Interesting times in Cornwall

Arwen Folkes reports from North Cornwall where the battle rages between Lib Dems and Tories

It is going to be interesting down here in Cornwall. The proposed unitary authority is a recent issue down here, as proposed and driven by our Lib Dem run County Council and I am particularly interested to see how the issue will affect turnout ... will less people vote because they believe the District Councils won't exist in two years time or will they turn out in their droves to protest at the abolition of such institutions?

If the truth be known, it seems only to be a big issue to people who are already involved in politics themselves. Certainly on the doorstep I have received more questions about fortnightly rubbish collections than I have the unitary authority!

And yet because politics is led by politicians, all of our opponents have tried to make the unitary proposals a real issue throughout their election campaigns.

Although the Tory campaign began with great gusto, seemingly fielding an impressive slate of candidates, the truth is a large proportion of them are actually paper candidates and little visible activity has been taking place cross the county. I'm not sure that Cornish Conservatives are quite on the same wavelength as David Cameron.

Traditionally in Cornwall it is effort that is rewarded, the Cornish like to see candidates on the doorstep and working hard for their seats and we hope that this stands true for this election. That is also the reason that so many hard-working independent candidates also get elected.

My own authority (North Cornwall) is led by an independent administration. The Lib-Dem campaign has been positive and highly visible and we are fielding 20 out of a possible 36 candidates. The Tories are fielding 21, a majority of them paper candidates. Control will be difficult to obtain but to increase our number whilst keeping the Tories low will be a good thing.

The most interesting ward up here has to be Poughill & Stratton (nr Bude) where our organizer and agent has been the sitting councillor for the last term. This is where the BNP candidate has appeared and also where the Conservatives have decided to place their own organizer - perhaps in the hopes of keeping our boy busy, but the scarcity of her campaign has not achieved this.

Down in Carrick, which is largely considered the heart of Liberal Democracy in Cornwall, we are fighting to retain control of the District Council and we have fielded 35 out of 47 seats for this election. The campaign "Let's keep Carrick working" has largely focused on the Environment (Carrick has impressive recycling rates), Affordable Housing and "Axe the Tax".

There is assumed to be strong Tory pockets in this area of Cornwall but again their visible campaign has been minimal (in fact one of our MP's has described it as the worst he has seen) and whilst the telephone canvassing will be under way there is little excuse in the electorate's eyes for not being on the doorstep with the beautiful weather we have been having here in Cornwall this month.

Do you notice what's missing? The Labour Party has never made much of an impact in Cornwall and Tony Blair has only been to the South West three times in the whole of his 10 year term. Apparently he has visited Japan more times than Devon or Cornwall.

Arwen Folkes, 30, is a currently defencing her district council seat in Cornwall. She also runs two businesses and is mother to two boys.
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The UK is dangerously close to breaking apart - there's one way to fix it

We must rethink our whole constitutional settlement. 

When the then-Labour leader John Smith set up a report on social justice for what would be the incoming government in 1997, he said we must stop wasting our most precious resource – "the extraordinary skills and talents of ordinary people".

It is one of our party’s greatest tragedies that he never had the chance to see that vision put into practice. 

At the time, it was clear that while our values of equality, solidarity and tolerance endured, the solutions we needed were not the same as those when Labour was last in power in the 1970s, and neither were they to be found in the policies of opposition from the 1980s. 

The Commission on Social Justice described a UK transformed by three revolutions:

  • an economic revolution brought about by increasing globalisation, innovation and a changing labour market
  • a social revolution that had seen the role of women in society transformed, the traditional family model change, inequality ingrained and relationships between people in our communities strained
  • a political revolution that challenged the centralisation of power, demanded more individual control and accepted a different role for government in society.

Two decades on, these three revolutions could equally be applied to the UK, and Scotland, today. 

Our economy, society and our politics have been transformed even further, but there is absolutely no consensus – no agreement – about the direction our country should take. 

What that has led to, in my view, is a society more dangerously divided than at any point in our recent history. 

The public reject the status quo but there is no settled will about the direction we should take. 

And instead of grappling with the complex messages that people are sending us, and trying to find the solutions in the shades of grey, politicians of all parties are attached to solutions that are black or white, dividing us further. 

Anyone in Labour, or any party, who claims that we can sit on the margins and wait for politics to “settle down” will rightly be consigned to history. 

The future shape of the UK, how we govern ourselves and how our economy and society should develop, is now the single biggest political question we face. 

Politics driven by nationalism and identity, which were for so long mostly confined to Scotland, have now taken their place firmly in the mainstream of all UK politics. 

Continuing to pull our country in these directions risks breaking the United Kingdom once and for all. 

I believe we need to reaffirm our belief in the UK for the 21st century. 

Over time, political power has become concentrated in too few hands. Power and wealth hoarded in one corner of our United Kingdom has not worked for the vast majority of people. 

That is why the time has come for the rest of the UK to follow where Scotland led in the 1980s and 1990s and establish a People’s Constitutional Convention to re-establish the UK for a new age. 

The convention should bring together groups to deliberate on the future of our country and propose a way forward that strengthens the UK and establishes a new political settlement for the whole of our country. 

After more than 300 years, it is time for a new Act of Union to safeguard our family of nations for generations to come.

This would mean a radical reshaping of our country along federal lines where every component part of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions – take more responsibility for what happens in their own communities, but where we still maintain the protection of being part of a greater whole as the UK. 

The United Kingdom provides the redistribution of wealth that defines our entire Labour movement, and it provides the protection for public finance in Scotland that comes from being part of something larger, something good, and something worth fighting for. 

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of the Scottish Labour party.