Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Cornish Assembly? A response to Lib Dem councillor Alex Folkes

When the Labour Government and Cornwall’s Liberal Democrats imposed a unitary authority on Cornwall in 2009, I warned that it would do great damage to the campaign for a Cornish Assembly – limiting the ambition of those politicians, many from London-centred political parties, who had given a degree of support to greater powers for Cornwall.

Sadly, recent events have shown that I was correct.

Following on from his appearance on the Sunday Politics South West (13th September), prominent Liberal Democrat councillor Alex Folkes has written about his “support” for a Cornish Assembly.

I would like to bring the attention of readers to the following extract:

“The Liberal Democrats have announced that we will be fighting the next general election on a pledge to devolve powers from Westminster including the establishment of a Cornish Assembly. We believe in devolution on demand and recognise that what is right for one area may not be right for another … The discussion about exactly what powers a Cornish Assembly should have and what should fit around it is still to be had. My belief is that the current Cornwall Council should take on more powers and become the assembly. I don't see the need for the creation of a new tier of councils below the assembly. More powers and responsibilities could be given to beefed up town and parish councils to fulfil the role.”

I am so saddened at Alex’s view that devolution to Cornwall should be about further local government reforms and not the creation of a new and powerful Cornish Assembly.

And I would like to remind him of a few things.

The Lib Dems contested the 2005 General Election and Cornwall County Council elections with a Cornish Manifesto, which included a commitment to a Cornish Assembly.

Upon winning all five Cornish constituencies and control of Cornwall County Council that year, they published a list of priorities that included a pledge to “establish detailed plans for a Cornish Assembly” within their first year of office.

At another conference of Cornish Liberal Democrats in November 2005, they re-affirmed their commitment to the campaign for a Cornish Assembly. The motion specifically stated that “devolution to a Cornish tier of strategic regional government” was needed in advance of any reform to local government structures. In their press material to publicise the event, Andrew George MP said: “… the Government will not get away with their belief that they can fob us off with a rearrangement of deckchairs on the Titanic of local government.”

At that time, Cornwall had a County Council (82 councillors) and six district councils (249 councillors) – a total of 331 elected members.

They had a fantastic opportunity to unite local communities behind radical democratic reform. And it was such a simple message. We could create a Cornwall-wide strategic National Assembly, rationalise local government with a single tier of unitary authorities and remove power from a range of unelected and unaccountable bodies – almost all based outside of Cornwall.

But the Lib Dems did not take forward their pledge of “devolution to a Cornish tier of strategic regional government.” They jettisoned their commitment to a Cornish Assembly and pushed through the centralisation of local government with the creation of a single unitary authority.

Five years on – following the terrible austerity measures of the Coalition and a continued shift of power away from Cornwall – the inability of some leading Liberal Democrats to distance their “local government” mindset from calls for more powers for Cornwall does show a terrible lack of ambition.

At the same time, their timidity allows opponents of Cornish devolution (many to be found in the ranks of the Conservative and Labour parties) to argue against “more politicians” and “more layers” of governance – even though Cornwall is already suffering from a massive democratic deficit and has less democratically accountable politicians than most other parts of the United Kingdom.

I have a message for Alex Folkes and the Liberal Democrats.

If you are serious about support for a Cornish Assembly, you need to think of Cornwall as being on a par with Wales and Scotland. And helping to deliver a new democratic settlement that matches that which has been won east of Offa’s Dyke and to the north of the Solway Firth.

Cornwall (population 534,000) is disadvantaged by not having a National Assembly that can legislate for the best interests of Cornwall and its people. And in terms of local government, Cornwall only has 123 councillors on its single principal authority – just 37% of the number of councillors we had before 2009.

In contrast, Scotland (population 5.29 million) has 129 MSPs and 1,222 councillors on 32 local authorities, while Wales (population 3.06 million) has 60 AMs and 1,254 councillors on 22 local authorities.

Now is the time to make the case for a proper, powerful and empowering National Assembly for Cornwall – and I would recommend that he reads MK’s “Towards a National Assembly for Cornwall.”

Further information
The full text of Alex Folkes’ article can be found at:
MK’s “Towards a National Assembly for Cornwall” can be found at:

1 comment:

User said...

Lib Dem plans for Cornwall amount to "Devo Min". Uninspired, unambitious and totally inadequate if we want to give one and all a better future