Monday, 8 December 2014

Help MK secure Party Election Broadcast for the 2015 General Election

The BBC Trust is presently consulting on proposals about which political parties will be allowed Party Election Broadcasts (PEBs) during the upcoming General Election. The consultation – which closes on 12th January 2015 – can be found at www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/have_your_say/peb_criteria.

Sadly, the basis of the consultation is “draft criteria” from the Broadcasters’ Liaison Group, which states that, as in previous General Elections, a “political party would qualify for one PEB” if it stands in a “minimum of one sixth of the seats up for election” in one of the “home nations” of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The recommendation, which would deny Mebyon Kernow airtime, is both absurd and undemocratic.

As I have said so many times – how can it be fair that MK, a Cornish political party, would need to stand in all six seats within the historic nation of Cornwall, as well as a further 83 seats outside of Cornwall, in order to be allowed a broadcast?

By contrast, the rulings mean that political parties in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland would only have to stand in three, seven and ten seats respectively. This has meant that, over recent elections, a host of political parties – including the Christian Party (Wales), Scottish Green Party, Scottish Socialist Party and the Scottish Trade Union and Socialist Coalition – have been allocated airtime.

MK is presently preparing a detailed response to a BBC consultation on the issue of PEBs and we will continue to argue that genuine “regional” or “national” parties which stand candidates in a majority (or all) of the seats in a particular area be allowed an election broadcast.

Please take the time to write to the BBC Trust pointing out the unjust nature of their proposals.

I understand that Ofcom, which regulates other broadcasters, will be holding a similar consultation in the near future.

George Osborne planning yet more austerity

My article in this coming week’s Cornish Guardian will focus on George Osborne’s autumn statement. It will be as follows:

There were a plethora of announcements in George Osborne’s autumn statement, which included future capital funding for a number of transport projects in Cornwall.

The infrastructure announcements – which have been widely welcomed – included £180 million for the dualling of two sections of the A30 in Cornwall (between 2015 and 2020) and improvements to the rail network. Nick Clegg even came to Penzance to announce funding for a study into the possibility of a breakwater near the town.

Cynics might say that there was a General Election on the horizon.

George Osborne pledged to reduce the deficit within the next parliament, but there has also been considerable focus on what he didn’t say.
Economists, journalists and anti-austerity campaigners have been lining up to challenge the Chancellor on his proposals. Many have argued that his sums simply do not add up and railed against what his plans would mean for public services across the United Kingdom.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) challenged him to “spell out his deficit reduction plans,” which their research showed would lead to further cuts described as “colossal.” The IFS also pointed out that whereas £35 billion of cuts had been implemented, Osborne’s proposals equated to cuts of a further £55 billion. Others estimated that a further one million public sector jobs would be axed by 2020.

The Office for Budget Responsibility – a watchdog set up by the government – revealed that that the “cuts set out in Treasury assumptions” would see spending on the public services reduced to 35% of gross domestic product – a low level of spending not seen for around 80 years.

Put another way, Osborne wants to cut public spending to match that of the 1930s, a time of great poverty that pre-dated the creation of the National Health Service.

And as for Osborne’s own Business Secretary, Vince Cable, he damned the pronouncements as “implausible,” adding that the Chancellor’s “pre-election” spending commitments – which included £7 billion in tax cuts – could not be delivered.

The Government’s austerity agenda over the last five years has failed. The Coalition has failed to meet its own deficit-reduction targets– largely because it reduced investment too sharply, thereby reducing economic output and prolonging the length of the downturn.

Future governments need to change direction, to end austerity and to prioritise the protection of public services.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

More on cuts at "County Hall"

In this week’s Cornish Guardian, I addressed the recent spate of cuts agreed by Cornwall Council. It was as follows:

In the very same week that Cornwall Council voted through a series of massive cuts, the leaders of 119 English councils banded together to demand “no more cuts” by the Coalition.

In a letter to a prominent Sunday newspaper, the council leaders warned: “Funding for services provided by councils has borne the brunt of austerity while demand continues to rise. When the chancellor delivers his autumn statement this Wednesday, ‘more of the same’ cannot be an option.”

They pointed out that many councils have already suffered a 40% reduction in funding since 2010. They added: “Further reductions … will lead to vital services being scaled back or lost altogether. Services such as libraries, leisure centres and road maintenance continue to buckle under the strain of cuts and the ever-rising cost of caring for our growing elderly population. Failure to address this will not only jeopardise other services, but will pass costs on to the NHS, which will have to pick up the pieces if we cannot protect adult social care or provide the services that keep people healthy.”

The scale of the concern is shown by the fact that forty of the council leaders were Conservatives and ten were Liberal Democrats – each speaking out against the actions of their own Government.  

But they need to do so much more than just sign a collective letter.

Politicians from Westminster’s Coalition parties must be much more forceful in demanding that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats put an end to the cuts. They could, for example, threaten the mass resignation of councillors from Coalition parties unless drastic changes are made.

Last week was indeed a terrible week to be at County Hall.

The majority of Cornwall Councillors voted for four-year budget plan, which included a total of £196 million of cuts – largely because of the callous and totally disproportionate level of cuts to local government from central government.

Council tax will rise by 1.97% in 2014/2015 – a figure which is just below the 2% threshold which would have led to a referendum on the issue – and hundreds of jobs will also be lost.

The four MK councillors did not support the proposed budget, but were among thirteen councillors who supported an amendment to seek a referendum on a council tax increase of 6%. It was opposed by 99 councillors.

It was our view that the additional £9 million of funding would have helped to partially offset some of the damaging cuts being forced on Cornwall, for example, in adult social care, children’s services and one-stop-shops/libraries.

Letter to leaders of Westminster parties

Following the publication of the Smith Commission, which proposes significant additional powers for the Scottish Parliament, I have written to the leaders of the largest Westminster parties.

Extracts are as follows:

I believe that the recent independence referendum has been good for British democracy, and it is to be welcomed that there is a growing debate about the future governance of the whole of the United Kingdom.

We believe that there is certainly a desperate need to address the unequal constitutional relationships between the various nations and regions of the UK, as well as the centralising influence of London and the South East of England.

Ed Miliband has stated that “devolution is for everyone,” while David Cameron has pledged “a balanced settlement – fair to people in Scotland, and … to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well.”

Indeed, many politicians are now talking about devolution or new democratic settlements for the “four nations” of the United Kingdom.

Kirsty Williams of the Welsh Liberal Democrats has talked about "four distinct nations” with their “own ambitions, own needs and own outlooks." Nations, which she said, all needed a “place at the table.”

Gordon Brown has spoken of the specific rights and needs of the “minority nations” of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. He has also expressed his concern at the “disregard” shown to the “smaller nations” of the UK by Westminster Governments.

However, when it comes to democratic reforms, it seems that the three largest Westminster parties all have a blindspot in terms of the historic nation of Cornwall and our call for greater self-government through a National Assembly of Cornwall.

It seems that – to many – we are the invisible nation that cannot be mentioned.

I am also extremely worried that much of the debate around devolution is not actually about democratic devolution at all, but the reform of local government and the localisation of some economic and political powers to unelected and unaccountable bodies.

There is significant support for the creation of a National Assembly of Cornwall. I would remind you that, in December 2011, 50,000 declarations calling for a Cornish Assembly – collected in less than 18 months – were presented to 10 Downing Street. It is our view that these declarations continue to represent a great statement of intent from the ordinary people of Cornwall about the need for meaningful democratic devolution.

I would also inform you that an opinion poll undertaken by Survation for a research and film documentary project at the University of Exeter (Penryn) recently sampled 500 voters in the Camborne and Redruth seat, which found that (i) 60% of voters supported the devolution of more power from Westminster to Cornwall, with only 19% opposed, and (ii) 49% of respondents supported the creation of a Cornish Assembly (similar to that in Wales) with 31% against.

I would therefore appeal to you to ensure that, in future discussions about the governance of the UK, you will strive to deliver a comprehensive new democratic settlement for Cornwall, that matches those being achieved in our sister nations of Scotland and Wales.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Cornwall Council budget

Cornwall Council yesterday approved a four-year budget plan, which will see cuts of £196 million and the loss of hundreds of jobs. Council tax will rise by 1.97% in 2014/2015, a figure which is just below the 2% threshold which would have led to a referendum on the issue.

The four MK councillors did not support the budget.

We were among thirteen councillors who supported an amendment to seek a council tax increase of 6%, which would have been placed in front of Cornish voters in a referendum. It was our view that the additional £9 million would have partially offset some of the damaging cuts being forced on Cornwall, for example, in adult social care, childrens services and one-stop-shops/libraries.

We also supported an amendment to safeguard youth provision which was overwhelmingly defeated.

The final budget was passed with 69 voters in favour with 21 votes against. There were a total of 19 abstentions.

During the wider debate around the budget, there was much comment about the disproportionate levels of cuts being imposed on local government by the Coalition government, but among many of the Coalition councillors themselves, there was almost a denial that the cuts had anything to do with their parties!!!