Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The Government can't do maths

Everyone knows what I think about the proposal to create a single unitary authority and the undemocratic process that is going on around us. But the madness seems to be getting worse.

Today I have been reading the draft statutory instrument to be known as ‘The Cornwall (Structural Change) Order 200[7][8]’ which will set out how a single council for Cornwall is created. It is garbled, confusing and full of holes.

But most all, it shows us that the Government’s bureaucrats cannot even add up. It includes a section on the first election to the new authority to be held in 2008 or 2009 and goes on to say that the number of councillors will be increased from the County Council’s present 82 members to 100. They also say that this coming election will be fought on the County Council’s existing 71 electoral divisions and where one county councillor was previously elected, two will be elected in this new contest.

So let me get that straight. The Government aims to increase the number of councillors from 82 to 100 by doubling the number of councillors. Worried?

I had thought they were ignoring the fact that 80% of people in Cornwall were opposed to the unitary authority – I now realise that they just don’t understand what 80% means!

Monday, 29 October 2007

A unitary council for Cornwall?

Last Wednesday (24th October), the House of Commons agreed all Lords amendments to the Local Government and Public Involvement Bill and passed it back to the Upper House for Royal Assent, which is scheduled for Tuesday 30th October. This bill includes the measures to set up unitary authorities.

Mebyon Kernow has already written to Cornish MPs calling on them to seek an early meeting with Hazel Blears, the Secretary of State, to demand that she does not allow the County Council bid for unitary status to proceed. I have also written to Ms Blears and hope that many others will do likewise. Her address is the Department of Communities and Local Government, Eland House, Bressenden Place, London SW1E 5DU.

My own letter was as follows:

Dear Ms Blears


I am writing to appeal to you to not allow Cornwall County Council’s bid for a single unitary council to be implemented. Earlier this year, you told Cornwall County Council that you were "minded” to implement their proposal but would take the “final decisions as to which unitary proposals are to be implemented” if and when the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill is enacted.

Before you take this next step, I hope that you will be able to find some time to reflect on whether the Cornish bid should actually proceed. As a democrat I hope that you will consider the following points.

· One of the criteria for judging whether a unitary bid should be successful was ‘public support.’ In Cornwall, opposition to the plan came from all six district councils, the majority of town and parish councils as well as a range of other organisations and bodies.

· Four district councils carried out postal polls in which a total of 71,722 residents voted – 58,087 were opposed to the unitary proposal while only 13,281 were in favour. In Caradon, 81.6% of valid votes opposed a single unitary authority, in Carrick the opposition stood at 75.9%, in Kerrier 79.3% and in Penwith the level of opposition was a massive 89.1%. North Cornwall District Council had meanwhile surveyed 6,000 residents and found that 82% of respondents were against a single unitary authority. It is wrong that such strong expressions of public opinion should be ignored.

· By contrast, on Tuesday 19th June Cornwall County Council debated whether to proceed with their bid. The Council voted to continue by 32 votes to 28 – a majority of only four. There was one abstention while 21 members were absent from the vote. This means that the proposal was only supported by 39% of county councillors and an unacceptable 25% of members were not even present at the meeting to cast a vote. This is hardly a basis on which to allow a single council to be imposed on the people of Cornwall.

· Towards the end of the Government consultation period, the County Council submitted a ‘supplementary submission’ to your department, which blatantly used spin to fabricate a ‘broad cross section of support’ for their proposal. It claimed that it sought the views of the public through a MORI poll, focus groups and the distribution of information leaflets. It failed however to inform central government that the poll had been carried out in advance of the details for their bid actually being worked up and that 91% of those surveyed stated that “they would like more information on any proposal before making up their mind.” The document also failed to include the full facts about the County Council’s disastrous leaflet consultation which did not even reach most homes and were returned by only 665 households. Interestingly, their incredibly biased leaflet still generated more opposition to the proposal than support for it. But rather than acknowledge such widespread opposition, their submission preferred to note that “the feedback we have received suggests that many people have not fully understood our proposals.” Such misinformation should not be allowed to stand unchallenged.

· I understand that the support of Cornish MPs was always a significant factor in allowing Cornwall County Council’s bid to get this far but, in the last few days, one of these MPs (Andrew George) has made a public statement expressing his opposition to the Local Government Bill.

I would appeal to you to look again, in more detail, at Cornwall County Council’s bid and the nature of the representations from Cornwall before you come to your final decision on the proposal. It is our hope that your view will reflect public opinion in Cornwall and consign the proposal of a unitary council to the dustbin.

There can be no denying that the vast majority of people in Cornwall remain opposed to the bid and there is no evidence that a single unitary authority would command a broad cross-section of support.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Back from my holidays

Thanks to Gordon Brown, the last ten days have been rather wonderful. Instead of having to contest a General Election, my wife and I have been able to enjoy a truly relaxing break in North West Wales.

For once, I put all thoughts of politics to one side, managed to read a couple of novels and we explored a number of sites including Llyn Crafnant and Llyn Geirionydd, the medieval fortress of Dinas Emrys and the remnants of the slate quarries opposite Llanberis.

We were particularly pleased to be able to visit Cae’r Gors in Rhosgadfan – the childhood home of the Welsh language novelist Kate Roberts (1891-1985). Until recently uninhabited, it has been turned into a heritage centre marking the life of a remarkable woman. It is well worth a visit. See

So it is back to normal life for me now. And you know what that means – work and meetings every single night of this coming week. Great!

Friday, 12 October 2007

More Lib Dem double standards

Make no mistake, Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall is delighted that Gordon Brown has chosen not to call a General Election. Like most political parties, we were not prepared for a contest and know that a snap poll would have led to logistical nightmares for all concerned.

Unlike the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, we have no wish to barrack Gordon Brown and keep claiming, very untruthfully, how much we were desperate for an election.

But as in many things, it is the actions of the Liberal Democrats that are the most perplexing.

On the one hand, we have the political bravado of the Lib Dem MPs expressing great disappointment that Brown ‘bottled the election’ and claiming that ‘the Cornish people [should] have their say’ on the choice of successor to Tony Blair as Prime Minister.

But on the other hand, we have the Liberal Democrat controlled County Council arguing that there should not be elections for their transitional unitary authority in May 2008. They want the elections to be delayed until 2009 and the setting up of the new authority to be steered by a ‘Joint Committee’ of appointed councillors with no democratic mandate.

What is more, the Government states that such committees should “reflect the political balance of the area concerned.” Not surprisingly, the Lib Dems are refusing to work to the collective political balance of all seven existing councils in Cornwall. They instead have decided that the only political balance that matters is the make-up of the present County Council – it just happens that this Council happens to be 58.5% Lib Dem (albeit elected via less than 40% of the vote) which would give them a majority on the Committee.

Will the Liberal Democrat MPs join me in condemning the undemocratic and control-freak manner in which the Liberal Democrat administration at County Hall is taking forward the plans for their unpopular and unwanted unitary authority and their cynical manoeuvrings to guarantee a Lib Den majority on the new ‘interim’ Joint Committee? And will they also join me in calling for council elections to be held in Cornwall as soon as possible?

I still cling to the hope that the unitary proposal will not go ahead – but surely the Lib Dems will agree that, if it is to proceed, the people of Cornwall should have their say on who should be in charge of it.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Ten years as Party Leader

Today has been a very important day for me. October 4th 2007 marks the tenth anniversary of my election as the leader of Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall.

I am extremely proud to have been able to lead MK for this period and I consider it a great privilege to be able to play my part in fighting for a better deal for Cornish communities through the only political party 100% committed to Cornwall.

I would particularly like to take this opportunity to thank Loveday Jenkin and the National Executive for the surprise ‘anniversary’ presentation at our recent Party Conference (see above photograph) and many MK members and supporters for their kind words in recent days.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

A General Election?

The question on the lips of almost all politicians is simply – will there or won’t there be a snap General Election?

There is a real phoney war going on. Gordon Brown appears in the ascendancy but with some leading Tories and Lib Dems calling for an election that they actually do not want. Strange!

I agree with Malcom Rifkind. He has said that "to contemplate a General Election two years after the last General Election when you have a healthy working majority in the House of Commons is a constitutional outrage."

I am a fan of fixed parliaments because I believe that it is simply wrong that the date of polls can be fixed by the incumbent on the basis of narrow political self-interest.

A snap election would also put small parties at a considerable disadvantage to the main political parties and that is also wrong.

But I would say that wouldn’t I?