Sunday, 25 February 2018

Remembering Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst

In this coming week’s Cornish Guardian, my article remembers Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst who were executed 75 years ago this month. It will be as follows:

Some years ago, I purchased a book titled “Conscience in Revolt” at what I remember was a bric-a-brac shop in Tintagel. Translated from the original “Das Gewissen Steht Auf,” it contains the life stories of 64 men and women from Germany who opposed Nazism between 1933 and 1945, and who all lost their lives as a consequence.

It is a truly compelling publication and details many acts of extreme courage. One of the biographies is that of Sophie Scholl, a 22-year-old student, who along with her brother and a friend were executed on 22nd February 1943.

Seventy-five years on from their deaths, it is important that we never forget what happened.

Sophie was the daughter of a local mayor in Forchtenberg in northern Baden-Wurttemberg, and she was born in 1921. For two years, she trained to be a kindergarten teacher, but in May 1942 matriculated to study biology and philosophy at Munich University, where her brother Hans was already studying medicine.

Hans belonged to a non-violent resistance group known as the “White Rose,” made up of “students, artists and scientists” which called on people to oppose Hitler’s regime through passive resistance. He had assisted in the production of pamphlets, and Sophie joined to help.

During 1942, three pamphlets were distributed around Munich. A famous extract from one of the leaflets stated: “We grew up in a state in which all free expression of opinion is unscrupulously repressed. The Hitler Youth, the SA and the SS have tried to stupefy us, subvert us, in the brightest years of our lives. We want genuine learning, real freedom of expression.”

The Scholls were arrested on 18th February 1943, along with Christoph Probst – who had three children, the youngest of which was less than one month old.

Four days later, they were paraded in front of the maliciously misnamed “People’s Court” and found guilty of treason. Later that same day, they were all executed by guillotine.

Sophie’s cellmate recorded her last words as she was being led away to be beheaded. She said: “It is such a splendid sunny day, and I have to go. But how many have to die on the battlefield in these days, how many young, promising lives. What does my death matter if by our acts thousands are warned and alerted.”

Such resolute calmness in the face of a violent death is truly inspiring.

And it should impress on us all – whatever our grumbles – how very fortunate we are to live in an open, 21st century, democracy where there is real freedom of expression.

Local Government Boundary Review and stuff

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian once again addressed issues of democracy. It was as follows:

A key priority of my political life has been a range of campaigns to strengthen democracy in Cornwall. Obviously, this has included the promotion of the case for a Cornish Assembly and greater control over all aspects of life in Cornwall.

Looking back over the last couple of decades, it has certainly been difficult to get the UK Government – of whatever political persuasion – to support such much-needed reforms.

Sadly, what changes we have seen have actually damaged democracy in Cornwall. Instead of achieving more powers through our own legislature, as in Scotland and Wales, Westminster politicians have centralised local government and further undermined it through under-funding and other changes.

It is just over ten years since the Labour Minister John Healey MP ignored the views of the majority of the people of Cornwall and made the official government announcement that a unitary authority would be imposed on us.

At the time, I was among those who opposed the change and raised significant concerns about the democratic deficit that would befall Cornwall with the cull of over 200 principal authority councillors.

We have since seen a considerable drive from the UK Government to set up numerous unelected bodies of limited democratic legitimacy, which have done much to sideline the democratically-elected representatives of local communities.

In 2015, we had the so-called “devolution deal,” which was frankly extremely feeble and, I would argue, not really about devolution at all. And it transpired that the Government had an expectation that there should be a “boundary review” and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England (LGBCE) subsequently ruled that the number of elected representatives in Cornwall should be reduced to 87 in 2021 – a further cut of 36 local advocates.

It is well documented that I opposed this cut – not least because Cornwall already has fewer elected representatives (per head of population) than most parts of the UK – but I have found myself in the position of having to help manage this backward step as the vice-chairman of the Council’s Electoral Review Panel.

This work has certainly dominated much of the last few months as we have tried to come up with possible boundaries for the 87 divisions via an LGBCE consultation, which has just closed. It has been a time-consuming process, trying to propose divisions with roughly the same number of voters while respecting community identities – which has proved extremely difficult in a number of localities.

Watch out for the LGBCE formal proposals which will be published for consultation in early May.

I just hope that the next time I am involved with facilitating democratic change, it is a positive change!

Monday, 19 February 2018

Parliamentary boundary review in the news again

Bernard Jenkin, the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, is calling on MPs “to decide at the earliest opportunity whether to cut the size of the Commons …”

A report on the BBC states that “many MPs do not now support [the boundary review] and could reject it in a vote this autumn” adding “the Public Administration Committee said there would then be no time to start again and the 2022 poll would be held on out-dated boundaries.”

An extract from the BBC report states the following:

In the meantime, the mood in Westminster has hardened against the idea of smaller Commons. The cross-party committee said it was “unlikely” that MPs would support the move later this year and that there had to be a Plan B for Parliament to consider.

“The time to decide this in principle is now,” said Bernard Jenkin, the Tory MP who chairs the committee.

“If the government waits until the autumn, Parliament will be faced with an invidious choice - either approve the new boundaries or hold the next election on boundaries that will be over 20 years out of date.

“But if we decide this now, it would be possible to change the law so new boundaries at 650 seats can be in place before the next election.”

The Boundary Commission for England, which completed its consultation on its revised proposals in December, said Mr Jenkin was correct there would not be enough time for them to restart their work should the existing review be rejected.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Update on planning appeals for biogas plant at Higher Fraddon

Last week, many local residents and I attended a planning hearing into the appeals for two applications to modify aspects of the biogas plant at Higher Fraddon.

I have just been informed that the appeal inspector has ruled in favour of Fraddon Biogas Ltd and agreed the requested changes. 

Am I surprised? No. Am I annoyed? Damn right.
In summary, both applications related to condition 14.

(i) The condition agreed by the previous appeal inspector stated that the types of HGVs accessing the site must be agreed in writing through the condition, but the operators wanted this to be left very open-ended and not to specify the principal use of the “duoliner” vehicle that they had previously pledged they would use during the planning process.

(ii) In addition, they sought to modify condition 14 (by increasing the number of small vehicles to the plant).

On behalf of the Parish Council, I submitted a detailed planning statement in opposition to the two appeals and along with others made the arguments at the actual hearing.

The operators also submitted an appeal for costs, ie. that Cornwall Council should pay Fraddon Biogas Ltd costs as they had been “unreasonable.”

This was rejected and, in the supporting text, there was some limited criticism of the appellants as follows:

“10. I do not believe that the Council’s stance has been unreasonable as such. It has responded to complaints received from the local community, the local councillor and the Parish Council. I believe the previous Inspector in framing condition 14 did have in his mind the use of the Duoliner – indeed he saw during his site visit (as I did) the use of this vehicle in operation. I have no doubt whatsoever that the appellant at the 2016 appeals made great play about its benefits. I can therefore fully understand why the Council has sought to negotiate its use as the primary vehicle. I find no criticism in that as the vehicle, by the applicant’s own admission, is more efficient, quieter and has greater manoeuvrability. I was impressed by a particular comment from a local resident who whilst acknowledging the swept path analysis undertaken by the applicant’s consultants, nevertheless pointed out that the HGVs would need to utilise much of the carriageway width with some of the larger HGVs also needing to ‘oversail’ the adopted carriageway to negotiate the 90 degree bend. I saw some evidence of this during my site visit with rutting of grass verges at several points along the highway.

“11. Whilst the local highway authority did not raise objection on highway grounds, the local planning authority is charged with considering wider amenity and convenience issues in addition to technical highway matters. I have no doubt that pedestrians in particular have to be particularly watchful of traffic using this lane. I do not believe that the Council can be criticised in the stance that it has adopted, which was a precautionary stance in all respects. Evidence is not confined to hard technical evidence; planning is bound by both objective and subjective assessments.”

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

CND - sixty years old

My article in today’s Cornish Guardian marks the 60th anniversary of the launch of CND. It is as follows:

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the launch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at a massive public meeting in London on 17th February 1958. Soon after, the first Aldermaston March attracted a significant amount of attention and it was around this same time that the famous CND or peace symbol designed by Gerald Holtom, incorporating the semaphore letters N and D (for nuclear disarmament), was unveiled.

I have been a member of CND for more than 25 years, and I am proud to lead a political party that has had a manifesto commitment of complete nuclear disarmament since the early 1980s.

It is my view that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 must forever remind us of the destructive power of nuclear weapons. And this needs to make us vigilant in our efforts to rid the World of such weapons of mass destruction and prevent the terrible human tragedy, that would unfold, should they ever be used again.

CND has been extremely effective and has been an important force in pressing the UK Government and others to conclude a number of treaties such as the Partial Test Ban Treaty, the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

I believe that CND is as relevant now as it was back in 1958, not least because there is a great deal of work still to be done to achieve the goal of a nuclear-free world.

I was certainly very disappointed by the parliamentary vote in June 2016, when MPs voted by 472 votes to 117 to renew the Trident weapons programme and press on with the manufacture of a new generation of nuclear submarines.

The United Kingdom is one of only two countries in Western Europe which hold nuclear weapons and I can see no logical or strategic reason why this should continue.

CND has estimated that the lifetime costs of Trident would be a massive £205 billion, while Crispin Blunt, the former Chairman of the influential Foreign Affairs Committee, told the House of Commons that these costs would be a still substantial £179 billion.

I find it especially unpardonable that many of those politicians wishing to spend such a ridiculous amount of money on Trident are the same people who have unleashed devastating cuts to our vital public services through austerity, which continue to be greatly under-funded.

Just think how much good £179,000,000,000 would do if it was instead spent on social housing, education, health, policing, job creation, community groups and so much more.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Backing Cornwall Council's fair funding campaign

My article in this coming week’s Cornish Guardian is backing the unitary authority’s new campaign for fair funding. It will be as follows:

The unitary authority has launched its latest “fair funding” campaign with the publication of a handful of startling statistics. It has, for example, compared Cornwall with Camden and concluded that, if we had the same level of funding as the London borough, “we would have £212 million more each year for public services.”

The Council has also pointed out that “Kensington and Chelsea delivers the same range of services as Cornwall but has 48% more funding, per resident, to do this with.”

It is the case that the UK Government has slashed funding to local authorities, forcing them to increase council tax significantly in an impossible attempt to fill the void, which is adversely impacting on many people already struggling to pay their day-to-day bills.

This is therefore an important campaign and the leader of Cornwall Council is asking residents to sign a “Stand Up for Cornwall” pledge, which can be found at: I fully support this initiative, and hope you will as well.

Campaigning for fair funding for Cornwall is not new, but the need for this latest effort shows that the Westminster parliament has not been listening.

In preparing this week’s article, I have looked back at many, many examples of inequitable funding across the UK and how it affects Cornwall. Here are just a few:

- 2013: A report “Rebalancing Our Cultural Capital” noted that, in 2012-2013, Arts Council England distributed a total of £320m of taxpayers' money. London received £20 per head of population, compared to £3.60 per person elsewhere. DCMS meanwhile distributed £450m of public funding to “major national cultural institutions.” London received £49 per head compared to just £1 per person on average elsewhere.
- 2014: Research from LG Futures (Costs of Providing Services in Rural Areas) demonstrated that the “cost of providing services in a rural area is greater than in an urban area” – but the government funding formulae failed to reflect this in its calculations.
- 2015: Reports showed that the residents of Cornwall and Devon receive “less government funding than other police areas,” and paid “39% of the local policing bill through council tax.” The comparable figure is so much lower elsewhere, for example, in Merseyside (17%), Greater Manchester (22%) and London (27%).
- 2016: In the debate lead by members of the Rural Fair Share Group, Conservative MPs lined up to criticise the “extraordinarily unfair” funding arrangements with one arguing that, in the future, local government would be neither “sustainable nor deliverable.”

It is clear that we must continue to put great pressure on the United Kingdom’s Conservative Government – including six MPs from Cornwall – which has the collective ability and power to deliver fair funding.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Framework Convention to protect national minorities is 20 years old today

Twenty years ago today (1st February 1998), the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) came into force.

An important treaty, it was the mechanism through which the Cornish achieved formal governmental recognition as a national minority in 2014.

It is certainly the case that, over the last two decades, the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ACFC) has done a significant amount of work to advise on the implementation of the FCNM and to give visibility to national minorities.

For more information, see:
Council of Europe celebrates 20 years of Framework Convention

This includes a link to a report on the Framework Convention, both looking back over the last 20 years and ahead to what the future may hold.