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.