Thursday, 8 December 2016

Anything but a United Kingdom …

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian – under the above heading – is as follows:

A number of political parties based far away from Westminster, including Mebyon Kernow and Plaid Cymru, have long campaigned for an Economic Fairness Act.

It may not sound exciting, but such an Act would ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom would get their fair share of government investment, and it would commence the rebalancing of the UK economy away from its present fixation on London and the South East of England.

The importance of this campaign is shown by the recent statement from the Bank of England’s chief economist, Andrew Haldane, warning that inequality in the UK is becoming more pronounced.

And is it any wonder? I have certainly raised such concerns in this newspaper column on numerous occasions.

A few years ago, I wrote about how an independent report had detailed a shocking bias in how arts funding was distributed around the UK. The most telling figure was that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport had distributed £450 million of public funding to what it deemed “major national cultural institutions” – with London receiving £49 per head of population compared to just £1 per person outside the capital.

And some 18 months back, I commented on the research from the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, which documented another massive bias towards London in terms of infrastructure investment. It concluded that most other areas will be getting a raw deal with planned public investment per head in London being recorded at £5,304.73 compared to £805.29 in the South West.

I have often commented on the unfairness of funding settlements for councils in rural areas and, earlier this year, even highlighted the irony of Conservative MPs lambasting their own London-centric Government for “shifting funding from rural to metropolitan areas” and describing the funding as “extraordinarily unfair,” with one even stating that his local council had not only “trimmed off” the fat, but had “gone through the surface of the bone” and, in some instances, was “sucking out the marrow.”

And in the most recent Autumn Statement, the monies allocated to the Local Growth Fund were much less than had been anticipated.

It is therefore to be welcomed that the Bank of England’s chief economist has issued a challenge that regional inequality is among the most important issues facing the UK.

In an interview with the BBC, he said that these long-standing gaps “have nudged a little wider over the course of the UK's recovery” and “if you look at the level of income within region, per head, it is only really London and the South East where that is back above the levels it was before the crisis.”

Thank you for your efforts, Mr Haldane. I just hope the Government will start listening.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Autumn Statement ... all a bit gloomy!

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian addressed the recent Autumn Statement and the setting of Cornwall Council’s budget for 2017/2018. It was as follows:

The first autumn statement from the new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has rightly generated a host of very gloomy headlines.

His statement included projections of lower growth from the Office of Budget Responsibility, while resultant discussions have focussed on the likelihood of higher inflation, lower tax revenues, continuing austerity and a squeeze on household incomes.

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has meanwhile reported that “workers would earn less in real wages in 2021 than they did in 2008,” with additional analysis showing that the biggest losers in the next few years will be people on low incomes.

Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, commented that “this has been the worst decade for living standards certainly since the last war and probably since the 1920s."

It is such a massive contrast to the personal circumstances of Mr Hammond’s predecessor at the Treasury. Instead of focussing on his role as an MP, George Osborne recently raked in a total of £320,000 for giving five lectures to financial institutions and a university.

And it was especially disappointing that Philip Hammond did not act to address the crisis in adult social care.

This even led to a cross-party appeal from the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent leaders of the Local Government Association for “urgent action” without which the “quality and safety of care of our elderly is at risk.”

One newspaper summed up the situation as “elderly care close to collapse as council funding runs out.”

Last week also saw the Liberal Democrat and Independent administration at Cornwall Council set its budget for 2017/2018 when a majority of councillors, myself included, voted for a council tax increase of 3.97%. This included a precept levy of 2% to be specifically used for social care.

Projections show that the unitary authority will raise an additional £14 million from council tax next year but, because of ongoing cuts from central government, the Council will, overall, end up with £2.5 million less to spend on services.

At the council meeting, Conservative councillors voted against the budget but failed to put forward any alternative proposals for consideration, and did not even acknowledge how cuts in central government funding were, to a large degree, responsible for many of the financial problems being faced by Cornwall Council.

In these very difficult times for local government, it is well-documented that there are many dangers associated with the Council’s budget and, for the sake of our public services, we need to do everything that we can to put pressure on the new Chancellor to end the under-funding of local councils.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Good news … Conservative MP opposes Devonwall

In my column in this coming week’s Cornish Guardian will be as follows:

Politics is increasingly partisan these days and politicians often fail to compliment their opponents, even when they do something worthy of acknowledgement.

But in my column this week, I am pleased to be able to praise Steve Double MP for opposing the creation of a Devonwall parliamentary seat.

Last Friday in the House of Commons, MPs debated a Private Members Bill entitled the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill. Tabled by a Labour MP from the north of England, the Bill proposes to make changes to the process by which parliamentary boundaries are presently being reversed.

It seeks to keep the number of MPs at 650 – not the 600 presently preferred by the Tories – and to allow the Boundary Commission more flexibility in redrawing constituency boundaries. 

And from a Cornish perspective, if passed, the Bill would put an end to the proposal for a cross-Tamar seat.

The debate took place at the end of the week and, because many government MPs were not present, it passed its second reading by 253 votes to 37. It now moves to the committee stage and it is anticipated that MPs from the governing party will look to derail the Bill in the coming weeks.

But last Friday, Steve Double was one of two Conservative MPs who voted for the Bill, and therefore against Devonwall and against his own party. 

Full credit to him for him for listening to the people of Cornwall and making it clear that he took this action because it was the “only way” he could see to “address the issue of the Cornish border and maintain Cornish MPs in Cornwall.”

It was, though, extremely disappointing (big understatement) that he did not get support from other Cornish MPs.

Two were present and voted against the Bill. And one of these, Sheryll Murray, participated in the debate and did all she could to undermine Steve Double’s arguments.

In 2010, Sheryll Murray pledged that she would “fight on and on” to make sure that the border was protected, but appears to have done a shocking u-turn.

Instead of backing her colleague from St Austell and Newquay, she called on MPs to “kick” the legislation into the “long grass where it belongs.”

And in a particularly unedifying section of the debate, she called out Steve Double for claiming he was speaking “on behalf of the Cornish,” adding that she wanted it “put on the record” that she was a “Cornish girl” and he “was not speaking” for her.

To be fair to Steve Double, he dealt with it well, pointing out how may people had raised the issue with him in his constituency “on the doorsteps, in the pub and at surgeries” and that it was an issue that he “as a Cornishman” felt strongly about.

It is my strong view that now is the time for us all to put pressure on George Eustice MP, Scott Mann MP, Sarah Newton MP, Derek Thomas MP, and even Sheryll Murray MP, to follow Steve Double’s example and do the right thing and oppose Devonwall.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

A couple of extracts from my speech at 2016 MK Conference

It was great to see so many friends at the 2016 MK Conference and to see such enthusiasm for winning a better deal for Cornwall.

I am pictured above with some of the speakers at the 2016 MK Conference: Dr Joanie Willett (MK liaison with the European Free Alliance), Natalia Pinkowska (EFA Vice-President) and Plaid Cymru AM Steffan Lewis.

Here are a couple of extracts from the early part of my speech.

An army of practical visionaries

I must make comment that this year also marks the 50th anniversary of Gwynfor Evan’s stunning victory in the Carmarthen by-election of 1966.

When he became the first member of Plaid Cymru to be elected to the Westminster Parliament – and he delivered a breakthrough which forever changed the face of British politics.

Some years later, when I was a young student at St David’s University College in Lampeter, I was the Secretary of the local college branch of Plaid, and I was privileged to meet Gwynfor on a couple of occasions.

I found him a truly inspirational man.

And what I took from those meetings as a young man was two things.

First, he had a vision for his country as an inclusive, progressive, self-governing nation.

And second, he knew there was no “magic bullet”, no easy route by which he could achieve his aims.

But that he and other members of the Party would need to dig deep and work and work and work for Wales, if he was to succeed.

And that is why Gwynfor had a relentless work ethic to make things happen. Which he and his colleagues did. Setting Wales on a political journey for home rule, that is continuing.

At Plaid’s Conference last month, I was also struck by the words of Adam Price, one of Gwynfor’s successors as member of parliament for Carmarthen and now the town’s representative in the National Assembly.

He said that – at its best – a political party is “an army of practical visionaries, a movement of doers and dreamers that together get things done.”

How right he is. And how we, as members of Mebyon Kernow and the wider Cornish movement, need to rise to the challenge to become just that “army” which Adam has described.

Faith in the people of Cornwall

I am proud to be the leader of Mebyon Kernow.

Ours is a political party that unashamedly seeks to give political expression to Cornish nationhood … and to secure a better deal for all the people of Cornwall.

But I do not want us to be defensive in any way or to simply practice a politics of grievance. 

Because I have faith in the people of Cornwall.

I look out across our fine nation and I see men and women of heart and spirit, of conscience, of talent, of invention, of ingenuity, of great common sense ... who together, have the skills and the passion, and the where-with-all, to build a better Cornwall … but we need to wrestle political power from the deadhand of Westminster to give us the tools to do the job.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Remembering the fallen of the First World War

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

It is right that we remember the dead from all conflicts but, as we continue to mark the centenary of the First World War, it is especially important that we learn more about the war which engulfed the globe between 1914 and 1918 and led to the tragic deaths of millions, leaving no community untouched.

2016 is particularly poignant as it marks the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles of the whole conflict, which took place between 1st July and 18th November 1916. Forever etched on the consciousness of a continent, it also marked an intensification of the Great War and a resultant rise in the number of casualties.

In my home area of Fraddon, Indian Queens, St Columb Road and Summercourt, some sixty men, mostly clay workers and farm labourers, did not return home from WW1.

Thirteen lost their lives in 1916. Six of these men were killed in action on the Western Front, with Frederick Langdon (Fraddon), Henry Francis Osborne (Penhale) and John Thomas Andrew (Trevarren) buried alongside thousands of their comrades in France and Belgium. No known grave survives for the other three: George Bullock (St Columb Road), Basil Henry Gregor (Fraddon) and William Nicholls (Retew), and they are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. A colossal structure, it includes the names of over 72,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Somme sector.

According to his “medal card” a seventh soldier, Samuel John May (Fraddon) succumbed to an unnamed disease contracted when on active service in France. Having returned to the UK, he passed away and is buried in his home parish in the churchtown at St Enoder.

By 1916, the conflict was increasingly global with diseases, including malaria, also taking a terrible toll.

Two local men from the Summercourt area, Arthur Carhart and Samuel Gill, died in India, while Arthur Randolph Kendall (Fraddon) and Walter Vincent Trenerry (Summercourt) died in Iraq. Arthur Kendall was a prisoner at the time of his death. Harry Osborn, a former resident of St Enoder Parish, who had lived in South Africa for many years, also died from malaria and is buried in Tanzania (formerly known as German East Africa).

Closer to home, Philip Charles Rundle (Indian Queens) died whilst based at the HMS Vivid training unit at Devonport. He was aged only 17 and the cause of death was recorded as pneumonia. He is buried in Bodmin, close to where his parents were living in 1916.

Each year, as the names of the fallen are remembered, it is important that we task ourselves to discover much more about who these men were, what they did in their lives, what happened to them, and the consequences of their deaths for their families and friends.

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