Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Remembering An Gof and Flamank - 520 years on

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian focuses on the anniversary of the 1497 rebellion and the Keskerdh Kernow 500 celebrations of 1497, for which I was on the organising committee. I simply cannot believe it was twenty years ago!

Commemorative events are being held tonight at both Bodmin and St Keverne, though I will be unable to attend as I will be at a meeting of St Enoder Parish Council.

My article is follows:

This week marks the 520th anniversary of the execution of Cornish patriots Michael Joseph An Gof (St Keverne) and Thomas Flamank (Bodmin) who rebelled against the English crown in the late 15th century.

The documented catalyst for the 1497 rising was additional taxation towards a war with Scotland and, in a feat of great endurance, many thousands of men marched from Cornwall to London in protest. They arrived at Blackheath on 16th June but, on the following day, the Cornish host was attacked and defeated by a large military force of King Henry VII.

On 27th June, An Gof and Flamank were drawn through the streets to Tyburn, where they were hung, drawn and quartered, though prior to his death An Gof bravely claimed that he would have “a name perpetual and a fame permanent and immortal.”

It is also the 20th anniversary of the quincentennial celebrations of 1997, when more than forty people re-traced the entire route from St Keverne to the outskirts of London, with thousands more joining the march for shorter distances along the way.

As well as the march itself, a statue was erected in St Keverne and plaques were placed in a number of locations; there were numerous cultural events, plays and concerts; while new educational materials were used in many local schools.

It was all geared to be a “celebration of Cornish identity, Celtic heritage, Cornish ability, language and history” – and it was a great success.

One local newspaper described the events of 1997 as a “magnificent spectacle,” adding that “as an advertisement for Cornwall and all things Cornish, it was brilliant. As pageant, it was superb. And as an achievement for those who took part, it was truly magnificent.”

But it was not just cultural and, at the culmination of the march, the main participants published their own declaration. This document recalled how the original rebels had fought to “protect their distinctive way of life and to challenge economic injustice” and how, in more recent times, Cornwall had not been treated fairly “in comparison with the assistance rendered to our Celtic cousins in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.”

Specific demands included greater local control over economic development, opposition to wider regional bodies, the need for a university campus in Cornwall, and greater teaching of Cornish history, culture and identity.

Two decades on, there has been considerable progress. The cultural confidence on show in 1997 has continued to grow. Just look at last year’s amazing Man Engine and performers such as The Changing Room. The marchers’ demand for a university campus is now a reality, thanks to EU funding secured via the acceptance of Cornwall as an economic region.

But our area remains one of the poorest parts of the UK and our public services still suffer under-investment from the UK government. Cornwall is being denied meaningful devolution and the Government it is failing to act on their recognition of the Cornish as a national minority.

Two decades on, there are many, many campaigns we have yet to win.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Update on (Fraddon) Post Office

Following the closure of the Post Office at Kingsley Village at the end of April, Post Office Ltd promised to provide some “outreach” services from a local village hall or similar venue, while a more permanent solution is sought.

I can report that a meeting was held with a representative of Post Office Ltd at the Indian Queens Victory Hall on Thursday, and the following was noted and/or agreed:

- Two three-hour sessions from a mobile Post Office will be run each week from the ante-room of the Indian Queens Victory Hall.
- The service will be provided by the proprietors of the Post Office branch at Summercourt.
- The cost of hiring the ante-room will be covered for the next 12 months by Kingsley Developers, who previously owned Kingsley Village.

Post Office Ltd are presently arranging for BT to install a bespoke phone line into the Victory Hall, which is expected to take a few weeks. The outreach provision will be able to be commenced as soon as the line has been installed and activated.

At the present time, Summercourt Post Office is liaising with the Victory Hall Committee about which days it would be best to provide the service and what the opening hours should be.

I will update again when I have more information.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Cornwall marginalised by SW Councils

Earlier this week, I attended a briefing about the work of the organisation known as South West Councils. It’s website claims that it seeks to, amongst other things, “support authorities in having a voice, built on consensus, of issues on national policy and funding working with national Local Government Group, when this is deemed appropriate by Members.

Members of the group include the leaders or deputy leaders of all council’s in the Government’s “south west region,” representatives of certain fire authorities, and ten additional nominees in an (unsuccessful) attempt to secure some form of political balance.

In total, there are over fifty people on South West Councils.

But because of the way that the organisation is set up, Cornwall only has a single principal authority and therefore there is only one representative from west of the Tamar. There is not even a Cornish representative on the top-up list.

By contrast, the Isles of Scilly – with a population which is significantly less than my local parish – also has a single representative, while Devon has representatives from Devon County Council, two unitary authorities and eight district councils!

Once again, the democratically-elected representatives of the Celtic nation of Cornwall is managing no more recognition than a host of district councils.



Just over twelve months ago, the Local Government Boundary Commission “for England” (LGBCE) descended on Cornwall.

Councillors were informed that there was going to be a review of the number of elected members on the unitary authority, and that then new divisional boundaries would have to be agreed.

Our strong objections were ignored and we were told it had to happen – regardless of what we thought.

The LGBCE met with councillors on a couple of occasions and made it clear that if the unitary authority did not propose a reduction in elected members they would impose a reduction anyway. At one point, they stated that number needed to be somewhere in the range of 26 – 107 (allegedly based on numbers in other councils), though the logic for this was simply illogical.

Cornwall Council’s Electoral Review Panel did a massive amount of work. Evidence we presented to the LGBCE included (i) the fact that any reduction in councillor numbers would leave us amongst those councils with the lowest number of elected members to population in the UK, and that (ii) the present 123 councillors, on average, already worked much more than thirty hours per week.

We attempted – maybe foolishly – to work within the constraints imposed upon us and make the “least worst” of a bad situation! The Council’s Panel finally put forward a proposal for 99 councillors. This was backed by the majority of councillors, while the Conservative group put forward a counter-proposal for 85.

On the 13 June, the LGBCE informed the unitary authority that it was minded to set the number of councillors (from 2021 onwards) at 87!

It has opened a consultation on this figure with three questions:

1. Do you think 87 is the right number of councillors to be able to take decisions effectively?
2, Would a council size of 87 enable the Council to represent the interests of all Cornwall’s communities?
3, If you don’t agree that Cornwall should be represented by 87 councillors, what would your alternative number be, and why?

Comments should be sent to the following address by 7th August 2017:

Review Officer (Cornwall)
14th Floor Millbank Tower

From my perspective, I do not agree with any reduction in the number of councillors – even though we did our best to engage with the LGBCE.

I find it objectionable that they have ignored all of the Council’s detailed representations, and I continue to be extremely angry at how Cornwall’s democracy is being undermined with another significant cull of our elected members, which is not being experienced elsewhere.

Prior to the undemocratic imposition, Cornwall had 331 councillors on principal local authorities. That was cut to 123 in 2009, and now we are expected withstand another reduction to only 87.

It is all frankly ridiculous. After all, in the English counties of Devon and Somerset, they have nearly 500 councillors and over 400 councillors respectively!

Please join me in making representations to the LGBCE.

I can further report that I have just been elected vice-chairman of the Electoral Review Panel and will be heavily involved with the Council’s response to LGBCE.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Who is standing up for Cornwall in Westminster?

It was the Queen’s Speech in the House of Commons today, while my article in the Cornish Guardian addressed the post-election turmoil as the Prime Minister attempts to court the DUP. It is as follows:

As I sit writing this week’s column, it is ten days since Theresa May’s snap General Election gamble destroyed her majority in the House of Commons.

Having spent much of the election scaremongering about a possible “coalition of chaos” with Jeremy Corbyn and others, it is now the Conservatives who are engaged in lengthy discussions with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to reach an agreement that will prop up Theresa May as PM.

As one Scottish National Party MP wrote this week: “In the past two General Elections, the Tories raised the spectre of the SNP controlling a Labour-led coalition, enticing fear in voters that the SNP would force our policies on the rest of the UK. Yet they are now climbing over themselves to get the DUP to sign up to some form of a deal to ensure their continued survival.”

The leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, says that their ten MPs want to focus on bringing “stability to our nation.” But most of all, it is clear that the DUP is demanding massive investment in Northern Ireland through a new “economic package.”

Arlene Foster told the media that: “I make no apology for wanting the best for Northern Ireland” though one newspaper put it more bluntly: “Give us billions to back you.”

I cannot criticise the DUP for seeking to use the Conservative’s lack of a majority to the benefit of the residents of their province.

Likewise, it is also telling that the 13 Conservative MPs in Scotland – up from one in 2015 – are flexing their muscles and their leader, Ruth Davidson, has made it clear that they intend “to vote as a bloc to protect the [Scottish] nation’s interests at Westminster.”

Here in Cornwall, we still have a group of six Conservative MPs and the outcome of the General Election means that their votes are just as valuable as those of MPs in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Isn’t time that they were also throwing their weight around in the palace of Westminster, just like Arlene Foster and Ruth Davidson, in order to secure more investment in the Cornish economy and to devise new policy initiatives which meet Cornwall’s specific needs.

They now have a chance to show that they are Cornwall’s representatives in Westminster, rather than Westminster’s reps in Cornwall. The question is: will they rise to the challenge?

Symbolically, they could start by showing their commitment to Cornwall, as a political and economic unit, by using their influence to end the parliamentary boundary review, and stop the creation of a cross-Tamar Devonwall seat.

MK news update and Cornish Nation no. 75

Mebyon Kernow has just published the latest edition of Cornish Nation, which has been emailed or posted to all MK members.

If you are not already a member and would like a complimentary copy, please get in contact via dickcole@btinternet.com. Please specify whether you would like a paper or digital copy.

This edition includes a detailed summary of the recent local election campaign in which MK’s four Cornwall Councillors were re-elected to the unitary authority. It also includes a summary of the reasons why MK’s National Executive took the decision to not put forward candidates for the snap General Election which took place on 8th June. It was not an easy decision, but we concluded that it would not be possible to prepare or finance a meaningful campaign while our immediate priority had to be the local elections.

As you will see, we felt that we needed to focus our immediate efforts on “building local support and boosting our all-year-round campaigns for Cornwall, while supporting the key work of MK councillors recently re-elected onto the unitary authority, along with our representatives on town and parish councils.”

If you are not already actively involved with your local branch, I would appeal to you to get in contact to find out more about what you can do:

- For Mid Cornwall, ring me on 07791 876607.
- For North and East Cornwall, ring Cllr Andrew Long on 07812 597257.
- For West Cornwall, ring Cllr Loveday Jenkin on 07718 763566.

And if you live outside of Cornwall, please consider how you might be able to assist us through social media or some other means.

It is also the case that the failure of the Conservatives to secure an overall majority on 8th June has raised the prospect of another General Election. With this in mind, MK‘s National Executive will be meeting within a couple of weeks or so to discuss how we would approach such a contest. We will, of course, keep all members informed about our plans.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Soundbites and policy chaos

My article in this coming week’s Cornish Guardian is unsurprisingly about the General Election. It will be as follows:

In the pages of this newspaper, I have already expressed my exasperation at the cynical manner in which the Prime Minister called this snap General Election.

The Conservatives had certainly honed their soundbites in advance and it sometimes seems to me that they are struggling to utter a single sentence without saying “strong and stable.” I am likewise fed up with the ever-present and deceptive claim that other parties believe there is a fictitious “magic money tree.”

But I am astounded at how the policy basis of the Conservative campaign has been shambolic. This is very disturbing as they are the present party of government, but have nonetheless chopped and changed their policies during the election campaign.

First up, there was the announcement of their new approach to adult social care, which fell into disarray when it was widely branded a “dementia tax.” The Tories did a dramatic u-turn, but further let themselves down by repeatedly claiming that nothing had changed.

And then there was housing. I was quite surprised – but also pleased – when the Conservatives pledged they would build “a new generation of homes for social rent.” But they have already backtracked, saying that the properties would have to be “let at significantly less affordable rents.”

Worryingly, the Government’s housing minister tried to downplay the change which left professionals questioning whether he understood his own brief to provide genuinely affordable homes for local communities.

The extent of funding cuts to the Police has also been a massive issue during this most recent campaign, particularly following the terrible events in Manchester. The Chairman of the Police Federation has even gone public to raise concerns about the level of resources for local constabularies, while other officers have claimed that they are “desperately understaffed.”

Government MPs claim that since the 2015 Spending Review they have protected “overall police spending in real terms.” But they seem to forget to mention the massive cuts since 2010 which led to loss of 20,000 police jobs.

I am afraid that I cannot forget or forgive them for their broken promises from the 2010 General Election. In one local leaflet, the-then shadow Home Secretary claimed: “It is dishonest to claim that we will cut police officer numbers. In fact, our plans to cut bureaucracy and red tape mean that there would be more police on the street …” The local candidate in St Austell and Newquay added that her party did not “make any uncosted promises” adding “we have done the sums and will … put more police on patrol.”

As a councillor from the China Clay Area, who is presently campaigning against the loss of local Police Community Support Officers, I feel it is unconscionable that representatives of the present government failed to live up to their past election pledges and claims.

More representative sport for Cornwall?

My article in the most recent edition of the Cornish Guardian took its start from the “county championship final.” It was as follows:

Along with many other Cornish people, my wife and I were away from Cornwall last weekend. We made the trek to Twickenham to watch rugby’s “county championship” final between Cornwall and Lancashire.

Having won the title in 2015 and 2016, the Cornish boys sadly fell at the final hurdle on this occasion. But throughout the whole of this latest campaign, the players were truly magnificent and played their hearts out. The 45-28 victory over Hertfordshire in front of 3,500 people at the Recreation Ground in Camborne – which secured this latest final appearance – will certainly live long in my memory.

It was great to see a large amount of black and gold on display at “Rugby HQ” – a wonderful display of Cornishness. It was also heartening to be part of such a good-natured contingent from the Duchy, making a massive amount of noise and taking over the “Line Out Bar” for a raucous sing-song lead by our very own Betty Stogs.

The team in black and gold has always been an important part of our Cornish identity, but there have been some recent reports – quoting senior figures at the RFU – that question the value and very existence of the championship.

In years past, Cornish teams even played a number of games against other national teams, including Japan and Russia, but opportunities for representative rugby have become much more limited following the advent of professionalism in the sport.

And I think that any attempt to dismantle or undermine the present championship would be a very sad day for Cornish rugby.

In this column, I often write about our campaigns to secure greater political recognition for Cornwall and the 2014 recognition of the Cornish as a national minority and the ongoing fight to get central government to act on its obligations.

But this need not just be about politics, economic matters and culture. Why shouldn’t it also be about sport? Why shouldn’t this greater recognition for the historic nation of Cornwall also lead to more opportunities for sportspeople to play representative sport for Cornwall?

Just look at the 71 nations at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. As well as contingents from Scotland and Wales, there were also teams from other parts of the British Isles such as Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man – all with populations much less than that of Cornwall!

Indeed, Cornwall was the only Celtic part of the United Kingdom without a team at the 2014 Games.

Surely it would be right for the Cornish nation to be represented at future Games, with our national team in black and gold playing in the rugby sevens competition, and our flag flying proudly alongside those of other Commonwealth countries, both large and small.