30 April 2010

What would life be like here if policies on principle had distinct versions for Cornwall? If they recognised Cornwall’s difference and distinctiveness that nationalism in all parties cries up? Well, I’ve argued in several posts that localism has drawbacks which are largely unexplored by its advocates. In this post I set out why I think localism, specificating Cornwall, with policies geared to Cornwall, could have undesirable results for many people here: pay and benefits and the minimum wage, presently based on national standards, could worsen for us under localist and distinct policies for Cornwall.

Look at the instructive example of the minimum wage.

In 1997-1998 Labour, in the teeth of drawn-out opposition from the Conservatives who had abolished the wages councils in 1993, legislated for the minimum wage. The Liberal Democrats advocated regional minimum wages. Labour insisted on a mandatory national minimum wage: centralism at work.

Now why was that? Why did Labour refuse to acknowledge in the minimum wage what nationalism bruits, Cornish difference? Why did they not propose a version of the minimum wage specifically for Cornwall and its distinctive economic circumstances but instead insist on a geographically undifferentiated national minimum wage and include Cornwall on equal terms in that?

In the parliamentary debates on the wage, Candy Atherton (Labour MP, Camborne and Falmouth) gave telling examples of extremely low wages in her constituency. She explained exactly why a national wage was necessary: “If we allowed regional rates, Cornwall would become the low pay capital of Britain for all time” (House of Commons Standing Committee D, 4th sitting, 20 January 1998) and she rightly pointed out that “the Liberal Democrats and the Tories are arguing to keep Cornish workers in poverty” (ibidem).

Low-paid workers in Cornwall are better off because “Cornish difference” was not recognised when it came to the minimum wage. A Cornwall minimum wage would have meant lower than national minimum pay for low-paid workers here.

The Liberal Democrats have come to their senses (though they wobbled in 2003) but I doubt the Tories: again see here for example.

The minimum wage, winter fuel payment, child tax credit, free bus passes, the state old age pension, and so on and so on, workers, children, the elderly: these are not fantastical promises but delivered goods for people in Cornwall and they reflect countrywide standards applied equally to Cornwall. On these important goods people here are not short-changed with different and distinctive and lesser localism. Where there is a present unjustified adversity in funding (in health, for example, in Cornwall and eighty other authorities) it is not because Cornwall or the others are treated differently on principle; redressing historic funding differences in an orderly fashion is under way.

The real pro-Cornish agenda is not playing at constitutions but rather recognising the people of Cornwall by firmly including us in national expectations and insisting national standards apply to us, not localising and specificating us. Against that expansive, inclusive, and progressive reality, nationalism offers kvetching, theorising, and frothy custard.

Minimum wage bill: 2nd reading 16 December 1997, in Standing Committee D 13 January 1998-17 February 1998, 3rd reading 3 March 1998

Cornwall specificated
Tories eye benefits and wages in Cornwall

Vote Tory today, cry tomorrow

Cornwall included equally in Labour’s positive work
What has Labour ever done for Cornwall?


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