Red Alert

Politicians generally prefer to fight the last battle rather than the next one. The invasion of Iraq was a response to the first Gulf War. The failure to attack President Assad was a response to the invasion of Iraq. Current air strikes on IS (itself a result of the previous failures) are trying to make up for that miscalculation. And so on.

The same failing is infecting the Labour Party. Tony Blair was the right answer in 1997. He was up against John Major, whose charisma left the country feeling it was a division of an obscure accountant’s department in a long-forgotten office. Tony had the gab, smiled a lot, was everyone’s chum, was young and modern and clearly still having sex. His policies didn’t stand up to scrutiny, bearing a strange resemblance to those of the party he hoped to replace, but this gave middle England the warm feeling that they could change leaders without rocking the boat. Gordon Brown looked solid in his sums, so why not have a change?

Lefties and even Labour moderates winked at each other as if to say “We get it”. Tony could smile his way into No 10 and when safely inside could throw off his Tory overcoat and start on a more socialist agenda. But he never did. The bland crowd-pleasing guff he was elected on was the real thing. Instead of encouraging industry, building Council Houses, reining in property inflation, taking control of city extravagance, clipping the wings of non-tax-paying multi-nationals or reversing any of Thatcher’s privatisations, he carried on ploughing the Tory furrow. Old Labour principles became old hat, a toxic brand.

The end result was the hideous mess they left behind, now being delicately air-brushed, which ushered in the Conservatives, ready to fulfil their fondest dream and dismantle the Welfare State. But what do the Labour Party bigwigs, along with most political commentators, imagine would sort their sad party out? That Tony Blair. He had the right idea, look at all the elections he won. Someone like that.

However out among the masses there’s a growling noise. Lots of Labour supporters don’t want any more Tory-lite. Why would anyone choose that if they can have authentic Tory policies, red in tooth and claw?  What about left-wing ideals, principles, inspiration? Where to find them in their leadership’s cringing, compromising anxiety not to look too socialist, not to annoy the City, not to make the bankers cross, not to criticise market forces or even whisper the idea of public ownership of essential services?

For Blair the party swallowed its pride and painted itself blue. That won’t work now. There’s a whole generation of people, the real hard-working families, who know that preserving the system that keeps them in zero-hours jobs and rented flats holds out no hope for their future. There’s a new population with an outraged moral sense, who took their votes to the Lib Dems until Nick Clegg spat in their faces, and now need a flag to follow and a leader to be inspired by. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that Jeremy Corbyn is their choice, however slim. They’d rather seize any choice to die on their feet rather than go on living on their knees.

Being careful what you wish for



Where to begin?

Let’s start with a big thank-you to Andrew George, an MP who’s served constituents of whatever political colour with hard work, diligence and willingness to put Cornwall first for so many years. He’s set a standard we’ll be lucky to see matched for a very long time.

Let’s give the supporters of UKIP and the Labour Party their due for backing their declared beliefs and the parties to which they were pledged.

To the Greens and Mebyon Kernow I can only say – ?? In our ridiculous electoral system there are no prizes for anyone but the winners. This might have been the time to look at the wider picture, as seen below.

To Conservative voters, congratulations. Your man won and will now represent us all in Westminster.

Just to remind you, the Conservative victory means that several new things will happen and other things that might have happened won’t. For example:

-The Mansion Tax won’t happen. This helps London Estate Agents, but won’t benefit many in Penwith.

– A £3,000 reduction in annual student tuition fees won’t happen.

– In rented property the capping of rents, abolition of agency fees and the extension of leases won’t happen. This may please many landlords, but possibly not their children.

– A rise in the minimum wage won’t happen anytime soon, nor will legislation about zero-hours contracts. The party is dedicated to private business interests before all else.

– Abolition of the Bedroom Tax won’t happen

– Increased rates on empty second homes won’t happen

– The Referendum to leave the EU will happen, and will dominate political life for the next two years.

– The move to abolish the European Convention on Human Rights will begin.

– Increased personal surveillance will happen.

– HS2 will happen, and will sop up the transport budget for years to come. Sorry Dawlish…

– Trident will happen.

– 500+ new unregulated Free Schools will happen.

– Fracking will go ahead with all speed. Hopefully the Home Counties won’t mind the possibility of earthquakes and disturbance to their water supplies.

– Privatisation and centralisation of the NHS will speed up.

– Vast housing developments will happen on greenfield sites but will not include any social housing for rent. Social housing stocks will be further reduced by extending the Right to Buy.

– Regional Wages, the proposal to pay public sector employees – nurses, teachers, etc –  less in low-pay areas like ours will probably rise from the pit into which the Lib Dem coalition partners pushed it.

– The Universal Credit System, the proposal to roll six different benefits including Housing Benefit and Working Tax Credits into one single monthly payment will happen, and will join the list of great public IT disasters, giving distress to countless families on the way.

– £12,000,000,000 will be cut from a social welfare system which is already beyond crisis level locally, though we still haven’t been told how.

Cut out and keep this list until 2020. If that wasn’t quite what you had in mind for a poor area like West Cornwall, if you voted to punish the past rather than considering the prospects for Cornwall’s future, perhaps you weren’t really listening; but you’re still responsible.

To the other group, the second largest at 16,258 who didn’t bother to turn out and vote at all, polite words fail me.

Bitter together


In the elephants’ graveyard  of mid-evening Radio 4 I came upon a group discussion about Scottish independence. Conducted by James Naughtie it was reasoned, frank and fascinating, with different interest groups but with no grandstanding politicians. It was far the best item on that complex subject I’ve heard and brought out the genuine perplexity many Scots feel about the subject, the attraction and the fear, the lure of self-government against the security of the Union. During the debate someone said in passing that he didn’t think other Celtic nations like the Cornish spent much time imaging themselves as an independent nation.

Oh no?

Most young Cornish people have spent at least one evening fantasising about how it would be if the Cornish controlled their own destiny. There’s no shortage of resentment when we consider how Cornwall is generally regarded by the English  –  a nice place to park their bottoms in the sun for a couple of weeks, even keep an empty cottage, but whose deep and serious crises of employment, wages and housing, forcing generation after generation to leave in search of a decent future, mean nothing. Cornwall gets the rag-end of English funding and development, and attempts to assert any kind of separate cultural difference are met with amusement and patronisation. However it’s a long way from there to “Would there was the sea from Rame to Marsland … and Cornwall was some island in the ocean.” in the words of Richard Gendall (“Silver Net”).

The anonymous Scotsman might have been surprised to learn just how many organisations have flirted with the idea of Cornish independence. We’ve had our own clutch of bonkers extremists, such as:

-The Cornish Nationalist Party – 1970s brainchild of Dr James Whetter, offshoot of Mebyon Kernow, who published their own newspaper for a while but seem to have quietened down.

–  The An Gof Society, inspired by the famous Cornish insurrectionary of 1497, who modelled themselves on the IRA to the point of actually bombing St Austell Courthouse in 1980 and firebombing an innocent hairdresser’ shop in Penzance thinking it was a branch of the Bristol & West.

–  The Cornish National Liberation Army, later the Cornish Republican Army, who seem to have modelled themselves on the revolutionaries in “The Life of Brian”.

These were all fanatically chauvinistic, anti-English splinter groups, probably numbering no more than fifty people between them. The more thoughtful Cornish patriots have Mebyon Kernow, a grounded political party short of firebrands but diligent and persistent with a solid list of achievements and several local councillors. Cornish independence isn’t on their agenda, nor is it a stated aim of Gorsedd Kernow, who hold the cultural heart of Cornwall together. Then there’s the Pan-Celtic League… Breton musician Alan Stivell promoted the idea of the nation of Keltia, the entire Celtic diaspora, and would describe a trip to Scotland, for example, as “visiting the north part of my country.”

Closer to earth is the ongoing campaign for a Cornish Assembly. This campaign – Seneth Kernow – has been going since 2000 and is also not pressing for separation or full independence. Their platform is for a form of devolution, a governing body to represent Cornwall internally and externally, among the British nations, Europe and the world.  However they have to escape from the benighted shadow of the Cornish Assembly we already have, Cornwall Council.

Cornwall Council is a different kettle of fish altogether. Forced in as a Unitary Authority by a confidence trick, its four-year history has been one of almost unmitigated calamity. It struggles with a virtually impossible remit, to administer the long streak of loveliness that is Cornwall with fairness and justice while being strangled almost to death by the tiniest trickle of government funds. But even allowing for that it has performed miserably. Its short history is riven with cock-ups, party political in-fighting, deep criticism of the lack of democracy and openness of its 10-member cabinet, mindless obstinacy in the face of serious local concerns, accusations of self-interest, centralism, incompetence, and occasionally worse. How would a Cornish Assembly differ? What kind of body can balance the needs of Launceston against those of St Just; fishing versus conservation; mining versus the environment; etc etc? The Cornish have a long history of being ungovernable, in which there’s no small element of pride. We love our independence, but where it starts and stops is as live a question in Cornwall as it is in Scotland, though with no foreseeable deadline to meet.

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