24 November 2010

This is a miscellany about the Cornwall boundary question brought out by the Parliamentary voting system and constituencies (PVSC) bill of the Tory Libdem government.

What do people in Cornwall think of a Cornwall-Devon constituency?
There are about 430 000 adults in Cornwall: what do they think? Paul Myners in the House of Lords debate said that “the feeling in Cornwall” about the cross-county question was “absolutely intense” (Hansard 15 November 2010 column 591). That is true for those campaigning but let me try to give a snapshot at 24 November of some indications of public numbers, of how many people in Cornwall and outside Cornwall have felt strongly enough to take action to express their views about the boundary question publicly.

An online petition organised by Jude Robinson, the chair of Cornwall county Labour party, has 413 named signatories.

A well-publicised rally at Saltash, organised by Keep Cornwall Whole, drew small numbers – supporters say five hundred which is not an eye-watering number.

The website of Keep Cornwall Whole lists organisations and the unitary council and two dozen parish/town councils in Cornwall that support it. The website carries 161 supportive comments as far as I can see; and there are 1642 members of the facebook group – though I’m not sure exactly what such membership signifies.

Mebyon Kernow (MK), the nationalist party, is running a petition against a cross-county constituency but I cannot find any figures for the support it has gathered.

The 38 degrees website has 781 votes for a campaign against a cross-county constituency.

All six Cornwall MPs oppose a cross-county constituency.

Some supporters have reasonably signed up to several aspects of the campaign which means that numbers cannot be aggregated as they overlap to an extent.

Note that there may well have been other public support that I have not come across – I haven’t looked at blogs and twitter for example – and of course I am unaware of how many other people have privately expressed their opposition to MPs and others.

All in all, I think there is little evidence that many people in Cornwall are much concerned about this question. Noise and intensity aren’t numbers. Note that I am talking here about numbers not the nature or quality of the arguments.

Does the PVSC bill change the border of Cornwall and Devon?
No, that boundary remains as it has been since the nineteenth century. The unitary council governs and will govern exactly the same area as when it was set up in 2009; the county border is unchanged by the PVSC bill. Cornwall remains Cornubia intacta.

Eleanor Laing (Conservative MP) has made a similar point: “traditional boundaries are traditional boundaries and I really do not believe that Cornwall as an entity, the wonderful county of Cornwall, will be really affected in any way at all as far as its feeling about being Cornish is concerned because a little bit of Devon might go into one of its seats” (Daily Politics, BBC, 25 October 2010).

And in the Commons David Heath, the Libdem minister argued: “I simply do not accept that Cornwall will be any the less ‘Cornwall’ if it is represented by a member who also represents part of Devon.” (Hansard 1 November 2010 column 686 ).

However, as the PVSC bill provides for more frequent boundary reviews and the size of the electorate changes, the boundary of any new constituency in eastern Cornwall and western Devon might change often.

Has the boundary been unchanged for a thousand years?
No, it has been changed, a little.

This Phillimore introduction to Domesday gives some of the early changes. I have indicated in the Boundaries 4 post that consequent on the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844 there were other changes. All of these are reasonably described as minor.

The boundary also deviates from the course of the Tamar a little in north east Cornwall.

Was the boundary delineated a thousand years ago?
Probably. There is a brief mention of this in Gesta regum Anglorum, a history by a monk called William of Malmesbury. Writing in Latin in the twelfth century, he says, without explanation, that Athelstan, king of the West Saxons and indeed of all England, drove the Cornish from Exeter, where they had been living as equals with the English. He drove them beyond the river Tamar which he set as the boundary between them and the English: “terminum provinciae suae citra Tambram fluvium constituens”.

This is the only source for this incident, about sixty words; there is no explanation for the expulsion but a previous attack by the Cornish upon the English seems the most likely; there is no extant corroboration of William’s story and that should be borne in mind when reciting it. Incidentally, the text does not give a date for this but 936 is a plausible one.

Is the county boundary crossed today?
Yes. There was a Cornwall-Plymouth constituency for the European parliament and since 1999 Cornwall has been part of the multi-member European constituency of the south west.

What local housing allowance a claimant in private rental accommodation receives is related to local market rents. For this purpose the country is divided into areas called broad rental market areas (BRMA) within each of which the rental housing market is similar. These do not correspond to local authority boundaries. Cornwall falls into three BRMAs: Plymouth BRMA includes the city of Plymouth and part of west Devon and part of east Cornwall; North Cornwall and Devon Borders BRMA includes parts of north west Devon and parts of north and east Cornwall; Kernow West BRMA covers the rest of Cornwall. Thus Cornwall already shares two BRMAs with Devon.

In practical terms geography means that patients in southeast Cornwall generally go to Derriford hospital in Plymouth rather than Treliske hospital in Truro. Many people living in southeast Cornwall work and earn in Plymouth, Devon. Much of southeast Cornwall is in the Plymouth travel-to-work area.

Added 24 February 2011: Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011

The William of Malmesbury quotation is from HARDY TD (ed) Gesta regum Anglorum, London 1840, vol 1, book 2, section 134, page 214.

Added 14 November 2011: The 38 degrees website allows people to vote more than once for their favourite campaign proposal; the Keep Cornwall Whole proposal had 359 individual supporters and 837 votes.

Related posts
Boundaries 9 September 2010
Boundaries 2 15 September 2010
Boundaries 3 17 September 2010
Boundaries 4 11 October 2010