Saturday, 18 September 2010

A meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister

A delegation from the Keep Cornwall Whole campaign met with Nick Clegg on Wednesday, to raise concerns about the consequences of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill which, if unchanged, would lead to the creation of a Devonwall constituency.

The delegation was cross-party and made up of myself on behalf of MK, the Mayor of Saltash Adam Killeya, Liberal Democrat Malcolm Brown who was formerly Cornwall County Council’s ‘expert’ on electoral/boundary reviews, the Vice-Chair of the Cornwall Labour Party Jen Forbes and Independent Cornwall Councillor Bert Biscoe.

The meeting was chaired by Lib Dem MP Stephen Gilbert. Also present were Conservative MP Sheryll Murray and Liberal Democrat MPs Dan Rogerson and Andrew George.

The thirty-minute meeting started with a summary of the Bill from Nick Clegg. This included his assertion about the importance of democratic reforms, the fairness of equal-sized constituencies and the difficulty of making exceptions on constituency size.

The members of the delegation then outlined a number of points in turn. Issues covered included the importance of Cornish integrity, the strength of our identity, Cornwall’s distinct economic profile and the growing wish to take more responsibility for our own future. The cross-party aspect of the campaign was also emphasised, along with the widespread concern of parishes in East Cornwall.

We also pointed out that the Government had already identified two specific constituency exceptions, relating to Scottish Islands, and the Bill stated that the borders of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would not be transgressed. The delegation requested similar treatment for Cornwall.

Mr Clegg responded by questioning whether a cross-Tamar constituency would damage the standing of Cornwall as an entity.

I was allowed to respond on behalf of the group. I pointed out how Cornwall had, for many years, lost out to wider South West arrangements, that we welcomed how the new Government is pushing back the SW quango state and gave the example that Cornwall had recently submitted a bid for a Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership. The point was made that a Devonwall seat would undermine these developments.

Dan Rogerson MP used the opportunity to talk about the view of many people that Cornwall is a nation. He spoke very well and Nick Clegg acknowledged the sentiments raised. He added that, for the purposes of the Bill, Cornwall’s status is that of a county, but perhaps there needed to be a debate about Cornwall’s position within the UK. We agreed. He then added however that you “cannot piggy-back such as issue of principle” on the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill.

Sheryll Murray mentioned the 'Duchy.' Andrew George added that Cornwall’s call for constituencies to respect Cornwall’s border was not about isolationism. “We love England so much, we want to protect its border” he said.

I think it is fair to say that we received a fair hearing. Nick Clegg listened to what we had to say, but made no promises and gave no indication that he intended to change his position. He did say that he would inform David Cameron about the meeting and suggested that Cornish representatives also seek a meeting with the PM.

It remains to be seen whether the upper reaches of the Government act on our representations. But some progress is being made. Amendments to protect Cornwall’s border have been tabled by representatives of all three main parties, namely Andrew George (Lib Dem), Sheryll Murray (Conservative) and Harriet Harman/Peter Hain/Jack Straw (Labour).

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