Welcome to the blog. All the opinion on this blog is my own or as attributed. Thank you for reading - I hope you enjoy.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Silence is Deafening

Loathe as I am (not!) to keep going on about Cllr Dr Loveday Jenkin's spectacular win for MK the other day, I feel I have to say that I think that some of the most telling comments are those that have not been made.

For example, when Jude Robinson won for Labour in Camborne North there were loads of news stories and even TV and radio features. This time round, however, almost nothing - even from Cornwall's own, Graham Smith (maybe he's on holiday). Perhaps it was the fact that Jude is the only and first Labour representative at Unitary level that made her election such a special occurrence that warranted the (proportionate) media hype that accompanied it?

When Loveday was elected she became the fifth MK Cornwall Councillor - five members - a bit old hat now I suppose - and not so newsworthy. I mean I'd hate to think that the BBC and establishment media could be in any way biased.

Then again, unless I have missed it, the Tories seem to have gone deathly quiet. Perhaps they are still shocked that they didn't win a seat that seemed to be there for the taking. After all they were in 3rd place back in 2009 and this time around, while there was MK and two other supposedly left of centre parties standing, there was no UKIP candidate to drag their vote down. So how come the Tories still ended up third? (... and worse still for them, I'm sure, behind the Lib Dems). I imagine that Alec Robertson and his team of bloggers and tweeters are too busy occupied worrying about what will happen if they take the government up on the offer to subsidise council tax payments to try and spin the MK triumph in Wendron as a Conservative moral victory.

It's also strange that Jude Robinson hasn't produced yet another spreadsheet that shows how Labour are making a strong comeback in Cornwall. I suspect the last few election results have rather dented her statistics - is she holed up in an office somewhere working out how to justify leaving out the last few results from her mathematical calculations?

MK isn't about to start making wild claims about taking control of the Unitary Authority in 2013. To put things in perspective Loveday was an exceptional candidate, well respected and known for her hard work in the area. If we had lost then then we would have had to re-evaluate a great many assumptions and policy foundations. As it is Loveday won and this was on the back of an excellent conference and several other encouaraging events in November discussed by Rob Simmons here. So no extravagant claims and spin from MK - just a promise of a positive outlook and hard work developing policies that will put Cornwall, and her people first, from Parish ward to Westminster constituency.

Friday, 25 November 2011

...... and then there were five

Congratulations to Dr Loveday Jenkin who won the by-election for Cornwall Council in Wendron yesterday.

The results were:

MK 427 36.4%
LD 262 22.3%
Con 227 19.4%
Ind 177 15.1%
Lab 80 6.8%

Not just a win but a bit of a landslide really. Many congratulations Loveday well done!

A brilliant finale to an excellent month for MK. We have gained one parish, two town and now a unitary councillor - bringing MK's total of Cornwall Councillors to 5.

To echo a sentiment expressed by Cllr Jenkin just after her resounding victory, who's up next for MK? Let's get to work!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The Council Tax Subsidy - Electoral Bribe or Cutbacks Silver Bullet?

The government has promised to subsidise council tax bills next year where the local authority freezes their take. On the face of it a good idea?

But wait. Why link the subsidy to a freeze in council tax at the current rate. Well the idea is to keep services at the same level but without an icrease in council tax due to inflation. Fair enough you might think.

Is it really that simple though? You see the problem is that the subsidy is only planned for next year so what happens after that?

If you were paying £1000 in counciul tax now then next year you would pay the same but the government would 'top it up' by £25 so that you were getting £1025 worth of services for your £1000.

In two years time though, in order to keep the same level of service you will have to pay £1050.63 (assuming the 2.5% rise that the government is working on). Now of course in pragmatic terms it is a no-brainer to accept the government subsidy because at least you get £25 back this year.

My problem is this. The government is making out that it is a caring government that wants to do what it can for families in these hard times of austerity. In actual fact it is offering an electoral bribe now, knowing that next year local authorities will be having to make further cutbacks or face sending out massively inflated council tax bills.

I have been having a blogosphere discussion with Alex Folkes the Lib Dem Cornwall Councillor for Launceston Central here about this subject.

It seems to me that the Westminster parties are simply using this idea to score party political points with each other.

Cornwall is rather an exception to the UK where there will be Unitary elections early in 2013. In many parts of the UK these local authority elections have only just been held. This means that Alec Robertson's Tories will be announcing even more cutbacks going into the election or posting out council tax demands much higher than the previous two years - electoral bribe/cutbacks silver bullet.

So we have Tories/Lib Dems in Westminster offering bribes, knowing that in most of the UK their local authorities will have had a year or two to lessen the effect of cutbacks/increased council tax. Whereas in Cornwall the 'pick and mix' Lib Dems (they seem to be able to pick and mix whichever policies they think will get them re-elected, even if it isn't the official policy of their Westminster bosses) are gleefully advocating acceptance of the subsidy, fully aware of why the Tory administration in Lys Kernow is a little more reserved in its enthusiasm for carrying out the orders in from London.

In order to keep to my Golden Rule 1 I would just say that, rather than try to bribe local electors I would use the money to do some real good and tackle child poverty issues - or maybe increase our pblicly owned housing stock. Of course these probably aren't vote grabbing ideas but they would provide more long term and sustainable benefit for the people of Cornwall. If you want to see some other great examples of MK's alternative way of looking at things see Rob Simmons excellent piece here.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

OMG - Just stop it now!

It really drives me mad.

A few days ago we had the ConDems pretending to be building 'Affordable Homes' - which of course don't exist.

Now we have Jude Robinson telling us how Labour were so brilliant at building non-existent 'Affordable Homes'.

There is no such thing as Affordable Housing in Cornwall (that ordinary people can actually afford) according to Westminster definitions. It is an indictment of the Westminster unionist parties that they have the gall and cynicism to squabble over which of them is trying to sort out the housing crisis. Give us a proper definition of Affordable - one that relates to what the word means - and then tell us what you have done to address the problem.

MK believe that the only way to sort this problem out is to abandon the Tory policies of the Tories and the Torylite policies of the Lib Dems and Labour, and build houses for public ownership or that are not dependent on developers having to make a big profit to get them built.

The house building market is not building because the market is shot. Developers can't make a profit so they don't build - market forces in action.

Westminster believes in subsidising developers profits to build homes that only MPs and people earning more than them can afford.

MK believes that Cornwall should be offering a fair price for a good quality product where it is required to meet a local need.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The St Piran Play 2012

The St Piran play is one of Cornwall's most iconic St Piran's Day events. It takes place on Gear Sands close to Perranporth on the Sunday closest to St Piran's Day. The audience partake in a pilgrimmage across the dunes to various sites of special relevance to St Piran and watch the legend of St Piran unfold.

This year I volunteered to help the St Piran Trust as they took over the production of the play. I was part of the team which set up the props for the cast to use.

I have volunteered again to help with the same task next year. If anyone is interested in joining me, and gaining a fascinating insight to what goes on behind he scenes of this world famous event, then let me know. You will just need to be able to make an early start at Perranporth on Sunday 4th March 2012.

If you wanted to be even more involved and could spare a few evenings before the play (for rehearsals) you might consider becoming one of the cast - I know the St Piran Trust is planning an even bigger production than last year and are looking for people to take on a role in the play.

More information on the St Piran Trust can be found here.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Two Golden Rules

At the risk of following in Gordon Brown's footsteps I would like to announce that I will be following two Golden Rules in my blogging future.

Both Golden Rules have been inspired by events and people at the MK conference!

Golden Rule 1

Positivity: inspired by Kenneth Gibson MSP.

I will only allow myself to whinge about Westminster politicians and policies if I can put forward a positive alternative.

Golden Rule 2

Relevance: inspired by Matthew Clarke's presentation.

I will only blog about events or items that are relevant to normal, everyday people.

If I have any regular followers out there in the blogosphere, please help me by leaving a comment, or 'Golden Rule Alert' if you think I have broken my Golden Rules.

Mur ras puponen :-)

Why do we want to build new homes?

Why do we want to build more homes?

It sounds like a bit of a daft question really? We need homes to solve the 'housing crisis' is the answer.

But is it?

I recently blogged about the fact that there is no such thing as an affordable house for the average person in Cornwall. So why is the government trying to 'kick-start' the house building market? What is the point in using our taxes to enable developers to build homes that only someone earning the salary of an MP can afford? Building new homes will not solve the housing crisis as long as people can't afford to live in them.

This is the problem with Tory market-driven ideology. We are told that it is important to build new houses in order to provide homes for people - in fact it is simply using our taxes to keep the developers profits going.

How many times do we hear that the free market is the only way to get sutainable growth? If this is true then why does the government want to interfere in that process and keep developers' profits going? It is because houses are to expensive that nobody is buying them - not because there are not enough available. It is the market, which successive governments have allowed and encouraged to get out of control which is the problem. It is no use simply building houses if ordinary people can't buy them - am I completely wrong?

Over the last few days, at our annual conference, MK has spent time in developing a detailed and coherent policy on housing.

We believe that Cornwall needs its own Assembly which can take a different approach. We believe that good quality housing is a fundamental human right and not a privilege for the rich. It is the duty of any responsible government to meet this basic human need - not to boost developers' profits.

What is wrong with building houses for people to live in? What is wrong with building houses that people can afford to rent and to buy if that is their aspiration?

A Cornish Assembly led by MK would not be driven by the need to make a profit or the need to satisfy it's finaciers. One third ofthe cost of a house is profit for the developer. If you eliminate that need then that is an immediate reduction in the cost of a house by 33%.

The buy to let market is functioning 'very nicely thank you' at the moment. Buy to let magnates make a profit by purchasing housing stock and then renting houses to ordinary people. The rent they receive covers the cost of the mortgage and gives the landlord a bonus profit. All the time their capital asset appreciates in value it is being paid for (and then some) by the inflated rent receipt.

If private speculators can make this work, and make large profits, then MK believes that it is possible for the people of Cornwall to build their own houses with a rent that covers the cost of loan without the need for profit. In other words, schemes like this would be self-finacing and would not cost the tax payer anything.

As I stated above, we have a whole raft of policies and proposals for dealing with the housing crisis in Cornwall. Meeting Cornish problems with Cornish solutions - putting Cornwall first.

Mur Ras

I would like to take the opportunity to say a mur ras bras to everyone that pitched in and helped to make sure that the conference ran very smoothly over the two days. I was very much heartened to see everyone work together as a team to create a professional and inspirational event. A particular mention should be made of John Rowe who not only did a lot of work behind the scenes but facilitated the superb presentation from Matthew Clarke. I would also like to thank Pedyr Bennetto whose tireless work on the registration desk and Rhisiart Tal-E-Bot's catering skills meant that I was free to work with Peter Dudley to ensure that the 'big picture' was maintained in focus.

Paul Jenkin put together a great night's entertainment with Hanterhir, Kowethas and An Dysken. Thanks Paul.

I would also like to mention Stuart and Helene Cullimore who were there with the MK stall, raising money for our election campaigns. At least the Shire House Suite was an improvement on the muddy field on a saturday morning that they are used to :-).

Finally - thank you Dick Cole. Thank you for providing inspiration and a vision of a future Cornwall that is fit for purpose for of the people of Cornwall. Thank you for all your tireless efforts throughout the year (not just at conference time) and especially for providing the opportunity for us to listen to Jonathen Edwards and Kenneth Gibson. Our grass roots activists need more of that to encourage them and to show that we are not alone but part of a wider movement that believes that people who live in a place the best people to decide how they should live in that place.

It really was a team effort - a team that I am extremely proud to be a member of.

Let's take this forward and work on the challenge of getting greter electoral representation. A good place to start is with Loveday's campaign in Wendron. Just a few days to go so get in touch with her if you can help in any way.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

MK - 'Ahead of the Curve'

The 60th Anniversary Mebyon Kernow annual conference was a statement of positive intent.

MK believe that the best way to take Cornwall forward is to do it for ourselves. We know what the problems that we face and we know the way to build a better Cornwall for all of the people of Cornwall.

The conference agenda recognised the need to engage with groups accross the political and cultural spectrum. This is why we invited and listened to nine different organisations from accross Cornwall, Wales and Scotland. We know that Cornwall can have a great future and we know that the best way to achieve that is by teamwork and by providing a conduit through which organisations, that are devoted to putting Cornwall first, can channel and amplify their hard work.

The political landscape of the United Kingdom has been changing rapidly over the last few years and is accelerating all the time. With a referendum on Scottish independence now a certainty we are entering territory never witnessed before in living memory. Exciting times - and doubly exciting to be told that MK are 'ahead of the curve' by the SNP who have been responsible for much of that change.

One of the conclusions that we have reached, during an action packed two days, is that our plan will include ways to reach a public that has been turned off politics by the Unionist parties in Westminster, all of whom (without exception) either peddle Tory or 'Torylite' ideology. We will present Cornish solutions to Cornish problems and we will celebrate and communicate Cornish success stories.

Part of the flesh on the bones is the comprehensive policy document on housing and development that has been created. This is another statement of intent. Bespoke Cornish solutions to Cornish problems.

And even more flesh will be added soon. With policy reviews on a Cornish Assembly/Recognition, education, Europe and the environment already well under way (and other sbject areas in the pipeline) we will continue to add substance to the intent.

Monday, 7 November 2011

A Very Constructive Meeting

Tonight I attended a Mebyon Kernow branch meeting.

What struck me was the sheer determination of our members to put Cornwall and the people of Cornwall first.

At the beginning of every meeting (after apologies and the usual formal rigmarole) we have reports from our councillor members - a chance for councillors and other members to catch up and communicate about what is happening in their own individual localities. Over the last year this section has begun to take up a significant amount of time. Tonight we had eight councillors present, from Parish to Unitary level, talking about a wide range of issues from protecting heritage to setting budgets. It was extremely rewarding to see how Mebyon Kernow continues to be involved in local communities, to take part and to lead the way.

At the same time we discussed policy proposals for our upcoming national conference. In particular, tonight, we looked at housing and development policy. Mebyon Kernow is in the process of developing a comprehensive policy that will provide innovative Cornish solutions to Westminster imposed problems.

We are also looking forward to and actively planning for the 2013 unitary elections. We already have three fully ratified prospective candidates in our branch - Cllr Stuart Cullimore, Cllr John Rowe and myself. We also have a list of eight other potential candidates that we are fitting into the jigsaw that is our campaign plan. We are well on course to provide our branch's quota of MK's national target to field 50 candidates in the 2013 elections and with more members joining with each meeting we are looking to do even better.

There is a real 'buzz' in the branch at the moment - and I am hearing the same thing from other branches of MK across Cornwall. This is reflected in the recent flurry of members and councillors defecting from the tarnished Liberal Democrats.

We always welcome new members who want to make a difference and work for a better Cornwall. Please contact me if you think you might want to be part of something exciting and special over the next few years.


That's My Boy!

My son, Sam, has just been elected as a Student Councillor at Staffs University where he is studying Broadcast Media.

I would like to say he is following in his Dad's footsteps but I fear he is already far ahead of me!

He has set up his own political blog (Stoke Elected) and recently managed to secure an exclusive interview with the Leader of the Stoke on Trent Unitary Council. A few months ago he met David Miliband following a debate at Staffs Uni. While he maintains his blog (and keeps his academic studies at a very high grade level) he also helps to report for and present a weekly politics show on student radio.

His involvement in student life at Staffs follows his work at Camborne College where he produced his own newsletter and served on the Student Union, resulting in a Star Award in 2010.

When see reports of young people being involved in gang culture and rioting I believe that I am particularly blessed to have three extremely socially minded children, each of whom I like to think bring something good to the world.

MK Develop Ties With Small Nations

MK Deputy Leader and Cornwall Councillor for Callington, Andrew Long, recently visited Estonia.

See here for Cornish Guardian report.

With a population of just over one million, Estonia is one of many small nations that show that being small doesn't mean you can't be viable as an economic entity.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Affordability - Another Westminster Red Herring

Over the last month or two I have tried to show that the Conservative (supported by their Lib Dem whipping boys) idea of 'Localism' is anything but - especially when it comes to development policy.

There is, sadly, another term that seems to be being scattered like confetti by Westminster politicians. A cynical attempt to fool us into believeing that they are trying to solve the housing crisis in Cornwall.

'Affordable Housing' is the mantra of the politcian that wants us to think that he or she understands the situation and wants to do something about it. If some LibLabCon person mentions Affordable Housing and the dire need for homes for local people it demonstrates their empathy for the struggle that the people of Cornwall are facing. Yeah - right!

The problem is what they mean by 'Affordable Housing' and what we would like to think they mean are very different things.

'Affordable Housing' is actually a specifically defined term to be found in the Department for Communities and Local Government's Policy Statement . There is also information on Cornwall Council's website.

There are basically two parts to Affordable Housing - the rented sector and purchase sector. As the subject of Affordable Housing usually comes up in the media in the context of people being able to buy their own home I mainly looked at what the policy means for people who want to do just that.

Basically Affordable Housing is available to Eligble Households who earn less than Stephen Gilbert MP and who have a development building Affordable Housing within 10 miles or so of where they currently live. If you want to buy your home outright then you may be able to find a house with a "20% - 50% discount" compared to market value.

Given that the average house price in Cornwall is now over £220,000 even a 50% dscount would be £110,000.

I have asked for more information from Cornwall Council as to exacly how many discounted Affordable Homes have been provided in Cornwall over the last year and what the average discount has been and I will blog again when I get this information.

However, in the meantime I will make a few assumptions.

First of all the average price includes all housing and will be distorted by higher value detached houses. I will use £185,000 as the basic market value price. This is the figure for the average semi-detached house in Cornwall.

Secondly I will assume the discount is 25%. I have seen a few schemes where a 20% discount has been offered but never any where 50% was available, so I think 25% is being generous.

This means an average Affordable Home would cost £138,750.

Given the average wage in Cornwall is now £17,000, this means that the average Affordable House is more than 8 times the average wage. Of course this means that, as everyone knows, even an Affordable House isn't affordable.

So what does all this mean?

Well it means that there is no such thing as an Affordable House for the average person in Cornwall.

It means that politicians in Westminster parties are at best being disingenuous at best when they talk about their committment to Affordable Housing because they are merely talking about a committment to something that doesn't exist.

However, there is more harm being done by the Affordable Housing red herring.

The hidden problem is that supposed Affordable Housing is being used to drive development in Cornwall using the fairy tale that housing is being provided for local need as well as developers' greed.

The media allows people who have a vested interest in seing houses built to make comments such as:

"There is a pent up demand for houses."

"There is a housing shortage so we need to build more."

What nobody is ever allowed to say is:

"Building more houses - even Affordable Housing won't allow the average person in Cornwall to buy one."

So who are all the houses for?

They must be for people who can afford them - whoever these people are they are not your average Cornish person on the streets of Camborne, St Austell, Bude or Penzance!

Friday, 4 November 2011

A Duchy Algebra Poser

If the Duke of Cornwall retires to bed at midnight and is woken for breakfast at 9:00am by his staff, will he have trousered more or less than the average person in Cornwall earns in a year?

The answer:

Income from the Duchy = £18m per year.

This is £2054 each and every hour of every day.

9 x £2054 = £18486.

Average Cornish annual wage = £17,000

Therefore, Charles makes approximately £1486 more by getting a good night's sleep than a hard working Cornishman earns in a year.

A while back I saw comments on Facebook which maintained that it was obscene that prima donna footballers were earning hundreds of thousands of pounds while soldiers in Afghanistan were being payed peanuts for possibly sacrificing their lives.

I totally agree with those Facebook comments. The point is though, that it is society that chooses to pay over-inflated ticket prices at football matches while it elects a government that not only fails to look after its soldiers but fails to equip them properly as well. If society really wanted to change things it could refuse to pay the ticket price and could elect a government that would look after its soldiers.

It is obscene that footballers earn so much more than people who are prepared to lay down their lives. It also obscene that Charles Windsor, through an accident of birth, should receive more money for going to bed than a normal person would earn in a year and that all this is cloaked in secrecy and never subject to any electoral review.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Private Estate Myth Unravelling Fast!

The Duchy of Cornwall website informs us that the Duchy is a 'private estate'.

Earlier this week the Guardian headlined the news that the Duke of Cornwall, by rights accrued through the Duchy of Cornwall, had been consulted on parliamentary legislation and could have possibly vetoed that legislation.

Of course the question is how can a 'private individual' have constitutional rights?

None of this is news to Cornish constitutional campaigners who, for decades, have been questioning how the Duke can claim all of the benefits of a constitutional body (which is what the Duchy really is) and yet completely ignore the responsibilities that it brings.

Today the decision defining the duchy as a public body under environmental regulations was made by the First-Tier Tribunal on information rights, a court that deals with disputes relating to freedom of information.

It seems that the myth of the Duchy of Cornwall being merely a private estate is unravelling fast.

Apparently Duchy officials are: "reviewing the Tribunal's reasons for reaching its conclusion with a view to establishing whether to appeal the decision"

Not an easy decision for an organisation that has sought to peddle the private estate myth and shroud the Duchy in secrecy.

Mebyon Kernow has consistently called for a full inquiry into the true status of the Duchy of Cornwall.