Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Another former Liberal Democrat

The former leader of Restormel Borough Council says he will be supporting Mebyon Kernow's leader Dick Cole in the forthcoming general election.

It is difficult to escape the impression that Liberal Democrats in Cornwall have yet to recover fully from internal rifts produced by the decision to bid (successfully) for a single unitary, and the fall out this caused amongst their councillors who are now much reduced in number.

Tim Jones has a reputation for working for people in his local community - the last time I heard him contribute to a meeting was at a Citizens Advice Bureau AGM at Kingsley Village. So perhaps it is not surprising that the reason Tim Jones gave for his decision is that if Cllr Dick Cole is not elected as an MP he will continue to live in and work for his local area.

Even so, it strikes me as odd to support the person you trust to champion your community if they lose, rather than if they are elected.

As a candidate I'm asking for support for what I will do if elected - and most people I'm speaking to will consider candidates on that basis.

I love Cornwall and people here. So there is something I'd like to change. I want to find a way to enable everyone in Cornwall to recognise we have - and can have - equal political access to influence, power, and funding. Despite evidence to the contrary there are some people who behave politically as though Cornwall is destined to lose and they are powerless to do anything about that.

With Labour in Government Cornwall is benefiting from investment. If people here elect MPs whose Party is in Government (and hope to form the next government) maybe people will start to feel they are pushing on an open door. Rather than digging a trench ready for whenever the next local battle lines are drawn.

And whenever the general election is called, I hope there will be a much higher turnout than at last year's Council elections, when just 14 per cent of Cornwall's electorate voted for Tory candidates, and 86 per cent didn't - but most of these stayed at home.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Students, doctors, and business

Suddenly it is two weeks since my last post.

There have been several hustings events. A student Q&A, a hustings style event at Truro School, Cornwall BMA hustings for the three main Party candidates, and a business breakfast in Falmouth the day after the Budget.

It was interesting to see how far similar questions were raised at these events. Each audience also had some expected specific interests - university fees, graduate employment, NHS funding, business taxes and regulation.

There was some heart-warming feedback after each of these events - including from a Liberal Democrat candidate in another constituency.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What's news?

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a local journalist. This arose from a press release I'd issued about my support for NSPCC's campaign to highlight child protection issues. It is a topical issue locally because, following a highly critical Ofsted report, Cornwall Council has an independently chaired Improvement Board reviewing and overseeing the service changes that are needed.

For personal reasons, the former portfolio holder Cllr Sally Bain resigned and has not yet been replaced.

While the Tories and Liberal Democrats argue about the minutiae of the Council business plan, balance sheets, and costs of the unitary authority, they hurl in fleeting references to 'failing services' as though these are just part of the everyday Council furniture - about which the only argument is how much it cost - or, like the weather, are something the Council has no control over.

I know I'm not the only person wondering when Councillors will start showing more concern for people and services. And when a new portfolio holder will be appointed. There are plenty of people in Cornwall who care whether our child protection services are working. The journalist asked me why a press release about this - and my positive support for the NSPCC's child protection campaign - was news. I said that I wanted to highlight the issue because it is one I know people are concerned about, and there has been little communication about when a new portfolio holder will be appointed.

Recently, Cornwall Council was found to have acted unlawfully in its approach to assessing some adult social care needs and charges. Today, I read this comment on serious case reviews by Cllr Chris Ridgers. Which to me reinforces the point that services for people are more important - and newsworthy - than political ping-pong and mudslinging that fails to say what practical impact the Council's recent financial decisions will have on people's lives.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Facing the music - yes. Pantomime politics - no.

This week the BBC's Nick Robinson expressed political surprise that Labour is rising in the opinion polls despite the pre-elections media onslaught and the Chilcott enquiry hearing Gordon Brown's evidence. I am not surprised, because I'm talking to people here everyday. With elections looming, people are thinking seriously about what they do want for the future. And while this may be mainly about Labour's investment and delivery for the many, people also want politicians who are prepared to face the music. If the Tory leader didn't know Lord Ashcroft's tax status after ten years of public questions being raised about it, most people are wondering why David Cameron didn't ask his Party's biggest donor and deputy a few straight questions.

People here are also saying they want politicians of all Parties to work together. Nationally, the Tories walked away from government talks about care of the elderly and the new National Care Service. Most people recognise this is one of the biggest challenges we face, and they want politicians who will get round the table and help work out positive practical solutions. Locally, Cornwall Council is no overall control, but the Liberal Democrats walked away from being part of the Cabinet, allowing the Tories to dominate decision making while the Liberal Democrats whinge, grumble, and protest about local decisions after choosing to be in opposition.

People don't want pantomime politics with politicians shouting each other down. It does seem that some local politicians really haven't got this message. BBC Radio Cornwall this week pre-recorded an 'Any questions?' style event at County Hall with a panel of the four Cornwall Council political group leaders. I was upstairs at county hall at a well-attended public event discussing transport needs, while this recording took place, although I mingled downstairs and spoke to people before and after the recording. The audience invited by political Parties were mainly prospective parliamentary candidates or Cornwall councillors - who heckled loudly, objected and interrupted as political opponent group leaders answered their questions. The public - and the Independent group of councillors - were not invited to be part of the audience.

Last June, people here elected a no overall council. Now they are saying loud and clear that they want politicians who will work together to do what's best for Cornwall. I doubt that those who listened to the pre-recorded BBC broadcast felt that their views are being heard or listened to by most of those taking part in this local political bun fight.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Michael Foot 1913-2010

Michael Foot always reminded me of my much less well known grandfather, my mother's father, who was a life-long Labour supporter who lived to be a similar age. It is impossible to read or talk about the Labour Party over the years in Cornwall without bumping into the Feet. There is some retrospective annoyance that, when he was a determined Labour candidate for 'Falmouth and Penryn' - the first Labour held seat in Cornwall which had almost identical boundaries to the new seat of Truro and Falmouth  - A.L.Rowse dismissively claimed that Labour supporters in North Cornwall would be better supporting the Liberals, because the Cornish Foot family's intellectually vigorous Liberal tradition meant it would never go Labour. Rowse was a young, academically elitist Labour candidate convinced politics was about winning the rational argument, who moved Labour into second place here but was never elected, while occasionally confiding to his private diary that the "idiot people" got things wrong.

Last year a friend in Cornwall gave me a collection of some of Michael Foot's journalism. It includes Michael Foot's memoir of an old political sparring partner George Brown, which begins: "When Lord George Brown died at his Cornish home in June 1985 no comets were seen, but .... within a few days came a heavenly leakage or downpour, call it what you will, with the latest information, confirmed in colourful detail, that he had died a Catholic, that the local priest from Falmouth had been ready and prepared to perform the last rites." And later recalls: "The same George Brown who whispered at the top of his voice warnings against 'authoritarian' or 'Presidential' tendencies in the Labour Party, once got me expelled from it at a meeting called at three hours' notice .... George Brown with a thumping majority at his back or a card vote in his pocket, could be a boorish bully, and part of the Brownite or Gaitskellite fury against Wilson, one suspects, was that he outmanoeuvred them at their own game of behind the scenes confabulations and contrivances."

As a politician, Michael Foot was of a very different temper, and I doubt he privately converted to Catholicism because he let people read him like a book. While many more column inches may now be written about his brief Labour premiership, Michael Foot was someone who, with both feet grounded by his family's Cornish roots, could simply quote - in a moving tribute to Jennie Lee - this from Robert Ingersoll: "I believe in the fireside. I believe in the democracy of home. I believe in the republicanism of the family. I believe in liberty, equality, and love." And that is partly why Michael Foot will be remembered by many in Cornwall with great affection.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Total politics

There has been no shortage of things to blog about, just a lack of writing time. This weekend I wrote the PPC diary and review of the week for the political magazine Total Politics. I decided to focus on local news production and community media. It was published today and I decided to include it here too.

Sunday 21 February

First up an 8am interview about Fairtrade fortnight on BBC radio Cornwall - as a Truro councillor, I chair the city's Fairtrade group. With me are two youth workers from the charity Young People Cornwall, who run some great projects and are helping to raise awareness of Fairtrade. As we part company after the interview, one of the youth workers dubs me the "Fairtrade guru".

Monday 22 February

I do a candidate interview on Penryn community radio The Source. I enjoy talking to Gwen Willoughby, whose programme creates the relaxed atmosphere of a chat in the kitchen. Gwen starts the telephone interview by asking my view on the news headlines. Her concerns about the number 10 allegations by Andrew Rawnsley confirms for me that this is probably going to be the issue that local voters will want to talk about today. Later in the programme, Gwen gives me a good opportunity to chat about my constituency priorities. No sooner had I put the phone down, than I got a call from a broadcasting student asking if I could go to the campus to be filmed at their studio this afternoon - I said no, because of other commitments.

Tuesday 23 February

Monday's Council and today’s community network meeting both include discussion of plans for local development including new park and rides, and housing needs. I express my concern at Cornwall Council's decision to market a former school site in my ward as a potential district retail centre, and to reduce the affordable housing expectation from 50 to 35 per cent, as well as cutting the total number of homes to be delivered on a site previously identified as for housing. A local newspaper journalist calls me for more information and a quote.

The community network meeting includes a housing presentation. I ask for an update on the Council's re-registration process. It emerges that something has gone badly wrong. Some households previously registered with more than one former district council, but nobody believes that the 7,000 households that have re-registered so far reflects the full extent of housing needs in Cornwall. Previously, there were over 18,000 households registered. The form is complex, and worryingly re-registrations are almost non-existent in some areas. I ask what the Council is doing to publicise the re-registration process, and I am now following up these concerns.

Wednesday 24 February

I give a short talk to politics and academic academy students at Truro College, and am impressed by the fact that both groups have lots of searching questions about politics and the news headlines. Discussions like this - and the fact that I can remember wanting to be able to vote when I was doing A-levels - contribute to my view that the voting age should be lowered to sixteen.

Thursday 25 February

I pick up copies of the local weekly newspapers. One of the local MPs is now expressing concern about the housing re-registration process. The former school site story gets a write up too, and the quote I gave them is included. In the early evening, I pre-record another telephone interview for The Source; and then meet a broadcasting student in Falmouth to record comments for her “radio programme” assignment on whether personality is important in politics.

Friday 26 February

On Friday evening, I catch up with some local political blogs. These are growing in number from Councillors, candidates, activists and commentators, and there are now new sites devoted to aggregating Cornish blogs and political comment. Most of the content is local, although the activists write comment on the news headlines too. This week, one anonymous blogger who isn’t a Labour supporter describes me as “media-savvy”. By late Saturday evening, the latest opinion poll showing Labour closing the gap to win is published online.