Sunday, 30 May 2010

Whoops again

For the benefit of all those North Cornwall Lib Dems who regard the former Dunfermline MP Willie Rennie as one of their own (Willie was the party organiser who put Paul Tyler in the House of Commons) I draw to your attention this blog post from Guido Fawkes.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Another Cornwall

I spent the last three days of last week banged up at Truro Crown Court, waiting for the jury to rule on the tragic "firework through the letter box" case which resulted in three teenage boys being sent to a young offenders' institute for between five and seven years.

It felt strange to be back before a High Court Judge - in a previous life I was a regular scribe on the press benches of the old Bodmin Crown Court - and on my way home on Friday evening I went for a stroll around the town's Berryfields Estate.

Back in November, when Mary Fox died in the blaze caused by the firework, the national newspapers went to town with wild stories about feral gangs of youths terrorising residents. The estate's residents, supported by local MP Dan Rogerson, were quick to point out that 99% of what the newspapers were saying was total garbage - and on the evidence of what I found on Friday evening I have to agree.

It is 30 years since I first reported from the Berryfields Estate but there are some facts which can never change. It was built more than 40 years ago specifically to house hundreds of people relocating from London (mainly East Enders); the estate was effectively separate from the main part of Bodmin and there was little or no thought given to "organic" growth of the town; the first generation of Berryfield Estate residents brought with them a sackful of socio-economic problems which Bodmin was ill-equipped to deal with; and despite winning a design award it is still ridiculously easy to get hopelessly lost.

There is some graffiti. I saw one car which probably hasn't moved for a while (owing to a shortage of wheels.) Mary Fox's house on Friday evening was still a crime scene. But that is about it.

I am not pretending that there are no problems with anti-social behaviour on the Berryfields Estate. The police have set up a local office and try to patrol, on foot, as often as possible. The estate is unlikely to feature in tourist brochures any time soon. But it is not a war zone. Most of the accents I heard were Cornish, rather than Cockney (in 1980 it was most definitely the other way round.) Not once did I feel unsafe.

Anyway the first point of this particular blog post is to suggest that improvng the health, housing and economic prospects of Berryfield Estate residents is probably not as high up the political agenda as it ought to be. The second point is to ask what design lessons have been learned from those who seek now to develop new estates, and eco towns, all over Cornwall?

And the next one, please

Downing Street tells me the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury is the Scottish Secretary, Danny Alexander. I suspect that any Cornish Lib Dems hoping their pet projects might now be spared the axe will be rather disappointed.

Why do all these kinds of stories tend to break on a Saturday evening? Is there nothing good on telly? (Oh. Apparently it's the Eurovision Song Contest. That explains everything.)

David Laws quits

Well that didn't take long, did it? Whether the next Chief Secretary to the Treasury is seen as more or less Right-wing than David Laws may wipe the smiles from the faces of his Left-leaning Lib Dem colleagues (or should I say opponents?) in Cornwall.


A handful - and I stress that at the moment it is only a handful - of Cornwall's more Leftish Liberal Democrats tell me they are secretly delighted that the Yeovil Lib Dem MP and Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Laws has come unstuck over his expenses' claims.

Between 2001 and September 2009 Mr Laws claimed up to £950 a month to rent rooms from his partner. This has been against the rules since 2006 - something which Mr Laws has acknowledged. He has promised to refund taxpayers £40,000.

Before the general election, it was widely accepted that many MPs, from all three of the main political parties, had abused the Parliamentary expenses system. While several Conservative and Labour MPs lost the whip or were deselected as candidates, the Liberal Democrats were alone in failing to take any kind if disciplinary action.

Mr Laws has referred himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, but I wonder if his career will survive long enough for the Commissioner to reach a judgement. The Cornwall Lib Dems who are now chuckling quietly to themselves point out that since Mr Laws is the architecht of the £6.2 billion public spending cuts, including deep cuts to a number of projects backed by the South West RDA, Cornwall might well benefit from a different Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Libs, Cons, triumph again

What, if anything, should we make of last night's by-elections on Truro city and Falmouth town councils? Here are the results:
Lib Dem 604; Conservative 524; Mebyon Kernow 156
(turnout 32%)
Conservative 324; Labour 304; Mebyon Kernow 167
(turnout 16%)
OK so this was the first test in Cornwall of voter opinion since the Con-Lib coalition but I suggest we should not read too much into it - other than perhaps note the increasing importance of the postal vote (48% in Falmouth) as indicative of the organising power of political parties.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Polling Day in Truro & Falmouth

Voters go to the polls today for city and town council by-elections in Truro and in Falmouth: Truro's Trehaverne ward and Falmouth's Penwerris ward.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Petitioning for by-elections

The idea that disgruntled voters can force their MPs to face a by-election is extremely interesting. It looks as if the proposal, outlined in the Queen's speech this morning, requires 10% of the electorate in a constituency to sign a petition.

The idea was first floated several months ago as a response to the MPs' expenses scandal, but surely has other uses - such as when electors cast their vote for a political party which had promised to oppose the policies of another political party, but then changed its mind and joined that party in a coalition government.

In Cornwall, there was only one constituency (North Cornwall) where the combined anti-Conservative and anti-Liberal Democrat general election vote failed to exceed 10%. In every other Cornish constituency there would appear to be sufficient "anti-coalition" support to worry the MP. Will we now see petitions hoping to trigger by-elections on the grounds that voters had been sold a false prospectus?

Willie goes the extra mile

I see that my former neighbour Willie Rennie, who spent much of the late 1980s and early 1990s building the Liberal Democrats' formidable election machine in North Cornwall, has survived the voters' verdict in Dunfermline and West Fife. Despite losing his seat in the general election, Willie has been appointed as a special advisor to Scottish Secretary Danny Alexander.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Empty homes and the homeless

What can be done about the 4,000 empty homes in Cornwall? Good luck to those Cornwall councillors on the communities scrutiny committee who will tomorrow try to answer this question.

The figures are truly shocking: 277 properties empty for up to six months, 311 "category A" (ie purpose-built and subject to restricted occupancy) second homes, 13,398 "category B" (no restrictions) second homes, 4,121 long-term empty.

A Cornwall Council survey has found that one in ten of all homes in Cornwall is a second home. When officials contacted the owners, 45% claimed the properties were occupied, 51% said they were for sale. Of those property that remain empty, more than 70% of owners said they planned to bring the property into use - but 16% said they had no such intention.

At the same time, Cornwall has between 10,000 and 18,000 (depending on whether you look at the new council register or the old district councils' registers) waiting for a home.

The powers available to the council, potentially, extend as far as compulsory purchase although this would require the sort of money and political will which might be in short supply.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Bloody Monday

By close of play on Monday we should know where the immediate £6 billion public spending axe will fall. Suggestions please for the sort of projects Cornwall does not need, and which our six government MPs can vote to scrap with a clear conscience...

Friday, 21 May 2010

Swearing in Cornish

Which of our MPs will take their oaths in Parliament in Cornish? Will there be a prize for the most convincing?

Lisa goes clubbing

Lisa Dolley
Full marks to Cornwall councillor Lisa Dolley, the Independent member for Redruth North, who has forked out £15 of her own money to visit a lap dancing club.

Lisa is vice chair of the council's Miscellaneous Licensing Committee and as such has to sit in judgement on whether, where and when such premises can open in Cornwall. As previously reported on this blog, and then more widely by national newspapers, this committee feels it necessary to make an official visit to an out-of-county lap dancing club in order to find out what goes on.

There were always going to be problems with this visit - not just from a PR point of view - such as how it could be an effective fact-finding tour if the club knew in advance it was being visited by a licensing committee, or whether local councillors should be sufficiently worldly-wise to know about lap dancing without gaining their education at taxpayers' expense.

Lisa took the trouble to find out for herself. If other councillors had done the same, this issue would probably have never made the headlines.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The axe is lifted...

In March, Camborne Science & Community College, Pool Business & Enterprise College, Redruth School, Humphry Davy School, Poltair School and Curnow Special School were all promised they would share in £69million from the government's Building Schools for the Future programme. All six schools were to have been rebuilt or refurbished.

Now, no-one I speak to really believes the schools will see a penny. A comprehensive spending review is expected to scrap the scheme by the autumn. The Conservatives on their own do not have a Parliamentary majority for cutting schools' spending. I look forward to hearing from Cornwall's three Liberal Democrat MPs about how they plan to vote on this issue in the months ahead.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

A message from the leader

Alec Robertson
Cornwall Council's Conservative leader, councillor Alec Robertson, has emailed all members to share his thoughts about the possibility of copying at a local level the national government coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Here's an extract from Alec's email:
"I do not believe that a national coalition requires any change to our arrangement in Cornwall."

Alec's email goes on to say that there are no cabinet vacancies and he doesn't expect any. It's not quite the warm, friendly, encouraging message broadcast on BBC Radio Cornwall last week. At the same time the Liberal Democrat group on the council have emailed each other to declare their resistance to any local coalition ideas and to maintain their enthusiasm for remaining in opposition.

Remaining in opposition is certainly an option, given the prospect of deeply unpopular spending cuts in the months ahead. Remaining in the Liberal Democrat party might prove rather more tricky.

Stirrer? Moi?

Cornwall council cabinet member Mark Kaczmarek prompted a few smiles today when he gently suggested that "the media" (BBC Radio Cornwall) might have been "stirring it" while pursuing the story about capital funding for St Tudy school and the potential impact of this on Torpoint nursery and infants school.

I have to confess that the role of Torpoint school in the story turned out to be rather different to the one I had been expecting. Anyone reading the official report about St Tudy school, and noting the official concern about "serious risk" to Torpoint's £1.7million capital fund if the St Tudy project should proceed, might conclude that this was a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Only when I arrived at Torpoint did I discover that staff, governors and most parents didn't really want a new school anyway. They were mystified as to why it had taken four years for nothing to happen.

So when the facts change, so does the story and on Tuesday morning BBC Radio Cornwall listeners heard James Churchfield interview the vice chair of Torpoint governors, and the Cornwall council cabinet member for education Neil Burden, who agreed Torpoint had been a "red herring" and thought it ought not to have been in the official report about St Tudy at all.

Modesty (almost) prevents me from reporting that councillor Kaczmarek also paid tribute to the role of the media in explaining accurately the true situation. Cabinet members subsequently voted unanimously to progress the St Tudy project.

Constructive dissent

It is starting to look as if David Cameron might not appoint a government minister for Cornwall after all, despite the Conservatives' pre-election promises. As Cornwall councillor Andrew Wallis has commented on this blog, with all six of Cornwall's MPs now sitting on the government benches it is difficult to see what additional benefits a minister could bring.

Perhaps more urgent is a focal point for any opposition. Next week heralds the start of a £6billion cost-cutting exercise which is likely to be very painful, with Liberal Democrat MP David Laws, now chief Secretary to the Treasury, helping to wield the axe.

The Liberal Democrats will be so involved that their continued "opposition" on Cornwall Council will inevitably be portrayed as trying to have their cake and eat it. If a school doesn't get built, or promised council houses don't materialise, it will simply not be credible to duck the blame.

The Labour Party in Cornwall was the largest "anti-Con-Lib" vote at the general election, followed by UKIP, Mebyon Kernow and the Green Party. Not much chance of a realignment there; no obvious candidate for leader of the Opposition in Cornwall. So who do we call for the voice of principled, constructive dissent?

Suggestions, please.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The curious case of Torpoint's new school

When Cornwall Council's ruling cabinet meets on Wednesday to consider proposals for building a £2.3million new school in St Tudy, councillors will note a 13-page report which, while recommending a feasibility study for the project, details 58 paragraphs of analysis which mostly argue the case for NOT building it.

Among these is the observation that £1.7million of the cost could be realised by reallocating capital funds which had been earmarked for building a new nursery and infant school at Torpoint.

The report states that such a move would pose an "extreme risk" to the possibility that Torpoint would get a new school, "due to future reductions of government funding." When the council realised that BBC Radio Cornwall was planning to run a story about this, it rushed out a statement to Torpoint parents promising that they "remain the council's next and when suficient funding is received, which is dependent on the new government's spending review." (ie - forget it.)

Torpoint's £1.7million on its own is insufficient to build a new school and might be lost at the end of the financial year unless it is spent on an alternative project, possibly St Tudy.

The really strange thing is that no-one seems to have asked Torpoint's school governors what they thought. Not only were they not consulted about the Cabinet report which names their school and expresses concern about its apparent loss of funding, they seem at best lukewarm about having a new school anyway. The existing premises, they say, are perfectly adequate; Ofsted raised no concerns; and the children are happy, healthy and flourishing. Education, say the governors, is about teaching, not bricks and mortar.

When I asked one governor if Torpoint really needed a new school she answered simply: "No." Asked if the money should be spent in St Tudy instead, she said: "Good idea."

Torpoint's governors and Cornwall Council (and its predecessor, Cornwall county council) are supposed to have been talking about a new school for more than four years. If county hall knew what the Torpoint governors were thinking, might this £1.7million have been put to better use some time ago?

Friday, 14 May 2010

No news on a minister for Cornwall (yet)

Downing Street press officers tell me they are as much in the dark as everyone else - if the new post of a minister for Cornwall is to be created, they have not yet heard about it. Truro School old boy Mark Prisk, who had been in line for the job, has instead got a job as a junior minister at the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

News from inside Room 439

The secret meeting of the Gypsies and Travellers Working Group went ahead as planned today.

The three councillors who attended have decided to recommend to their parent advisory panel, which deals with planning policy, that all 123 members of the council contribute information to an audit of existing gypsy and traveller sites, official and unofficial, with a view to taking these locations as a starting point for considering the way forward. Very sensible, hardly rocket science and I still don't get why the meeting had to be secret. I understand that future meetings are likely to be in public, as the Working Group (if it continues) will become a formal Advisory Panel.

It might all turn out to be of academic interest only. The statutory requirement for Cornwall Council to provide gypsy and traveller sites was part and parcel of the Regional Spatial Strategy for the provision of housing, which the government is now expected to abolish.

And while on the subject of party funding...

The Electoral Commission reports donations and borrowings during the final week of the campaign: no surprise that the Tories, with £1.4m, easily outspent their rivals; but the Liberal Democrats got through £500,000 and Labour only £475,000. All in just one week. Across the whole four weeks of campaigning it was Tories: £5.7m, Labour £4.2m and Lib Dems £704,000, so clearly most of the Lib Dem spend came at the end.

Not quite Lord Ashcroft, but...

Stuart Cullimore
Mebyon Kernow's Cornwall councillor Stuart Cullimore appears to have been the party's only donor for most of last year. According to the Electoral Commission Stuart donated £9,410.90 between 10th April 2009 and 29th December 2009. The Commission records four separate cash donations, ranging from £351.90 to £5,000, and describes Stuart's status as "individual." Nobody else gets a mention.
I'm sure there's a straightforward explanation for this, such as Stuart being the only one to pass round the collection tin at MK meetings. There is no requirement to list every small donor although some parties like to as it gives the impression they have lots of individual supporters.
And to put things into some sort of context, I haven't forgotten that Lord Ashcroft's Belize-based company Bearwood gave £5.1million to the Conservative Party - and that some of that money was probably spent somewhere in Cornwall at some time. A 14-month investigation by the Electoral commission found that not one single rule had been broken.

Sick note council - monthly update

Latest stats from County Hall tell us that the average number of days lost to illness, per member of staff, has worsened over the past month. It was already "much worse than target" so presumably it is now "even more worse." The average length of the sick note is now 9.5 days per person, with adult social care leading the surgery queue - more than 21 days/person.

Some votes cheaper than others

Election agents are (or should be) collecting their receipts for formal declaration of their campaign expenses, due for publication round about 10th June. These should make interesting reading.

The "short campaign" spending limit, which applies to the period after 6th April, is £7,150 plus 7 pence for each name on the electoral register. So in a constituency like St Austell & Newquay, for example, with 75,232 voters on the list, the maximum "short campaign" spend is around £12,316.

In addition, candidates could have spent up to £25,000 in the 60 months before Parliament was dissolved. Given that the timing of the election was no real surprise, it would have made sense to commission most of the leaflets, posters and battle buses before 6th April 2010.

Let's assume that some candidates might have spent close to the limit - around £37,000 in total. That would make the cost of winning - or coming close to winning (roughly 20,000 votes) - about £1.85 per vote.

Smaller parties, of course, will have spent nothing like the maximum and so their votes might be seen as representing better value for money. Not much comfort when you still lose your deposit.

Cornwall's election by party share

The Lib Dems just edged it: 42% compared with the Conservatives 41%. Labour got 9%, UKIP 5%, Mebyon Kernow 2%, the Green Party 1% and assorted others less than 1% each. Turnout 68%. Source: Cornwall council's website.

Manufactured consent

Spent most of yesterday listening to Cornwall's grassroots Liberal Democrats. In the morning they were distraught. By lunchtime they were cautiously optimistic. By the evening they were deliriously celebrating the fantastic success of negotiations which had propelled their party to power (sort of.)

Some Lib Dem members of Cornwall Council, who might have been expected to quit in protest, now tell me they will swallow hard and stay put.

When I asked these Lib Dems if they were happy to see their leaders dump keynote policies on a mansion tax, immigration, Trident, Europe (contd p 94) they just shrugged and said there was no alternative. Asked if the Lib Dems had moved from being a Centre-Left party to becoming a Centre-Right party, most said they hoped not and suggested such labels were simply outdated.

At the same time I had several calls from Labour and Mebyon Kernow supporters who loaned their votes to the Lib Dems last week and now want them back. They claim the change in the Lib Dems' position came about simply because we have now had a Downing Street photo opportunity for Nick Clegg to stand next to the Prime Minister.

The Labour/MK voters said they weren't sure if the photo-op looked more like Ant & Dec or just another Old Etonian and his fag. They also thought that having Vince "Britain needs savage cuts" Cable as ADC to George Osborne would rapidly prove to be a disaster.

Battle lines are being drawn. The realignment of the Right happened in front of our very eyes, live on television. The realignment of the Left will be slower and I have no idea what it will look like when, or if, it is complete.

Wanted: a useful idiot

I think it was Lenin who first coined the phrase "a useful idiot" to describe people who naively thought of themselves as an ally when in fact they were being cynically manipulated.

Before the election the Conservatives told us that Hertford & Storford's Tory MP Mark Prisk would be appointed as the minister for Cornwall. That might still happen, although David Cameron now has the additional option of chosing from any of the six Cornwall MPs - Conservative or Liberal Democrat.

It must be sorely tempting to appoint someone whose voice can be safely ignored at Westminster, yet who can be blamed for whatever might go wrong. With public spending cuts now expected to be sharper, deeper and quicker than they might have been, the minister for Cornwall should not expect to win too many popularity contests.

Nominations, please.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010


The Electoral Reform Society's claim that Cornwall's Liberal Democrat MPs Andrew George and Julia Goldsworthy formed "a class of MP that are, quite simply, elected for life" looked dodgy at the time, and perhaps now needs an explanation. I'll ask the ERS if it would like to comment.

Early Truro test for coalition

Thursday 27th May sees a Truro town council by-election contested only by the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Mebyon Kernow parties. In recent weeks the Lib Dems have been telling everyone that a vote for MK was a wasted vote. Will we see a different campaign slogan this time?

Gypsies and travellers meeting stays secret

My request to attend tomorrow's Cornwall Council meeting of the Gyspies & Travellers Working Group has been officially refused.

Richard Williams, the council's monitoring officer, tells me that since the meeting is only "informal" it is not covered by legislation which governs access to information. Richard's a nice guy and I don't take this rebuff personally, but his decision does worry me.

One guiding principle is that if a meeting is attended by elected councillors, supported by a senior council official and is on council premises; if it looks like an official council meeting and sounds like an official council meeting; if it makes official recommendations to another official council meeting; then it probably is an official council meeting.

Since when have councils been able to hold meetings in secret simply by labelling them as "informal?" What next - an "informal" budget meeting?

The meeting, at 1pm in Room 439, will consider ways of progressing the planning issues surrounding potential gypsy and traveller sites. This is a massively controversial issue which will require strong and determined political leadership to resolve.

The "informal" status of the Gypsy & Traveller Working Group will be considered at a meeting of the (currently "formal") Planning Policy Panel on 21st May so maybe we'll find out more then.

But the chaos surrounding Cornwall's approach to the proposed waste incinerator is a good example of what happens in the absence of clear political leadership. I'm afraid I just don't understand how secrecy will help identify sites for gypsies and travellers in a way which will help the council to win the necessary political arguments.

Alec & Doris on Con-Lib coalition

Cornwall Council leader Alec Robertson:
"I would be very happy to see us go forward together to work constructively for the good of one and all. There is a lot of talent within the Liberal Democrat group...."
Opposition leader councillor Doris Ansari, asked if she would recommend that her group come out of opposition:
"I can't give you that answer because I have to speak to my group. We have not been offered anything. I cannot make any promises on the air, or anywhere else, without discussing it with my group. I wouldn't rule it in or out."
Doris said the next meeting of the Liberal Democrat group on Cornwall Council would be "very soon."

Labour spin or LibDems rushing for the exit?

The Labour Party website has allegedly crashed under the weight of new membership applications.

The power of the poster

Liberal Party poster 1930s
This poster is thought to be from the 1950s - or possibly the 1930s - when some Liberals and Conservatives formed an "anti-socialist alliance." My thanks to LibDem Voice for drawing this to my attention.

And the minister for Cornwall is...

...actually, does it matter?

Listen to Laurence

Laurence Reed's programme on BBC Radio Cornwall today will hear from councillors Alec Robertson and Doris Ansari, talking about coalition politics. 12 noon. Don't miss it.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

A proportionate council

Much talk today at County Hall about the proportionate distribution of committee seats, relative to the strength of each party's representation on the council. It seems timely to ponder what each party's council strength would be if councillors had been elected under a county-wide system of proportional representation.

Conservatives 34% of vote should have 42 seats (actually 50)
Liberal Democrats 28% of vote should have 34 seats (actually 38)
Independents 23% of vote should have 28 seats (actually 32)
Mebyon Kernow 4% of vote should have 5 seats (actually 3)
UKIP 3% of vote should have 4 seats (actually none)
Labour 3% of vote should have 4 seats (actually none)
Greens 2% of vote should have 3 seats (actually none)
Assorted others all on less than 1% of vote each should have 3 seats between them (actually none)

This was on a turnout of 41%, June 2009. Source: Cornwall Council's website

Monday, 10 May 2010

Nick Clegg - the silence of the Tweets

For some reason Nick Clegg hasn't updated his Twitter feed. Feel free to speculate...

The rise and fall of UKIP in Cornwall

In the 2001 general election, in Cornwall, the UK Independence Party polled an average 2.6% of the vote and lost every deposit. In 2005 UKIP polled an average 5% of the vote and lost its deposit in only one constituency, Falmouth & Camborne. In 2010 the average UKIP vote share fell to 4.9% and the party lost its deposit in North Cornwall, St Austell & Newquay and Truro & Falmouth.

Last year's elections for the European Parliament, of course, returned two UKIP MEPS for the South West and it would be premature to write the party off completely. But there is now likely to be a fair bit of blood-spilling and internal feuding, not least directed at party leader Lord Pearson, whose most notable contribution to the recent general election campaign was to tell UKIP supporters in Somerset to vote Conservative.

Swings and roundabouts

Leeds, St Helens, Camden, Brent and Southwark are all local councils which in recent years have been run by Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalitions. On Thursday the voters delivered all five into the hands of the Labour Party.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Andrew still doesn't get it

It is now nearly a year since the Daily Telegraph published details of the expenses claims submitted by St Ives MP Andrew George.

The highlight was a £308,000 "bolt-hole" London flat used by Andrew's student daughter, then aged 21. Taxpayers forked out for the £847/month mortgage interest payments. The Telegraph's revelations included details of furnishings paid for by the taxpayer, and how Andrew and his wife stayed in London hotels when he was on Westminster business. All of these claims were within the rules, apart from nearly £1,500 of furniture claims rejected by the fees' office.

Thursday's general election saw a spectacular collapse in the Lib Dem majority in St Ives, caused mainly by boundary changes which took Andrew's home town of Hayle out of the constituency. But Andrew's "victory" speech, bemoaning the way his expenses claims had been reported, suggests he still really hasn't grasped the scale of the scandal or his role in it.

Andrew has always denied doing anything wrong, claiming that his daughter used the London flat "only occasionally" and that he had met some of the costs himself. I fear he missed the point then and he still seems to be missing it now.

The "Nuremburg Defence" used by so many MPs - "I was only doing what the others were doing" - really is pathetic. Not all MPs claimed the maximum expenses and so some clearly have a better idea than others of the difference between right and wrong.

Here is a simple piece of advice for any new Member of Parliament: never, ever, claim on expenses for anything that you would not be happy to see on the front page of your local newspaper. And blame no-one but yourself for the way the voters see it.

Twelve months ago Nick Clegg said any MPs (including himself) who made profits on sales of their second homes should give that money back to the taxpayer. Lest we forget....

Is Robin now Cornwall's most powerful politician?

Robin Teverson
Cornwall councillor Robin Teverson, member of the House of Lords, former member of the European Parliament, is also a member of the Liberal Democrats' Federal Executive.
As such he is one of about 35 people who will be invited constitutionally to comment on any potential coalition deal which might (or might not) enable David Cameron to become Prime Minister. No such luck for any of the three new Conservative MPs elected in Cornwall last week - the closest they get to "consultation" is what they read in the media.
Robin's wife, Terrye, was the defeated Lib Dem candidate in the Truro & Falmouth constituency. Yet opinions discussed in the Teverson household this morning quite possibly count for more than any number of votes cast by Conservative supporters on Thursday. It's a funny old world.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Is MK about to quit national politics?

Everyone I have spoken to was surprised that Mebyon Kernow's leader, Dick Cole, did not do better in the St Austell & Newquay constituency. As a local lad, a local councillor for many years and as a hero of the anti-incincerator campaign in St Dennis, all the signs were that he might poll several thousand votes.

In fact, Dick got only 4% of the vote and like every other MK candidate, lost his deposit. Dick himself writes with brutal honesty about this in his own excellent blog.

Dick says:
"We still have a major credibility issue with voters in parliamentary elections. Many people vote for MK candidates in local elections, but fail to support us in General Elections because they believe we cannot win. This is an issue of strategy that we will need to address as a Party in the coming weeks and months..."

It remains true that Mebyon Kernow has three members elected as Cornwall councillors while the Labour Party has none. But now the question must be asked: what exactly is Mebyon Kernow for?

Bad losers

Word reaches me of disturbing scenes at the Carn Brea Leisure Centre, where television crews were trying to record the reaction of Liberal Democrat supporters, as it dawned on them that Julia Goldsworthy had lost her seat (in Parliament, not the rocking chair.)

One Lib Dem apparatchik, apparently unaware of his party's line on freedom of information, tried aggressively to prevent a BBC crew from filming. "They're very upset and I don't want this on TV," he shouted, thrusting his shoulder into the camera lens.

A colleague gently explained to him that scenes of distress, from war zones, famines and earthquakes, were all part and parcel of the daily news cycle. Cry baby political activists who must now seek real jobs are not even punctuation marks in the long unfinished draft of history.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Popular Front for the Liberation of St Ives?

In only one constituency, St Ives, was there a tussle over which political party was the true voice of Cornish nationalism. The Cornish Democrats just edged it, with a mighty 396 votes, pushing Mebyon Kernow into bottom place with 387.

Labour's lost causes

Labour appears to have lost its deposit in North Cornwall. I'm aware of Eastbourne. Anywhere else?

Voted yellow but now got the blues?

Experts wanted on Liberal Democrat party rules

It's unlikely that so many of us have ever taken such an interest in a meeting of the Liberal Democrat's party executive. Tomorrow's gathering will consider the consequences of making David Cameron Prime Minister.

So did it matter that there had to be a re-count in Camborne & Redruth? Or that there was such a narrow Tory victory in Truro & Falmouth? Or the similarly close Lib Dem triumph in St Austell & Newquay? Disappointed activists from both Lib Dems and Conservatives in St Ives, North Cornwall and South East Cornwall can perhaps console themselves that they've "won" anyway.

In constituencies where the Lib Dems were second to Labour, there might be some enthusiasm for a Conservative minority government. In Cornwall this seems highly unlikely. Will the Liberal Democrats tear themselves apart over this? And if not, why not?

Mebyon Kernow - an apology

A few weeks ago, in common with some other media commentators and a number of bookmakers, I might have inadvertantly given the impresson that Mebyon Kernow was poised to make some sort of breakthrough in the 2010 general election. Broadcastling live last night, I suggested that MK might even beat the Labour Party in some constituencies in Cornwall. But now the people of Cornwall have spoken. They have delivered their verdict. And that verdict is: "Mebyon Kernow's contribution to the Cornish political scene is to donate £3,000 in lost deposits. Thanks very much." I therefore accept that there is not a jot nor scintilla of truth in anything I might have thought as recently as yesterday and that I got it hopelessly wrong on this one. I would lke to apologise for any distress or embarrassment caused to anyone by my inaccurate punditry, particularly myself.

Nick Clegg - an apology

A few weeks ago, in common with other media commentators, I might have inadvertantly given the impression that Mr Nick Clegg's performance on the first-ever televised debate between the three main party leaders revealed him as a towering political collosus whose easy chat-show style marked him out as one of the truly great statesmen of his generation. Phrases such as "I Agree With Nick, " "The New Obama" and "Cleggmania sweeps Britain," which dominated the headlines for several minutes, could possibly have been construed as a suggestion that Mr Clegg seemed like a nice young chap in a suit who was in no way tainted by the MPs' expenses scandal and whose polices deserved to escape proper scrutiny. I now accept that there was not a jot nor scintilla of truth in anything that I or other commentators might have thought at the time and that we all got it hopelessly wrong on this one.

Election scoreboard

The definitive Cornwall election scoreboard:

North Cornwall
Sian Flynn (Conservative) 19,531 - 41%
Janet Hulme (Labour) 1,971 - 4%
Joanie Willet (Mebyon Kernow) 530 -1%
Miriel O'Conner (UKIP) 2,300 - 4%
Dan Rogerson 22,512 - 48%

St Austell & Newquay
James Fitton (BNP) 1,022 - 2%
Caroline Righton (Conservative) 18,877 - 39%
Lee Jameson (Labour) 3,386 - 7%
Steve Gilbert (Liberal Democrat) 20,189 - 42%
Dick Cole (Mebyon Kernow) 2007 - 4%
Clive Medway (UKIP) 1,757 - 3%

Camborne & Redruth
George Eustice (Conservative) 15,969 - 37%
Julia Goldsworthy (Liberal Democrat) 15,903 - 37%
Euan McPhee (Green Party) 581 - 1%
Jude Robinson (Labour) 6,945 - 16%
Loveday Jenkin (Mebyon Kernow) 775 - 1%
Robert Hawkins (Socialist Labour Party) 168 - 0%
Derek Elliot (UKIP) 2,152 - 5%

Truro & Falmouth
Sarah Newton (Conservative) 20,349 - 41%
Ian Wright (Green) 858 - 1%
Terrye Teverson (Liberal Democrat) 19,914 - 40%
Loic Rich (Mebyon Kernow) 1,039 - 2%
Harry Blakely (UKIP) 1,911 - 3%

South East Cornwall
Sheryll Murray (Conservative) 22,390 - 45%
Roger Creagh-Osborne (Green) 826 - 1%
Michael Sparling (Labour) 3,507 - 7%
Karen Gillard (Liberal Democrat) 19,170 - 38%
Roger Holmes (Mebyon Kernow) 641 - 1%
Stephanie McWilliam (UKIP) 3,083 - 6%

St Ives
Andrew George (Liberal Democrat) 19,619 - 42%
Derek Thomas (Conservative) 17,900 - 38%
Jonathan Rogers (Cornish Democrats) 396 - 0%
Philippa Latimer (Labour) 3,751 - 8%
Tim Andrewes (Green) 1,308 - 2%
Mick Faulkner (UKIP) 2,560 - 5%
Simon Reed (Mebyon Kernow) 387 - 0%

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Cameron 2, Clegg 1, Brown 0

Visits to Cornwall since the election was called on 6th April, according to the BBC's News Analysis & Research people.

David Cameron, South East Cornwall, 21st April and St Austell & Newquay, 2nd May.

Nick Clegg, Camborne & Redruth, 21st April.

Gordon Brown's adventures into the South West got as far as Bristol and South Dorset.

Flashman and the Angels

Jim Flashman
When Jim Flashman won a Caradon council by-election by the margin of just seven votes in 2002 he probably didn't envisage the sort of local government career which would result in him leading an official fact-finding tour to a lap-dancing club.

Now, as chairman of Cornwall Council's Miscellaneous Licensing Committee, he sits in judgement on where and when sex establishments can operate within the law. But dairy farmer Jim, 62, is the sort of man who likes to know what he's talking about and so he and his colleagues are off in pursuit of the facts.

"We haven't decided where we're going to go yet, or how many of us are going," Jim tells me. "It'll be some councillors and a few of the officers, I expect. I'm fairly broadminded, but we need to have a good look at one of these clubs and understand what goes on, how they're policed and what associated problems there might be. How can we make a recommendation to the council if we don't know what these places are really like?"

The visit is likely to be to a lap-dancing club in Plymouth or East Devon, and Jim insists the costs will be minimal. But how will he know if the girls on display are being on their best behaviour, simply for the purposes of the council visit? Or will the councillors visit incognito? No simple answer.

"We won't have the wool pulled over our eyes," says Jim, "and it won't cost the taxpayers very much at all. There are one or two members of the committee who do have some experience of these sorts of places but not enough for us to make a confident recommendation to the full council. And it would be wrong for us to visit a place in Cornwall as we might have to consider it at a later stage in respect of licensing."

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Is Cleggmania dead?

Andrew Hawkins, chairman of the polling organisation Comres, has a fascinating commentary on some of the data detail. Nearly one in five say they changed their minds about who to vote for because of the party leaders' TV debates, "bigot-gate" may have cost Gordon Brown more than a tenth of his core support and this:
"Is Cleggmania dead? The percentage who think he should be included in the next government has slumped from a net agree of +41% to a net agree of just +5%"
Apparently 27% of 2005 Lib Dem voters think Nick Clegg should NOT figure in the next government.

Some rubbish statistics

Cornwall Council's waste development advisory panel will learn next Monday that they are 15th in a league table of 81 unitary authorities when it comes to recycling. Apparently the amount of "dry" waste recycled is 24.5%, which is pretty good; but the amount of "wet" waste recycled is only 11.7%. One reason for this is that for many years people in Cornwall have been encouraged to compost waste at home, so although it saves on transport costs and CO2 emissions, it doesn't show up in the statistics.

The statistics are produced acccording to EU "waste diversion targets" which quantify material by weight - and as Cornwall's waste department notes:
"The weight based system has resulted in many local authorities being primarily motivated to design services that increase the weight of materials received, above any other environmental consideration."

The waste department report also notes that most of those councils which perform better than Cornwall have fortnightly, rather than weekly, kerbside collections.

Sick note

Apologies to both my readers for the delay in updating this blog - a severe dose of Man Flu means this post comes via a sick-bay laptop.

Among the things I would be looking at more closely if I had the energy are today's Daily Mirror, urging Camborne & Redruth voters to back Labour as the most tactically effective anti-Tory vote; and news that the next Queen's Speech won't be until 25th May. This leaves more than two weeks after the election for the sort of horse-trading and backstairs deals which could prevent the largest Parliamentary party from forming a minority government.

All hypothetical, of course......normal service will be resumed tomorrow. I hope.