Tuesday, 3 May 2016

How do we get from "battle buses" to fair elections?

My article in tomorrow’s Cornish Guardian newspaper looks at the “battle bus” scandal surrounding Scott Mann MP and others. The much-too-reasonable article will be as follows:

Politicians work hard to generate publicity to promote their own particular political party, their views and indeed themselves.

But increasingly, there are times when MPs and councillors wish they weren’t being featured in local newspapers, on radio and television and, of course, on social media.

I am sure that is how North Cornwall MP Scott Mann feels at the moment, with all the coverage about whether the cost of his 2015 General Election campaign exceeded the spending limit.

Readers of the Cornish Guardian will be aware that the Electoral Commission, and even the local police, are investigating complaints that “Mr Mann's declared election expenses did not portray an accurate picture of his spending.”

The reality is that limits were indeed set on what could be spent in individual constituency contests, but only in the period between 1st January 2015 and polling day in May 2015 and, during this period, political parties could also spend significant amounts of money on their so-called “national” campaigns.

Mr Mann’s problems arise from the visit of a so-called “battle bus” to the North Cornwall constituency, the costs of which were recorded as part of “national” expenditure. This is being challenged by political opponents and others, who believe that these expenses should have been declared locally.

In addressing this issue, I will not be seeking to embarrass Scott Mann as this is not a new phenomenon and the three largest political parties are all culpable in this regard. They have all had numerous “battle buses” in the past and I am sure they spent most of their time in key or marginal seats, but nonetheless recorded the expenditure as part of “national” campaigns.

There are plenty of similar examples of such practices, though I will give just two.

Political parties have often erected massive posters on billboards in prominent locations and I understand that this expenditure is often also deemed “non-local,” though the posters tend to appear in the seats that particular parties think they could win – and not across the UK as a whole.

It may surprise some readers of the Cornish Guardian that the costs of election poster-boards which do not have the name of the candidate on them – but simply proclaim “Conservative,” “Labour” or “Liberal Democrat” – have, on occasion, also been classed as “national” expenditure, even though the signs inevitably appear in greater numbers in existing or target seats.

This all shows how imaginatively the expenditure “returns” have been compiled for many years and, of course, for the last General Election there were no spending restrictions prior to January 2015.

During this time, certain political parties spent an absolute fortune and it wasn’t just the Tories. Labour’s millionaire candidate in Camborne and Redruth spent over £100,000 of his own money in the run-up to the period of restricted expenditure.

So, it is my view that this whole debate should be widened out and we should all be pushing for really far-reaching and more comprehensive reforms to better control election expenditure, in order to ensure fairer elections in the future.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Cornish Nation magazine no. 72 ... out now!

Mebyon Kernow has just published its latest edition of Cornish Nation magazine, which will soon be sent out to all party members.

It includes features about MK’s call for 2016 to be the year of Cornish recognition, our opposition to the cuts to Cornish language funding, a report from the recent EFA General Assembly, a tribute to Charles Thomas, book reviews, numerous news updates, and much more.

Anyone who would like a complimentary copy of the magazine – either as a pdf or in hard copy – can request one from me at dickcole@btinternet.com.

Petition in support of funding for the Cornish language hits 5,000

Well done to everyone who has signed the online petition which calls on central government to reverse their cuts to Cornish language funding and to continue providing annual financial support.

It is great to see that earlier today the number of signatories passed 5,000.

If you haven’t already signed the petition, please do so and contact as many of your friends as you can and ask them to do the same.

The petition can be located at: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/128474

Thursday, 28 April 2016

SNP and Plaid Cymru table Early Day Motion in support of the Cornish language

An Early Day Motion has been tabled in the House of Commons today, calling for the Government to reverse its cuts to the Cornish Language.

The primary sponsor is Angus McNeil (SNP) who represents Na h-Eileanan an Iar, and the motion is also sponsored by Mhairi Black, Deidre Brock, Drew Hendry and Angus Robertson (all from the SNP) plus Jonathan Edwards of Plaid Cymru.

Jonathan Edwards, you may recall, spoke at the MK Conference in 2011, when we marked the tenth anniversary of the 50,000 declarations for a Cornish Assembly

The motion states the following:

“That this House supports the indigenous and oldest languages of these islands, the Celtic languages; and therefore calls on the Government to reverse its cuts to the smallest and most vulnerable of these languages, Cornish, and instead calls for the support and appreciation of this historical cultural jewel.”

At the time of writing, it has been supported by 18 MPs. They are all members of SNP or Plaid Cymru, plus one Labour MP (Conor McGinn; St Helens North).

Please write to your MPs asking them to support EDM 1429.

There is also the online petition on the Parliament website, which calls on central government to continue to provide annual financial support for the Cornish language, which can be located at: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/128474

If you haven’t already signed the petition, please do so and contact as many of your friends as you can and ask them to do the same.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Yet another “eco-community” update

As previously reported, the Examination into the Cornwall Local Plan will re-convene on 16th May. A timetable has now been released which presently suggests that the “eco-community” will be considered on 19th May.

The Inspector has issued a few further comments, which include the “eco-community,” and respondents to the Examination have until the middle of next week to respond.

His latest comments / questions on the eco-community were as follows:


4.16 I raised some preliminary questions with the Council in LI.ID.3 (and a further question in LI.ID.3.1). The Council’s response is in LI.CC.3. Written comments can be made on this statement within the deadline for pre-hearing questions.


4.17 Is the identification as a broad location in this Plan of a new community at West Carclaze/Baal justified in the context of the following:

- Progress/decisions already made in the context of previous/existing strategies eg China Clay Regeneration Plan and recently committed and planned public investment in the area (eg road improvement, Technology Park/ESRAM building)?
- The substantial area of currently despoiled land, but taking into account that there are the long term restoration conditions?
- The particular scale of development proposed (1,500 dwellings with 1,200 in the plan-period) – why is this scale necessary to achieve the stated benefits?
- Whether it is deliverable to achieve the expectations of the Plan.
- Irrespective of this particular proposal, does the overall strategy of the Plan/Council/LEP justify/require these 1,200 dwellings (in this plan-period) either within the China Clay CNA or the wider grouping of the 3 CNAs and or/the Regeneration Plan Area (see text in the Plan, version J.2, PP9, p157). If not assigned to West Carclaze/Baal where should they go?

4.18 Is the identification of Par Docks justified in the context of the following:

- Is it previously developed land as defined in the NPPF?
- Does stand or fall with the justification for West Carclaze/Baal proposal? Is there any real linkage between them?
- What needs to be overcome to enable development to start? Why is development likely to be late in the plan-period? If there is a high degree of uncertainty about delivery, should it be within the Plan at all, but addressed at the next review?
- Is flood risk sufficiently resolved to confirm the principle of development?
- If 300 is considered deliverable, but there is no justification for identifying Par Docks specifically in the Plan, would 300 need to be added to the requirement for St Blazey, Fowey, Lostwithiel CNA? If delivery is too uncertain to be counted in this Plan, should the 300 be reassigned to the wider Regeneration Area?

Detailed matters/requirements

4.19 In LI.ID.3, 3.3/3.4 I asked about the justification for the energy efficiency/renewable energy requirements etc of the policy. The Council’s response draws on the national picture, but does not explain why the requirements are specifically justified for this development when not sought in similar terms for any other development. In short, why only here/why here at all?

4.20 I also queried the 30% affordable housing requirement. The Council’s response confirms that this is above the zonal rate for the area of 25%. The Council will be aware that I have seen no evidence to support this approach and that the site developer Eco-Bos seeks 25%. Given the apparent close working between the Council and Eco-Bos, I would hope that this matter could be resolved by the parties before the hearing.

4.21 The table in policy 2a gives a total figure of 1,500 dwellings for the eco-communities and a footnote indicates that this is made up of 1,200 dwellings at West Carclaze/Baal and 300 at Par Docks within the plan-period. The Council confirms that it regards the capacity of the sites as 1,500 and 500 respectively. Should these figures be used in the Plan so as to indicate the full extent of the proposals, whilst recognising that not all will be delivered in the plan-period?