Friday, 8 February 2013

Coalition hypocrisy over Devonwall seat

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian focused on the collapse of the parliamentary boundary review. It was as follows:

I am delighted that MPs have voted to postpone the redrawing of parliamentary boundaries. A total of 334 (mostly Labour and Liberal Democrat) MPs backed the delay, which was opposed by 292 (almost entirely Conservative) MPs.

This is great news for the territorial integrity of Cornwall and it means that a “Devonwall” seat cannot be created in advance of the next General Election.

It has also led to an undignified row between the two partners in the Coalition and their local representatives. Lib Dem MP Dan Rogerson accused the Conservatives of failing “to support the cause when the chips were down.” Tory MP George Eustice accused the Liberal Democrats of being “totally inconsistent” on the issue of “Devonwall.”

So what is the truth?

The Coalition Agreement between the two parties was cobbled together in order to deliver a reduction in the number of MPs and a greater equalisation of constituency size (which would have made it easier for the Conservatives to gain an overall majority in the future), and a referendum on a new voting system (which, if it had been successful, would have made it less difficult for the Liberal Democrats to win parliamentary seats).

The inevitable consequence of such changes would have been the creation of a cross-Tamar constituency and both parties know this.

Local MPs from both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats did support the Keep Cornwall Whole campaign, and backed an amendment in the House of Commons to protect parliamentary boundaries in a number of areas including Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Sadly, their influence was very limited and the amendment failed, with over 95% of Coalition MPs voting against it.

And after the failure of the amendment, five of Cornwall’s six MPs trotted through the division lobby to vote for the Bill in the full knowledge that this would lead to “Devonwall.”

But when plans for Lord’s reform stalled, the Liberal Democrats withdrew their support for the boundary changes, claiming that the Conservatives could not “pick and choose” which Coalition policies to support. The Tories meanwhile pointed out that the boundary changes and Lords reform were not linked in the Coalition agreement, and that it was a “cynical” move by the Lib Dems to halt a measure that would have greatly benefited the electoral hopes of the Conservative Party.

Following last week’s parliamentary vote, local Liberal Democrats are crowing that they have defeated “Devonwall,” while accusing the Conservatives of putting their “party’s interest before that of Cornwall.” They seem to have conveniently forgotten that it was Liberal Democrat MPs, including those from Cornwall, who voted through the legislation for the boundary changes in the first place, and the reason for their shift had nothing to do with the views of the people of Cornwall.

All three Cornish Tories last week voted for the boundary changes and “Devonwall.” They seem to have conveniently forgotten their opposition to the creation of such a seat, which included Sheryll Murray MP telling campaigners at the Saltash Keep Cornwall Whole Rally in October 2010: “We must fight the destruction of our historic border by the political map … we will fight on and on …”

The truth is that the whole episode has highlighted the cynicism all too often found at the heart of politics, as well as the shameful double standards of the Coalition parties.

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