Sunday, 23 November 2008

Party Conference

Mebyon Kernow’s Annual General Meeting and Conference took place yesterday at the Shire Hall Suite in Bodmin.

Much of the focus was on the prospect of unitary council elections in (perhaps) October 2009. My own comment was that we should take on the representatives of the London-parties at the ballot box, defeat them and put Cornish Nationalists at the heart of local government in Cornwall.

Following the decision to impose a unitary authority on Cornwall, we debated our policies for self-government and the future of local government in Cornwall. The policy statement agreed at the Conference will be officially published in a few days.

We also agreed to support the Cornish Fighting Fund with a pledge considered and debated the economy, environmental protection, housing, taxation and matter other matters.

The Conference was also attend by five representatives from Plaid Cymru including Steffan Lewis from Plaid Cymru (PPC for Islwyn) and Gwendal Rioual from the Union Démocratique Bretonne in Brittany.

We are very grateful that they attended and pleased that they enjoyed out hospitality at the event.

Group photograph of speakers at the Conference (left to right): Steffan Lewis (Plaid Cymru), yours truly, Cllr Loveday Jenkin (PPC for Camborne and Redruth), Cllr Conan Jenkin (PPC for Truro and Falmouth), Cllr Andrew Long (Chairman of South East Cornwall constituency party) and Gwendal Rioual (Union Démocratique Bretonne).

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Commenting on Matthew Taylor's views

Following Peter Tatchell’s article on the Guardian website, Matthew Taylor MP has posted a riposte. It is titled “Cornwall needs a revolution, not a divorce” with the strapline “Cornwall doesn't need a separate parliament, just genuine local autonomy and fair funding to go with it.”

I have responded to his posting. My comments are posted below:

Hello Matthew

As you would expect, I am in agreement with many of the points you make in your article. However, I fundamentally disagree with your views on the campaign for greater powers to Cornwall.

One failing in Peter Tatchell’s original article was that it used the term “independence” when the reality is that in Cornwall the campaigns have primarily always been about devolution.

I was therefore disappointed that you did not address this – preferring instead to use language like “going it alone,” “divorce” and stating that “we don't need a separate parliament, we simply need genuine local autonomy over the things that matter locally …”

I was also saddened that you continue to state that the planned single tier council for Cornwall could “evolve” into “an assembly.” With respect, I believe you are mixing up local government with aspirations for regional/national government for Cornwall. They are two separate things.

And within the British Context, the difference between a Parliament and an Assembly comes down simply to the extent of powers of the body, while the existence of a Parliament (as in Scotland) does not equal separation.

That is why Mebyon Kernow is campaigning for a National Assembly for Cornwall with powers similar to those of the Scottish Parliament.I also would like to remind you of a few things:

1. In November 2001, Liberal Democrats held a Cornwall Conference which agreed to campaign for a Regional Assembly for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

2. In December 2001, you were happy to stand with me and other campaigners on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street to hand over 50,000 declarations for a Cornish Assembly.

3. 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.

4. Upon winning control of the Council that year, the Lib Dems published a list of priorities that included a pledge to “establish detailed plans for a Cornish Assembly” within their first year of office. This pledge was not acted upon.

5. At another conference in November 2005, Cornish Liberal Democrats re-affirmed their commitment to the campaign for a Cornish Assembly. The motion specifically stated that devolution was NOT local government reform. Your colleague 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.”

6. However when Ruth Kelly launched a Local Government White Paper in October 2006, the Liberal Democrat County Council immediately jettisoned their commitment to an Assembly and began to prepare a bid for a single council.

7. The Lib Dems have continued making the claim that local government reorganisation would lead to devolution – even after Local Government Minister John Healey MP (speaking in the House of Commons) confirmed that there were “no specific additional powers” for Cornwall in February.

I believe it is about time that Cornwall’s Liberal Democrats came clean and admitted that they have let Cornwall down by abandoning their commitment to a Cornish Assembly and imposing an unwanted unitary authority upon us.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Self-rule for Cornwall

This week, Peter Tatchell posted an article on the “Comment is Free” part of the Guardian newspaper’s website. Entitled “Self-rule for Cornwall,” it was a straight-forward and sympathetic appraisal of the many aspects of the Cornish movement – ranging from the many battles for the greater recognition of our nation, to the campaign for the Cornish to be recognised as a National Minority and the long-standing campaign for a Cornish Assembly.

I applaud Peter for taking the time to publicise what is going on in Cornwall.

However, for the sake of accuracy, I would like to point out a couple of things. The Cornish Constitutional Convention did not launch the declaration campaign for a Cornish Assembly. It was launched by MK in March 2000, the Convention was founded in the following July and, soon after, MK took the pragmatic decision to pass a large degree of the responsibility for the campaign to the cross-party organisation in order to better garner widespread support.

It is also a little unfortunate that the article uses the term “independence” when the reality is that in Cornwall the campaigns have primarily always been about devolution – not separation.

Over 1,500 comments were added to the site and, like many others, it disappointed me to see so many negative, inaccurate and offensive posts.

To quote just one correspondent as an example: “The Cornish wurzels deserve nothing but contempt and should be sent back to where they belong, labouring down the bottom of a deep hole, the deeper the better … heads full of pasties and rotten clotted cream … inbreds all.” Not a particularly nice thing to say.

Peter himself has described many of the comments as “anti-Cornish vitriol” and “bigoted stereotyped anti-Cornish posts” though, to be fair, quite a number of the comments from the Cornish side have also been unwise.

Many posters have decried what Cornish nationalism is all about. From a personal perspective, it is quite simple. Cornwall is a historic entity with its own distinct identity, language and heritage – it is a nation. Every person who seeks the greater recognition of the nation of Cornwall or campaigns for self-government for Cornwall is therefore a Cornish nationalist.

What is important to me is that the nationalism of Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall is inclusive and outward-looking. I am particularly proud that we campaign for a better deal for ALL the people of Cornwall and are never afraid to make a stand on global issues with significance far beyond our borders.

While I do not have the time to comment on all the issues raised I do feel it is appropriate, that as the Leader of Mebyon Kernow, I comment on a couple of the specific mentions of MK.

Some people clearly wish to perpetuate the myth that MK is only concerned with things such as the Cornish Language. “Kegs,” for example, states that: “Issues like housing, jobs and development are what most of the people I know are concerned about, not historical grievances and Cornish language promotion.”

Now I am proud of the work that MK members and others have done to protect and promote Cornish and to bolster local identity but this is most certainly not MK’s only focus. We are a modern political party committed to self government and our core values are prosperity for all, social justice and environmental protection.

I have looked back over the MK press releases that have been released over the last twelve months and here is a representative sample – support for South Crofty tin mine, opposition to the loss of 24 hour fire cover in Camborne and Falmouth, Liberal Democrat double standards, unitary authority chaos, supermarkets, climate change, opposition to 70,000 houses in the Regional Spatial Strategy, no to an incinerator at St Dennis, affordable housing, criticism of eco-town proposal, condemnation of racist attack on Quenchwell Chapel, call for rail improvements, arms trade, no to Post Office closures, energy costs, waste, and the list goes on.

In fact MK councillors have been extremely active on the issues of “housing, jobs and development.” Speaking for myself, I am one of the two MK councillors on Restormel Borough Council and I serve as the chairman of the Planning Policy Committee. Through this, I have worked extremely hard to help develop the Borough’s affordable housing plans, regeneration policies for the China Clay Area/St Austell and Newquay, while opposing the plan for an eco-town (spread over six sites) near St Austell. This is what being in MK means to me.

I would suggest that some of the critics of Mebyon Kernow need take time to see what the Party does stand for.

One last thing ‘Kegs.’ You also said that “when the Party Leader’s own (Welsh) wife takes the mick out of the cause you know you have a bit of a credibility problem.” With respect – what are you talking about? My wife is very supportive of the campaigns of MK, helps out in many ways, often gets very angry on my behalf when MK and Cornish campaigns are unfairly criticised and she is English – not Welsh!