Sunday, 12 November 2017

Remembering the fallen of the First World War

Thousands of people attended the recent Remembrance commemorations across Cornwall and I was honoured to be able to lay a wreath at my local war memorial in St Enoder Churchtown today.

It is my strong belief that we need to properly remember the dead from all conflicts and, as we continue to mark the centenary of the First World War, it is especially important that we do more to learn about the conflict which engulfed the globe between 1914 and 1918.

I think it is especially difficult for people in this modern age to fully comprehend the magnitude of the losses of “The Great War,” in which ten million service personnel and some six million civilians died.

Looking back one hundred years, the most famous battle of 1917 was Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres, in which more than 500,000 men died.

Siegried Sassoon famously wrote about the three-month confrontation in one of his poems, stating “… I died in Hell (they called it Passchendaele),” while Private R. A. Colwill, writing about the area in early 1918, recounted: “There was not a sign of life of any sort. Not a tree, save for a few dead stumps which looked strange in the moonlight. Not a bird, not even a rat or a blade of grass. Nature was as dead as those Canadians whose bodies remained where they had fallen the previous autumn. Death was written large everywhere.”

The overall extent of all this suffering, at Ypres and elsewhere, was truly terrifying but each loss was also intensely personal.

I am therefore pleased to be heavily involved with St Enoder Parish Council’s community project to tell the stories of the men from Fraddon, Indian Queens, St Columb Road and Summercourt who lost their lives in the First World War.

Thanks to a grant of £7,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we will be working with a range of local organisations to produce a book about the sixty-plus local servicemen, mostly clay workers and farm labourers, who did not return home from WW1.

We have tasked ourselves to discover all we can about who these men were, what they did in their lives and what happened to them.

But we won’t just be focusing on the men’s service records. We aim to tell their stories as the sons, husbands, brothers and friends that they were, and also explore the consequences for the sweethearts, wives, children, parents and siblings they left behind.

If you have any information which you think might be useful to the St Enoder Parish First World War Project, please feel free to get in contact with me on 07791 876607.

[This will be my article in this coming week's Cornish Guardian].

For more information about the St Enoder Parish First World War Project see:

Thursday, 9 November 2017

MK Conference: Saturday 18th November. All welcome.

MK's 2017 Conference is just over one week away. It takes place at the Bodmin Shire House Suite on Saturday 18th November and all are welcome to attend.

Mebyon Kernow's AGM will take place in the morning (10.15 start) and a number of motions will be debated.

In the afternoon (2.00 start), there will be a number of speeches which will include my annual address which will look back over my twenty years as MK leader.

We would love to see you at the event.

The below image is the MK leadership team from last year's Conference.

Monday, 6 November 2017

MK concerns about "strategic direction" study

Today, I have sent the below email to the leader of Cornwall Council. It is self explanatory.

As the leader of the Mebyon Kernow group, I am writing to formally express my concern at the nature of the work on the “strategic narrative” for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

You will already be aware of our misgivings about how the leadership of Cornwall Council commissioned this report for the “Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Leadership Board” without any input from the wider democratic membership of Cornwall Council.

On numerous occasions I have raised concerns about this, and I have also, quite often, asked about the progress of the work being undertaken by the consultants thinkingplace, but have had little or no meaningful feedback. This includes at the most recent meeting of the Economic Growth and Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee on 1st November, which was only two days before the presentation to the “Leadership Board” on 3rd November.

I have received a number of concerns from people who have heard about Friday’s briefing at the "Board" meeting, and I took some time over the weekend to view the webcast. I share the concerns that have been raised with me, and I note that it was confirmed at the Board meeting that the “strategic narrative” would be launched in January 2018.

I am seeking clarity on what the role of the Cornwall Council’s elected members will be in this process in the coming weeks, and when we will be able to have our say about the “vision” for Cornwall should actually be.

In addition, I was concerned to see that in the Board’s work programme, under “regional and sector collaboration,” there was the “development of Great South West.” This is not something that my group supports. We remain concerned at the significant effort going into this “regional” experiment from representatives of the public sector in Cornwall when they should be making a better case for the primacy of Cornwall in all forms of governance, administration, etc.

MK response to UK Government housing consultation

This weekend, on behalf of Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall, I responded to the UK Government’s most recent consultation on housing.

Titled “Planning for the right homes in the right places,” the document sets out measures to “boost housing supply” and “increase local authority capacity to manage growth” – whatever that means. In particular, it proposes a “standard method” for calculating housing targets for local councils.

Over the last few years, I have often written about the process through which Cornwall Council devised its Local Plan (that includes a policy for 52,500 new properties during the period 2010-2030).

It has been well-documented that I made the case for a lower housing target and a greater focus on the provision of genuinely affordable housing for local people.

But it turned out that policy shifts from central government and input from a government inspector meant that fewer local-needs properties would be provided on developments while the housing target was increased.

The annual target is therefore 2,625 units but, in a number of recent years, fewer units have been built. This means that there has been “under-delivery” and, as a consequence, central government expects Cornwall to build even more properties to address this “backlog.”

I continue to be extremely frustrated at how Cornwall’s housing stock has been growing at a faster rate than almost all other parts of the United Kingdom and yet we are still under pressure from Whitehall to ratchet up the extent of development even further.

It is frankly unacceptable and I am saddened at how their new consultation even includes, council area by council area, the result of their calculation of an “indicative assessment of housing need” – removing, once and for all, any illusion that local councillors decide the extent of growth in their areas.

Their assessment would set an annual target of 2,889 – which would equate to a future target of 57,780 if spread over a twenty-year plan period.

However, the good news is that, as Cornwall Council has just adopted its Local Plan, the “new standardised method” would not come into effect immediately.

Nonetheless, this top-down imposition of a “standard” approach to housing growth would take decisions on planning policy even further away from local communities, and I do not believe that Government officials inside the M25 corridor know what is best for Cornwall and its people.

It remains my view that we need to see a Cornish National Planning Policy Framework, which would allow local people to bring forward more sustainable planning policies with development geared to meet local needs and defend the Cornish countryside.

[This is my article in this week's Cornish Guardian].

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Remembering Bob Fitzsimmons

As a proud Cornishman, I believe it is really important that we always do our utmost to celebrate the achievements of people from Cornwall, both past and present.

I therefore cannot let the 100th anniversary of Bob Fitzsimmons’ death pass without writing about his successes in the boxing ring.

Born in Helston in 1863, Bob’s father was James Fitzsimmons, a policeman originally from Ireland, while his mother was Jane Strongman from St Clement near Truro.

Bob was nine when the family moved to Timaru on the South Island of New Zealand and where, when he reached adulthood, he worked as a blacksmith at the family forge. This work is often credited with developing the strength that he used so successfully as a boxer.

He fought a number of bouts in New Zealand, before moving to Australia where he became a professional fighter. Inevitably, he then went to the United States, where he had better chance of securing high profile contests.

Often described as a “lanky” middleweight, Bob was nonetheless reputed to have the upper body strength of a heavyweight and an equally powerful punch.

In 1891, he won the world middleweight title in New Orleans and then, in 1897, he knocked out “Gentleman” Jim Corbett at Carson City, Nevada, to become the heavyweight champion of the world.

Six years later, he won the new light heavyweight title, becoming the first man to hold world titles at three different weights.

Much has certainly been written about Bob, who had a number of nicknames including “Ruby” and the “freckled wonder.” He was sometimes known simply as the “Cornishman.”

One early boxing historian, Sandy Griswold, wrote: “He knows all the vulnerable spots of the human anatomy … and has a greater variety of effective blows than any fighter who ever lived.”

Joe Gans, a contemporary and lightweight champion between 1902 and 1908, told the New York Times that he considered Bob Fitzsimmons to be: “one of the greatest exponents of straight hitting that the prize ring has ever known.” He added: “Fitz was a wonderful fighter and all of his straight punches were very effective … there were few fighters able to withstand that famous shift of his. When Fitz delivered a blow he carried the whole weight of his body with it.”

Nat Fleischer, the founder of The Ring magazine, is known to have later described Fitzsimmons as the “greatest pound for pound knockout puncher in boxing history” and, in 1954, the Cornishman was inducted into the magazine’s Boxing Hall of Fame.

Bob continued to box until he was 51 years old, but three years later died of pneumonia on 22nd October 1917. And as we mark the centenary of his death, I would heartily recommend that people take the time to find out more about his remarkable life.

This is my article in this coming week's Cornish Guardian.