Sunday, 5 October 2014

Debate about Cornish Assembly on BBC Politics SW – again

Earlier today, BBC Politics SW debated the merits of greater self-government for Cornwall. I had done an interview which was included in a feature presentation, prior to a debate between Lib Dem MP Dan Rogerson, Tory MP Sheryll Murray and Labour hopeful Michael Foster.

Speaking for myself, I found the whole thing to be extremely depressing. All the studio participants discussed devolution in the context of rebranding Cornwall Council – they even discussed the cot of a different logo!

If you would like to watch the episode, it can be found at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04htqt2/sunday-politics-south-west-05102014

More action needed on payday loans

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian will focus on payday loans. It will be as follows:

With so many people struggling to make ends meet, I have always found it distasteful that numerous firms have been able to make vast profits by offering short-term payday loans at extremely high levels of interest.

It is therefore great news that the new Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has forced Wonga to write off £220m of loans to customers.

I understand that loans to 330,000 people were cancelled in their entirety, because the FCA found the “lender” – accused by some MPs of “legal loan sharking” – had neglected to even check whether people could afford the repayments. A further 45,000 customers will have interest and other punitive charges reduced.

I have a great deal of sympathy for those families and individuals, who have found themselves in difficulties after taking payday loans. Some have even had their debts sold onto third parties like commodities.

But I have noting but contempt for firms such as Wonga – which has charged “annualised interest rates of up to 5,853% a year” – and intensified the problems of so many people.

I would personally like to see legislation to simply outlaw irresponsible lending, though I do welcome that something is being done through the FCA.

The FCA’s Clive Adamson has said that its recent action against Wonga should “put the rest of the industry on notice” and that “some firms still have a way to go to meet our expectations.” But surely the FCA needs to be even more active in scrutinising the activities of such firms.

Wonga may be the “biggest online” payday lender but there are around 90 other such lenders, which are still active and, according to experts, also failing to carry out appropriate tests on the affordability of their loans.

Central government simply must take greater actions to combat the activities of payday loan firms.

And it also has a responsibility to repair a society in which it has allowed such “legal loan sharking” to flourish, because of its austerity measures, welfare cuts and its failure to regulate the financial services sector.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

MK demands Party Election Broadcast

On behalf of Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall, I have responded to a consultation by the Broadcasters’ Liaison Group about Party Election Broadcasts (PEBs) at the 2015 General Election.

In previous General Elections, MK has been denied PEBs because the threshold guidelines have specified that a “political party will 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.

In order to be allowed a Party Election Broadcast, MK would therefore need to stand in a total of 89 seats across “England.”

I have described the situation as absurd. How can it be fair that MK – a Cornish political party – would need to stand in all six seats in the historic nation of Cornwall, as well as a further 83 seats outside of Cornwall, in order to be allowed a broadcast?

By contrast, political parties in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland would only have to stand in three, seven and ten seats respectively. And this has meant that, over the last few years, 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.

Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall has requested that the Broadcasters’ Liaison Group agree 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.

A power-house democratic body for Cornwall

My column in tomorrow’s Cornish Guardian will be as follows:

I have campaigned for devolution to Cornwall for my entire adult life and I will make no apology for covering this important issue for the third consecutive week.

In 1997, when he launched his Government’s plans for a Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar stated that the aim was for a “fair and just settlement for Scotland within the framework of the United Kingdom.” He added that it would “strengthen democratic control and make government more accountable.”

In the same year, the Welsh Secretary Ron Davies argued that the creation of a Welsh Assembly would “give the people of Wales a real chance to set their own priorities” and to provide “leadership to reinvigorate all aspects of Welsh life and culture.”

I believe that Cornwall also needs a “fair and just settlement” as described by the late Donald Dewar, and a powerhouse democratic body that can provide the real leadership outlined by Ron Davies.

That is why I want to see a democratically-accountable National Assembly that can set the funding and policy framework for the majority of the public sector within Cornwall.

And following the NO vote in the Scottish referendum, the leaders of the three largest London-based parties have all been talking about devolution, but I have been extremely disappointed by the responses from local representatives of the largest Westminster parties.

The Conservative Party and the Labour Party have already set out their opposition to a Cornish Assembly.

Tory MPs such as George Eustice have begun to scaremonger, releasing statements about “more politicians,” a “waste of money” and “flash new parliament buildings.”

Candy Atherton meanwhile, speaking on behalf of the Cornwall Labour Party, said that a Cornish Assembly would just be “another layer of bureaucrats.” That must be somewhat galling for those Labour MSPs and AMs serving in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly – their national legislatures – to be described as “bureaucrats.”

I am disappointed at their lack of ambition and I am confident that a National Assembly would be good for Cornwall’s democracy and its economy.

The present reality, as I see it, is that the Westminster Parliament retains control over most political decisions of real significance. Local government makes up only a portion of the public sector, and central government continues to remove power and financial resource from Cornwall Council, transferring influence to unelected bodies such as the Local Enterprise Partnership.

A National Assembly of Cornwall would be ceded powers from central government and would also reclaim powers exercised by a wide range of other unelected bodies. Likewise, many civil servants based in places such as Bristol and London would not be necessary. Professionals dealing with, for example, Cornwall’s environment, emergency services and principal highway network, would be based in Cornwall – creating many new jobs and boosting the local economy.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The Labour Party opposes a Cornish Assembly

Ed Miliband recently declared that: “Devolution is for everyone.”

I am therefore very disappointed that Candy Atherton, apparently speaking on behalf of the Labour Party in Cornwall, has set out its opposition to a Cornish Assembly.

Speaking to a journalist at the Labour Party Conference, she claimed that “we certainly believe in devolving power and responsibilities to the local level,” but added that she wanted the unitary authority to work with the unelected Local Enterprise Partnership.

She said that “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. Mebyon Kernow are not exactly top of the pops.”

She added that she wanted additional flexibilities for Cornwall’s one principal authority, and that an Assembly would just be “another layer of bureaucrats.”

Well, it must be somewhat galling for those Labour MSPs and AMs serving in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly - their national legislatures - to be described as “bureaucrats.”

I would remind Candy Atherton that in 2000/2001 over 50,000 people signed declarations calling for a Cornish Assembly, which clearly stated:

“I support the Campaign for a Cornish Assembly … We, the People of Cornwall, must have a greater say in how we are governed. We need a Cornish Assembly that can set the right democratic priorities for Cornwall and provide a stronger voice for our communities in Britain, in Europe and throughout the wider world.”

Candy Atherton was an MP at the time and did not support the campaign. Indeed, on the day that we delivered it to 10 Downing Street (12th December 2001), she actually misrepresented it in a debate on regional government in Westminster Hall. She said:

“The Cornish Assembly petition, with 50,000 signatures, is being delivered to No. 10 Downing Street today. It is a great petition, but I think that many of those who signed it wanted to show support for devolving power, rather than a desire for a purely Cornish Assembly.”

In 2014, I would hope that there are many Labour Party members and supporters out there who do support a Cornish Assembly. Please come forward and publicly back the campaign for a new democratic deal for Cornwall.