Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A two-tier democracy

The announcement that Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg will take part in three televised debates during the next General Election demonstrates that there really is a two-tier democracy in the UK.

The SNP and Plaid Cymru are right to be angry as it puts them at an enormous disadvantage, with these high-profile debates focussing attention on the three largest London-centred parties and only the three largest London-centred parties.

Many members of the Labour Party, Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats are already lining up to criticise Alex Salmond for his threat to take legal action on behalf of the SNP. But they would, wouldn’t they? They want to stop other parties getting fair coverage during the election period.

There is talk of single televised debates in Scotland and Wales, but these will almost certainly not include Brown, Cameron and Clegg. And the media will consequently downplay their significance as a result.

As for MK - the same media outlets are refusing to allow us a single parliamentary broadcast and ... oh, how I could go on!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Six months in - the stats

It has been just over six months since I was elected to Cornwall Council. I think now is the time to report back on my performance – statistics wise.

My role as a councillor has been full-time and then some. I have undertaken no other paid work during this period. The Council website presently records that I have an attendance record of 92%.

The stats show that since June, there have been 29 meetings of the various committees that I sit on. Of these, I have attended 24. There were three meetings that I could not attend as I was at another Cornwall Council meeting at the same time (recorded as “apologies due to council business.”) The remaining two meetings that I missed were of the Strategic Planning Committee (dealing with Binhamy Farm, Bude and the Davidstow wind turbine applications). In both these cases, I had given archaeological advice on the applications in my former role as an employee of the Historic Environment Service of Cornwall County Council. I therefore had a prejudicial interest and would not have been able to participate in the debate.

I feel I could legitimately claim to have a 100% attendance record.

As MK Group Leader, I have also set out to attend meetings of certain committees of which I am not a member in order to better understand how the Council operates. The records show that I have attended 17 such meetings in this period (recorded as “in attendance” in the stats) – the fourth highest figure for a councillor.

But this is not in any way the full picture. For all councillors, there are numerous extra meetings, briefings and informal gatherings that are not deemed ‘official’ meetings and therefore not counted.

To take last week as an example, I attended the Waste Panel on Monday (counted) and then spent three days at a Public Inquiry (not counted). In the previous week, I was at three official meetings – Full Council, Planning Policy Panel and the Central Sub-Area Planning Committee. Informal meetings included a scrutiny session on the budget process, a meeting of councillors from the China Clay Area about the eco-town and a briefing on the Council’s plans for carbon reduction. For information (and/or sympathy), extras included two meetings about the upcoming Public Inquiry into the Incinerator, a Parish Council meeting, a meeting of the board of ClayTAWC and I finished off the week with a gathering of MK’s National Executive.

There is also, of course, the challenge of addressing issues from local parishioners when not stuck in meeetings.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Three hours of cross-examination!

It is great to be at home, sitting by a glorious wood fire with a glass of wine. It has certainly been a long and tiring day.

Today, I represented Cornwall Council at a Planning Inquiry in St Austell. Earlier this year, an application was submitted for a TRSA (Trunk Road Service Area) some 500m to the east of Victoria near Roche. It was presented to the Central Sub-Area Planning Committee, which resolved it should be refused.

This was then referred to the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee (an unacceptable practice since stopped). In the meantime, the applicant appealed because the Council had not determined the application and the Strategic Planning Committee voted to contest the appeal.

And that was where I came in. As the officers had recommended that the application be approved, it was necessary for a councillor to front up the Council’s case. I was approached and agreed.

Though the Council has experienced legal support at the Inquiry, I had the task of setting out a summary of the Council’s reasons for refusal. I was then cross-examined by the applicant’s legal representatives. This started at just after 11.00, we broke for one hour for dinner, and I was finally allowed off the stand at 3.20.

I can assure one and all that the wine tastes good tonight.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Support from independent councillors

I am very pleased to make it known that four well-known and respected independent councillors are backing my campaign to be first MP for the new St Austell and Newquay seat.

Des Curnow (St Stephen), Fred Greenslade (St Dennis), Harry Heywood (Newquay Treviglas) and John Wood (Roche) will today issue the following joint statement:

“We are proud to be Independent councillors and have no intention of endorsing any particular political party at the next General Election.

“We are however pleased to be able to offer our full support to Dick Cole as an individual in his bid to become the MP for St Austell and Newquay.

“In recent years, we have worked with Dick on Restormel Borough Council and, more recently, on Cornwall Council. He has always been an extremely committed and effective councillor, who fights hard for local people.

“It is our belief that he is the best candidate to represent our area in Westminster and would make an admirable, sincere and hard-working MP for Cornwall.”

I am most grateful for their kind support and I hope that I will be able to repay the trust that they have placed in me.

The above photograph shows me with (left to right) Fred Greenslade, Des Curnow, Harry Heywood and John Wood.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Voting MK ... for a change

I am delighted to have found a recent entry on Simon Parker's blog on the Western Morning News website ( It reports on MK's recent Conference and our campaign leading up to the next General Election.

Thank you for the kind words, Simon. And for those of you who haven't read it yet, here it is reproduced below.

There’s no getting away from it... within six months we’ll be having a General Election.

For political pundits and party activists it can’t come soon enough. But for the rest of us the prospect of an imminent election, with all the endless posturing and back-biting that involves, is a source of weary resignation.

Of course, it wasn’t always like that. In previous times we, the electorate, had choices. Market forces of socialism. Nationalisation or selling the family silver. Imperialism of internationalism. The list of choices was, if not always to our liking, at least clear-cut.

By contrast, today’s choices are, well, hardly there at all, to the extent that it’s not only impossible to work out what each of the three main parties actually stand for, but that their ability to govern, to lead, is increasingly in doubt. And lads, that’s what you’re there to do – it might be worth remembering it sometimes.

So where does that leave you and I? Can we vote Conservative? No. Never again can we trust a party that presided over the wholesale destruction of our manufacturing base, smashed our traditional industries in the name of dogma, privatised our national assets and derided the very notion of society. They may not have been in power for a dozen years, but don’t be fooled, the same monstrous values still prevail in today’s Tory party.

Labour, then? No. Never again can we trust a party that led us into an illegal and immoral war that has resulted in the documented deaths by violence of at least 102,000 Iraqi civilians, not to mention the servicemen and women from Britain and other countries. New Labour has repeatedly reneged on its principles and it is an absolute travesty that those men and women who worked so hard to make Britain a better place for all after 1945 have been so badly cheated of their legacy. Labour? Clem Attlee wouldn’t recognise it.

OK, the Liberal-Democrats? When undecided on any issue, I find it useful to ask: Would David Penhaligon have voted for it? Sadly, for the unprincipled Lib-Dems – unlike the radical, caring old Liberal Party – I fear the late, lamented member for Truro would not be comfortable with the pronouncements of Nick Clegg’s version of liberalism, either at local or national level.

So that only leaves UKIP, the Green Party, the BNP or a complete boycott of the electoral process.

Only teasing. Of course we have a choice – and, what’s more, one which David Penhaligon would endorse.

It is no exaggeration to say that perhaps for the first time in a generation Cornwall has the opportunity to make a difference to its own affairs by electing a Mebyon Kernow candidate to Westminster.

The calibre of those standing this time is undisputed. At MK’s annual conference, the six candidates – Dick Cole (Newquay & St Austell), Simon Read (St Ives), Loveday Jenkin (Camborne & Redruth), Loic Rich (Truro & Falmouth), Joanie Willett (North Cornwall) and Glenn Renshaw (South East Cornwall) – displayed maturity, coherence, clear policies, confidence and determination. With the Tories, Lib-Dems and Labour in disarray and tainted by the scandal of illegal expenses claims, surely this is the hour for Mebyon Kernow to benefit from the massive unpopularity of the three main parties. After all, it’s always more effective to kick an enemy when he’s already down.

If MK has any chance of scoring what to many seems an unachievable goal, they have to first believe that an MK MP is attainable. Not only that but they have to convince the electorate that they too can believe in victory.

Many will argue that MK cannot hope to compete against the Big Three, whose financial budget dwarfs that of the Cornish party. But perhaps by putting all its efforts and resources into a simple popular slogan (something like VOTE FOR CORNWALL VOTE FOR REAL CHANGE VOTE MK) the party could tap into the frustrations of all those who feel uncomfortable voting Labour, Tory or Lib-Dem.

It would not be a protest vote but instead a positive declaration of support for Cornwall’s self-determination (I’M VOTING FOR CORNWALL I’M VOTING FOR REAL CHANGE I’M VOTING MK).

Such a campaign has the potential to generate a groundswell of popular support, appealing to a spectrum of voters:

Former supporters of the three main parties who have become disillusioned and feel cheated and want to give their own party a bloody nose.

Floating voters who have become disenfranchised through a combination of policy failures and lies by the three main parties.

Idealistic first-time voters desperate for something to believe in.

Voters who want the best for Cornwall. This is the Joker in MK’s pack and something the other parties don’t have. MK alone appeals to those who don’t love politics but do love Cornwall and feel passionately that Cornwall’s voice needs to be heard in Parliament.

Do the members of MK even realise just how close they are to victory? The notion of Cornishness has grown to a level which was unthinkable even 10 years ago – and it is that sense of distinctiveness that MK can tap into at a time when the popularity of Labour, Lib-Dems and Tories is at an all-time low.

This rise in popularity was demonstrated at this year’s European Parliament when the party polled seven per cent of the votes in Cornwall – beating Labour – and in the Cornwall Council election, which resulted in three seats for MK.

At last week’s conference, Dick Cole announced that the party was “looking forward” to the General Election. That, of course, is a politician speaking; he’s very unlikely to say his members are dreading it. But we knew what he meant.

How many party faithful in the hall truly believed that in a few months the Palace of Westminster would be welcoming its first MK MP? It takes more than hope to elect an MP. It takes confidence, tenacity, an effective campaign and a huge dollop of self-belief – something party leader Dick Cole does possess.

“Make no mistake,” said Dick. “It was a massive achievement for MK to get three councillors elected to serve at County Hall – something not achieved by a host of political parties including Labour, UKIP, the Greens and others. In the European Elections we achieved seven per cent of the votes in Cornwall, even though we were excluded from television air-time and much meaningful publicity. This shows that MK is in a stronger position than ever before.”

Councillor Cole spoke about the “immeasurable damage done to politics” by the Westminster expenses scandal and called on MPs found to have abused the system to be banned from office for life. He told party members that the challenge in the coming months would be to prove to the public that a vote for Mebyon Kernow will breathe desperately-needed fresh air into Cornish and British politics.

“We are involved in politics because we care about our local communities and because we want to win a better deal for Cornwall. Politics to us is about public service – it is about doing what is right. People do not join MK to become an MP in some safe seat or to build a career or to put their personal interest ahead of the needs of local people. Our politics is about hope for the future – not cynicism in the present.”

Another candidate speaking with confidence was Joanie Willett, who will be standing in the North Cornwall constituency in the 2010 General Election. She told the meeting: “Cornwall has been marginalised by the London-based political parties. We have witnessed and experienced the inadequacies of recent Labour and previous Tory governments. Closer to home, it has been staggering to see how the Lib-Dems have run roughshod over the people’s wishes over the past four years. This neglect is compounded by the recession, the continual erosion of public services, the lack of affordable housing and the often damaging roles of quangos. We do not need self-serving politicians not interested in democracy. We do not need overpaid and transient civil servants chasing the next lucrative job. Cornwall needs people who know what they are doing and can make the right decisions – decisions based on the needs of Cornish communities. We have to be brave, bold and be prepared to fight against the odds. When Mebyon Kernow takes to the streets we want people to look and listen and join us. While we need to recognise that we have made great steps as a political party, we need to remain grounded in active campaigning on the issues that affect thousands of ordinary people.”

Councillor Loic Rich, the prospective parliamentary candidate for Truro and Falmouth, added: “The future is in our hands. People are actively voting for us. Not reluctantly and not as a protest. They are excited about our message. They notice how hard we work. We, above anyone else, can make Cornwall a better place to live. We fight for Cornish industries, for Cornish culture, for Cornish housing and for stopping the constant loss of public services across the Tamar.”

So what is to be done? Cornwall can elect the same tired and discredited parties. Or Cornwall can elect MPs who represent Cornwall and Cornwall alone, with no hidden agenda or allegiance to a party machine.

A lot of people have never even considered voting MK in the past – certainly not in a General Election.

But when the 2010 General Election date is finally set, we will all have to ask ourselves: What’s the alternative?

Thursday, 3 December 2009

No broadcasts for MK

In September, MK made representations to the Broadcasters’ Liaison Group concerning the criteria for party political broadcasts at the next General Election. The BBC has now published its draft criteria.

It does not look good for MK. The draft states that a “registered political party which stands candidates in a minimum of one sixth of the seats up for election in a nation will qualify for one PEB in that nations.”

But this means that:

“In England, a political party will qualify for one PEB if it stands in a minimum of 89 seats.

“In Scotland, a political party will qualify for one PEB if it stands in a minimum of 10 seats.

“In Wales, a political party will qualify for one PEB if it stands in a minimum of 7 seats.

“In Northern Ireland, a political party will qualify for one PEB if it stands in a minimum of 3 seats.”

Mebyon Kernow will be standing in all six seats in the nation of Cornwall. But that does not seem to matter. Under these rules, to get a broadcast, MK would need to stand in all six Cornish seats as well as 83 other seats in England and that would only cost us an extra £41,500 in deposits alone!

Who says “democracy” isn’t biased against smaller political parties?

MPs say NO!

It is sad to hear that MPs have rejected a bid for a Cornish tickbox on the 2011 census. Dan Rogerson MP had moved an amendment to the Draft Census Order 2009 for England and Wales but it was rejected by 261 votes to 49.

It is clear that, over the next two years, we need to promote a massive “write-in” campaign that encourages Cornish people to use the census to demonstrate their strength of feeling about their own identity.