7 March 2012

Cornish Independence and the Conservatives

Barring flood and shipwreck, Devon and Cornwall don’t get much attention in the national media in the winter months. So it was a surprise on 5 March, even though it was St Piran’s Day (patron saint of Cornwall), when those parts turned up twice and in a political context too.

First, in the ‘dead tree’ version of The Times, the cover story of Times 2 (the drop out part attuned to those readers who might easily defect to the Daily Mail) was Could Cornwall go the same way as Scotland? with an article by Simon de Bruxelles, All quiet on the southwestern front, taking up a couple of pages inside. (It appears on the website (£) under Life and authored by ‘Simon De Bruxelles and Simon de Bruxelles’ which might be just a bit too much of a good thing.)

After a facetious start:
There are rumblings in the pasty mines, a deep seam of resentment welling to the surface as Scotland prepares to vote on independence.
and some mystical references to:
Cornish character … forged by the geography of the long, narrow windswept peninsula
as well as the Romans and the days before roads and railways, the article concludes with:
[Mebyon Kernow, the Cornish nationalist party] wants Cornwall to be responsible for health, education, economic development, transport, energy, law, forestry and fishing, sports and the arts, the environment and agriculture, though it stops short of calling for full independence.
The same day a Tweet from Andrew Neil (@afneil) observed:
“Murdoch never much liked UK but post -hacking he hates it. His revenge is to campaign for its break up. Scot Sun will back independence.”
which might, at least at first sight, explain why The Times was giving space to Mebyon Kernow. But then the second national-level interest in the South West emerged. On the influential Conservative Home blog Tim Montgomerie reported The Tory masterplan to win 36 seats from Labour and 14 from the Liberal Democrats:
Nearly all of the winnable seats are in England - mainly the South West, North West and Midlands.
As there are only two Labour seats west of Bristol, any such gains in the South West will have to come mostly from the LibDems. This makes one aspect of the Times 2 article more interesting:
In recent years, Cornish separatists have been emboldened by the coalition Government. Cornwall used to be the heartland of Britain’s Liberal Democrats. Nothing, apart perhaps from a tax on pasties, could have done more to boost Mebyon Kernow, the Cornish nationalist party, than the Lib Dems’ alliance with the hated Tories. The party recently won a fifth seat on Cornwall Council. It has four more than Labour and they hope soon to claim a sixth.
which sounds better than the reality that, of the other 118 councillors on Cornwall Council ( a unitary body since 2009), 47 are Conservative, 40 LibDem, 29 Independent, 1 Labour and 1 ‘Standalone’. The article’s reference to support for a referendum on self-government in the form of a petition attracting 50,000 signatures “more than 10% of the population” (actually the electorate), omits the fact that this was in 2000 before the unitary council.

Some heroic number-crunching by the Guardian Datastore has attempted to analyse the impact of the proposed constituency boundary changes (above), with the caveat that their work is “Based on a crude analysis of the composition of the new constituencies, using the 2010 election results in old ones. Assumes uniform vote across old constituencies”. Under new or old boundaries, in a future general election, if disillusioned former LibDem supporters in Cornish constituencies start voting MK, the beneficiaries are likely to be the Conservatives.

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