Is it time Cornwall started to talk seriously about devolution?

Cornwall has a major chance to decide it's own future - will it take it?

With the prospect of Scottish devolution going at least one extra step towards Home Rule or even outright independence from the UK, Cornwall should decide, like Wales, whether it wants to see greater powers come from Westminster to decide more of its own future.

The Coalition government has evangelised the concept of localism, and although this has primarily focussed around the creation of new locally elected police commissioners and more elected mayors for major cities, Cornwall has a role to play in this new deal for local government.

When Cornwall became a unitary council in 2009 many Cornish people opposed the new council rather preferring the old district/county model, however, I supported the new council as it seemed to fit in much better with the aspiration of Cornwall to have its own Assembly, although the model created had far too many councillors to have this as a credible outcome at the time.

If the Coalition is serious about devolving more powers to local control perhaps Cornwall should begin negotiations with Westminster to see what powers could be devolved, such as transport.

Many studies have shown that both the electorate and Cornish politicians want to see greater powers devolved but the process would seem to have stagnated in recent years. With all Cornwall’s MPs now being supporters of the Coalition and with the Conservatives giving Cornwall special status before the 2010 election, by creating a Shadow Minister for Cornwall (though quite what happened to this in government no one knows) this should the best time to urge both parties to deliver on greater recognition for Cornwall.

The Planning Minister, Greg Clark, has indicated that he would welcome discussions on the subject, so let’s take the opportunity whilst it is there.

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25 Years on and Cornwall’s Liberal Democrats should still remember David Penhaligon today

Truro and St Austell’s MP from 1974-1986 remembered today

People often ask whether you can remember where you were when JFK died. I don’t I was too young. But, for those of us who can remember David Penhaligon the feeling, I suspect, is similar to those people felt when John Kennedy was shot. A feeling of deep loss having very little personal knowledge of the man personally.

As an MP from a peripheral party at the time he was possibly a surprising national political figure who had garnered a great deal of national publicity and was almost certainly the shoo in as the next leader of the party, ahead of the eventual winner – Paddy Ashdown.

I was sitting in my front room with several school friends when I heard the news, being only 16 he had had a surprisingly big impression on me. Although I joined the SDP I had briefly met David Penhaligon once and also seen him speak once. The former was on polling day in the Knowsley North By-election, caused by the resignation of Robert Kilroy-Silk as a Labour MP. I, and fellow campaigners, had been out delivering leaflets in the pouring Merseyside weather and returned to the Alliance HQ, where we discovered David Penhaligon and other party luminaries with their sleeves rolled up delving into the inner workings of a printing machine. It was a surprising if apparently usual event.

This was an image I will never forget, and it has rather shaped my view of what MPs and party figures should be like since. He was deep down an activist and keen to helping in a by-election, however unlikely the party’s chances of winning. The other time I saw him was when he spoke at Methodist Central Hall at a pre-election rally in December 1986. His was an inspiring speech which set the tone for an exciting day at a party rally.

However, as any Liberal Democrat in Cornwall will tell you, his influence remains an important aspect of the party’s resonance and influence in Cornwall. I can remember campaigning in several general elections in Cornwall and still getting support for the party, twenty years on, because of the work he did for Cornwall, especially in Truro and St. Austell.

Liberal Democrats, especially in Cornwall, owe an awful lot to David Penhaligon and today we remember all that he did for us, the party and for Cornwall.

Intern if you want to – The Raffles of Rame

The Raffles of Rame was almost arrested for recruiting members to the Liberal Democrats...

As part of the interns’ series I remember when we had an intern in our office that was taken on to recruit new members to the party in South East Cornwall.

He was bright and affable and exactly the sort of target driven person that is excellent for the ‘salesman’ type job that is involved in encouraging people to join a political party.

He was able to travel around the constituency with his own transport so was taken on for a month to try to increase the party’s numbers.

He had an impressive record of recruiting a number of people every day and after a few weeks the total numbers were in the low 50s.

However, the phone rang in our Liskeard office, from the local constabulary.

A slightly nervous sounding receptionist said that the person being described was indeed a Liberal Democrat recruiter and there was no need for them to arrest him. 

This was his first brush with the law as the police had been advised that a young man was going around the estates of Looe trying to get money out of people for joining the Lib Dems, but it was all above board so the police were happy to drop the case.

The campaigner received his nickname ‘The Raffles of Rame’ (Rame being a peninsula in South East Cornwall and my County Council division at the time) not just because of this but because having locked himself out of his lodgings, which I should say were in a first floor flat, he climbed up the outside of the building to gain entry.

Thankfully none of the neighbours, nor the police for that matter, saw this escapade and so no formal charges were ever brought to bear on our intern!

Remember ‘Talks about Talks?’ Now there is a Conservative Council with a ‘Scrutiny Panel that Scrutinises Scrutiny!’

County Hall Truro

Making sure a council is efficient is fine, but having a panel that scrutinises the scrutiny panels seems a bit excessive!

Having been a councillor for four years in Cornwall, I know that councils, and their officers have some very strange ideas about using time.

But, today, it has been revealed, in The Telepgraph, that Conservative controlled Wealden District Council, has ‘set up a scrutiny panel to scrutinise its scrutiny panels.’

There is a point in all local government where you feel a power shift, if unchecked, from the early enthusiasm of newly elected political councillors to the dead hand of the town hall bureaucrats gaining the upper hand.

Scrutiny is an important part of local government, to make sure that they are spending money properly and reviewing decisions but this is surely an absurd level of bureaucracy designed to keep councillors busy, rather than productive.

A spokesman for the Taxpayers Alliance said; “Whilst it may be well-intentioned the council appear to have wrapped themselves up in knots and ended up in an absurd situation.

“By all means they should review their procedures but there’s no reason why a separate committee to scrutinize the scrutiny panel should be any better than the original body itself.

“Local residents would probably prefer they were asked how the council was run instead of adding this extra layer of bureaucracy.”

I’ve stooped to quoting the Taxpayers Alliance! My apologies. But an entertaining story criticising a Tory Council in The Telepgraph, nonetheless.

‘It’s very nice of you to arrange a fly past, but it really wasn’t necessary!’ – The Press Officer’s Guide Lesson 1 – Taking advantage of the situation

RAF Tornado

As Kennedy stepped from the Battlebus two RAF Tornados flew overhead to mark his arrival!

The 2001 General Election was a success for the Liberal Democrats as it made the most significant gains of any of the parties, and it was the first of Charles Kennedy’s outings as leader.

Leaders’ tours are a masterpiece of organisation and planning, and none more so that the event that was to be held in Ambleside, at St. Martin’s College, in Tim Farron’s constituency of Westmorland and Lonsdale.

Country lanes are difficult in Cornwall, but, unlike Cornwall, Cumbria’s have dry stone walls, so even the entrance to the college and the parking space needed to be measured to ensure there were no unforeseen problems with Charles’ arrival in Ambleside.

On cue, and surprisingly on time, the Leader’s bright orange Battle Bus arrived to the assembled throng of media, national and local, as well as the college’s Principal and our PPC, Tim Farron.

With all the ceremony of a party leader Charles stepped imperially from the coach, and with almost perfect timing, before he could utter a word, two RAF Tornados screamed overhead on one of their practice runs up the length of Lake Windermere, perfectly framed in the background againt the rolling Cumbrian mountains.

Charles, ever one for the perfect one liner said;

‘It’s very nice of you to arrange a fly past, but it really wasn’t necessary!’

There were knowing looks between our press team and the media, as scribbling began, and with a wink to the local Lib Dem team, Charles started his progress around the College.