robust debate about the fundamentals, rather than struggle to stuff the cat back in the bag, if that's even possible.

The amount of debate in Scotland is truly inspirational and puts to shame the normal debates around general elections. It shows when the media and public debates focussing not on the same old parties talking from London on the same old subjects, but widens this out the debate becomes much more varied, interesting and overall engaging.

I admire Scotland, I always have, but that admiration has grown in the last year. They have dared to dream and I wonder if that capacity to dream and to question the underlying principles of the UK can be constrained within the UK in the event of a no vote. Politicians often talk about listening to people and engaging the public in debates, these people and indeed all of us would do well to look north. A casual disinterest in politics and low turnouts in election is not a certainty. People can be engaged on a huge scale.

Whatever happens on thursday, Scotland is in a better place for the process and is the only place at the moment in the UK that can call itself a democracy in any meaningful sense. Whatever you decide Scotland, good luck and keep dreaming of a better world.