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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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.