30 May 2011

I have remarked again and again that Cornwall is not one uniform place economically. Of course there is also a need for an economic policy for the county as a whole but if we wish to help tackle deprivation among people we must focus on the areas and schools where poverty is sharpest. Look again at the deprivation data.

Nor is Cornwall culturally uniform. Social class divides as strongly as ever and so does age and the response to contemporary outside influences. Cultural diffusion works variously in Cornwall and throughout England.

These dissimilarities are common to most counties and cities. A common name covers much diversity.

New peripheries and a new centre
There are divisions too that go to the neighbourhoods in a localism that eclipses the unitary and centre.

In this Disunitary post I noted the views from Penzance and Davidstow and Wadebridge. However, concerns have apparently moved from a lack of understanding of local views to include the distribution of county resources. Read the recent views of some unitary Libdem councillors here about the unitary council’s focus of economic development on the area of Truro, Camborne, and Falmouth. Writing in the Cornishman for 26 May its regular columnist says the unitary council is spending much on development in Truro and Camborne while “leaving the west to rot”. These are genuine concerns about the distribution in Cornwall of development resources; what follows is my take.

Not adventive incomers against indigenes but new peripheries and a new centre; and it seems to me that the unitary council is beginning to be talked of in the same terms as the Westminster parliament is by nationalism: a distant centre, lacking understanding of locality. Truro is the new Westminster.

This natural parochialism and tension between periphery and centre in Cornwall is found everywhere in England, and elsewhere I expect. People look to their immediate neighbourhood first and to a wider world of county and country and planet only later. I think liberalism, a wider view, a generous foregoing to people miles away, depends not only upon an abstract sense of justice but also upon feeling materially comfortable in one’s life, along with a belief that the administration tries to achieve overall fairness.

Cornubia discissa
I am challenging here the nationalist over-emphasis on a uniform and united one-and-all Cornwall, a romantic notion, by pitching the reality of Cornubia discissa and the biting reality of localism. It is unrealistic to suppose that a Cornish assembly, a parliament for all Cornwall, would know what was best for every corner of Cornwall and would not face, like the unitary council, these local dissents and concerns and would always put the interests of the whole county first. Indeed, it is the dual role of a councillor to put forward the interests of his patch and also of the whole county and those interests sometimes differ. As I wrote in the post One cornwall, many Cornwalls: “The talk of one Cornwall is entirely political and entirely unrelated to reality for people who live here. People who believe Cornwall is a political and national entity and should therefore have a devolved/independent government stress the oneness and tend to disregard the important differences. Cornish political nationalism totalises varying experiences and views.” That is its flaw.

Which localism?
Localism brings tensions which have not been sufficiently explored by its advocates and from which nationalism turns away. Which localism prevails? Are people happy with different geographies having different public services or levels of service, a post code lottery which is the natural outcome of localism? How do we enable individual choice or, more realistically, maximise individual preferences? Why should devolution stop at Truro, why not devolution to my neighbourhood and indeed to me?