"Devonwall" seat proposal – the government ignore Cornish pride at their peril

The Strand, Bude by paul walterThe Strand, Bude, Cornwall
On Wednesday I was lucky enough to be in a choir leading the singing of “Trelawny” in an ancient Cornish church. “Trelawny” or “The Song of Western Men” is the “unofficial Cornish national anthem” written by Rev R.S. Hawker. The congregation joined in with the choruses – most enthusiastically – and rapturous applause from “one and all” followed the song. It was a magical moment and reinforced that great feeling of community which one feels amongst Cornish people. There’s a real passion and pride about the Cornish nation.

The Boundary Commissioners and Theresa May should have been present at that church. I have a hunch that witnessing such strength of feeling, they would think again about their proposals for a “Devonwall” seat. The church in question is just south of Bude and part of the proposed parliamentary constituency of Bideford, Bude and Launceston, straddling Devon and Cornwall – or, I should say, Cornwall and England.

Of course, sitting in London looking at a map, it all makes sense. You can’t make the numbers work so you have to spill over into another county.

It all makes sense in a similar way to the proposal of the then chairman of Bude Stratton Urban District Council in the sixties, who said Bude should be part of a council area shared with parts of North Devon. The bin lorries would have less distance to travel and the water pipes would be shorter, blah blah blah. The chairman had the audacity to put the matter to a local referendum (it all seems incredible in retrospect but I promise you it happened). A public meeting was held at the Headland Pavilion on the cliffs at Bude. The chairman went on and on, as did a number of experts. Money saved, less distance travelled, much closer to Bideford than Truro, blah blah blah blah blah. After an hour of this stuff, a well known retired County Councillor stood up. He was a big man with a big voice. He simply said:

You’re missing the point. We’re Cornish and we are proud to be Cornish!

The subsequent cheering, applause and stamping of feet brought the house down. The local feeling was made clear and the referendum was lost by about 600 votes against and a dozen or so in favour.

Such is the strength of feeling. Cornwall is not a simple county like other counties. A government announcement in 2014 said:

…the proud history, unique culture, and distinctive language of Cornwall will be fully recognised under European rules for the protection of national minorities.

The decision to recognise the unique identity of the Cornish, now affords them the same status under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as the UK’s other Celtic people, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish. For the first time the government has recognised the distinctive culture and history of the Cornish.

So, the Boundary Commissioners wouldn’t propose a parliamentary constituency half in Wales and half in England, or half in Scotland and half in England – so why the hell are they proposing a constituency half in Cornwall and half in England?

I’m delighted to say that Cornwall Liberal Democrats are strongly fighting this proposal, as written on their Facebook page:

Frances Tippett, Chair of Cornwall Liberal Democrats – and former Councillor for the northernmost parishes of Morwenstow, Kilkhampton and Launcells – said: “We support the principle of equally sized constituencies, but only if flexibility is applied to take account of natural communities; and this vast rural constituency could hardly be seen as that.

“This boundary review was always flawed, based on a Tory calculation that it would gain them seats. The losers from their cynicism will be the poor and disadvantaged across Cornwall and beyond, those who feel so let down by the political system that they do not register to vote and therefore are not counted when these reviews are done; yet are the very people whose interests should be paramount in all that we do in the future.

“As the Electoral Reform Society point out, the real scandal here is that the poor and marginalised will be less not more represented in our democracy, and so I urge local people on both sides of the border to hold their Conservative MPs to account and to oppose these unnecessary and damaging proposals.”

Dan Rogerson, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for North Cornwall, and former MP, added: “In the last Parliament, Cornwall’s Liberal Democrat MPs voted against similar proposals and blocked them. Now Cornwall has six Conservative MPs. The people of the Duchy will be watching to see whether the hapless six have the ear of the Prime Minister and can change her mind on this, or whether they are powerless lobby-fodder for this anti-Cornwall Government.”

I’ve got a feeling that Theresa May will soon realize she has made a mistake here, when she hears the strength of feeling in Cornwall about this. Perhaps she should just watch “Poldark”. Ross Poldark miraculously got off a charge of starting a riot and encouraging theft/smuggling in last week’s episode. Except it wasn’t that miraculous when you consider that, as I understand it, no Cornish jury ever convicted any Cornish person of smuggling. There was such a sense of Cornish identity and feeling of the struggle against the powers of government and big business, that it never happened. And that sense of identity and struggle continues today. Theresa May messes with it at her peril.

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