What all the wise men promised would happen has not happened and what all the damned fools said would happen has come to pass (Lord Melbourne)

The other day the Department for work and pensions (DWP) quietly published a report on the first five months (April-August 2013) of the working of the bedroom tax. There are problems with the report (as discussed excellently by Joe Halewood here) but it found a minimal number of social rent tenants had downsized in the social rent sector, extremely few had moved into the private rented sector, a fifth of tenants had paid not a penny of the shortfall in rent caused for them by the bedroom tax benefit cut, and those tenants who had paid all or some were cutting back on some essentials.

It wasn’t supposed to be like that. No wonder the DWP put out the report as the Cabinet reshuffle filled the news.

What was it supposed to be like?

First, let me remind you that Tories and Libdems (with very few Libdem exceptions) backed the introduction of the bedroom tax to the hilt and in the face of clear monitory advice that the ill-effects that have indeed come to pass would do so. The Tory Libdem government were obdurate about the tax, including the difficulties it would cause to adult disabled people, while shouting it was fair, that fuzziness so loved by Libdems.

The Huffington Post has a scarring record of Nick Clegg’s support for the tax on eight occasions.

The Tories and Libdems said the tax would persuade social rent tenants living in a house deemed too large for their needs would move into a smaller house. Opponents pointed out there were not enough smaller houses; this policy would not happen; it hasn’t, it turns out that there are not enough smaller houses.

Opponents pointed out the difficulties that would be caused to adult disabled tenants; the Tories and Libdems ploughed on; and the difficulties have indeed happened.

Opponents warned of serious financial difficulties with an impact on their everyday lives would be caused to tenants already poor; the Tory Libdems persisted while crying fairness; the adverse impacts have happened.

The numbers affected by the tax are problematic and the promised savings have not come about.

Libdems and the bedroom tax

The Libdem party has said the tax should be radically changed. This is hardly a response to surprise evidence: the DWP report covers only the first five months of the tax and the adverse impacts were well rehearsed before it came into force. No, this is more a Westminster than a Damascus conversion: Libdem policy is now influenced by 6 May 2015, the next general election. Having spent four years up to their elbows in reactionary Tory policies, Libdems now wish us to believe they are not Tories: the Land Registry will not be privatised, nor tuition fee loans, the wisdom of 6 May.

The damaging reorganisation and privatisation of the NHS, free schools, tuition fees, abolition of the farmworkers pay board, hit-the-poor welfare changes … Libdems voted for all these. The Libdems were also at the heart of the sell off of part of Royal Mail for what amounts to a £1 billion loss to the taxpayer.

Cornwall MPs and the bedroom tax

The record is brutal. Andrew George (Libdem St Ives) has consistently opposed the tax and he has a private member’s bill that will repeal it. (He has also opposed several of the other toxic Tory Libdem policies.)

For how Stephen Gilbert and Dan Rogerson (Libdem, St Austell and Newquay; North Cornwall) have voted on the bedroom tax see my post Cornwall Libdem MPs support-oppose-who-knows bedroom tax (14 February 2014). The three Tory MPs have backed it.

I just watch

Well, I think it’s going to be fun reading what the Libdem party says now the election draws close. As Will Rogers very nearly said: I don’t make jokes. I just watch the Liberal Democrats and report the facts.

Lord Melbourne (William Lamb): 1779-1848, Whig/Liberal prime minister

Will Rogers: 1879-1935, USA political comedian etc


17 February 2014

The Sunday Mirror published this article about Dan Rogerson, Libdem MP for North Cornwall and since last October minister for floods. This was was picked up by the local media here. Rogerson has issued a robust refutation. Support for Rogerson’s work from Downing Street is quoted in the local media.

There seems to have been an attempt by the Libdems to rally support on twitter and I see that Alex Folkes, the Libdem Cornwall unitary councillor for Launceston Central, has tweeted the supportive comment from Downing Street.

Four Cornwall MPs represent their parties as members of the House of Commons select committees:

EUSTICE George (Conservative Camborne and Redruth) Environment, food, and rural affairs select committee
GEORGE Andrew (LD St Ives) Health
GILBERT Stephen (LD St Austell and Newquay) Communities and local government
ROGERSON Dan (LD North Cornwall) Environment, food, and rural affairs


8 July 2010

In the debate in the Commons the other day about the Tory Libdem government’s plans for changing electoral arrangements, Dan Rogerson, the Libdem MP for North Cornwall, said that there was a “boundary between Cornwall and England” (Hansard 5 July 2010 column 37).

Nick Clegg, replying for the government said: “I am sure many of his constituents would be delighted to know that they are also citizens of England and the UK.”

I agree with Nick.

Furthermore, it’s not just people in North Cornwall but throughout Cornwall. Today Cornwall is part of England.

Will Cornwall spill over? 7 July 2010

UPDATE 24 October 2009
The bill has run out of time and will not be debated or voted on this parliamentary session.

ORIGINAL POST 15 September 2009
A bill to create a Cornish assembly, similar to the Welsh one, was introduced in the Commons in July 2009 by Dan Rogerson, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Cornwall. The bill offers one form of change out of the many possible and it focuses on Cornwall only. Public response to it in Cornwall has been very limited and has ranged from cynicism to support, most people in Cornwall showing no discernible interest. The second reading is on 16 October 2009 but the bill is very unlikely to be reached by the Commons that day and will die. Nevertheless, I should like to look at the ideas and practicalities of the bill, especially as talk of wider change in local government throughout England is in the air.

You can read the text of the bill here.

A greater say
The question of the empowerment of Cornwall has been around for some time and attempts to give direction to these stirrings have been made in the last few years. For example, the case for a regional assembly was pressed by a lobby, the Cornish Constitutional Convention; and in 2000-2001 a petition calling for “a greater say” and an assembly got about 41 000 signatures from Cornwall residents. The question bubbles in the background though most people appear unengaged with it. However, undoubtedly many people in Cornwall want — well, what exactly? I think that different people may well interpret “a greater say” differently, stretching from the strengthening of the current form of local government administration to full independence; and the word “assembly” may well carry similarly diverse meanings for individuals. It is important to put forward all the possibilities and practicalities and be very clear about them so that there is for people in Cornwall an informed debate and genuine consultation.

Democratic deficits
We do not know exactly what form of independence or devolution or decentralisation people in Cornwall might or might not want; we are plagued by the scope for interpretation of people’s views. In 2009 there is a place for an open and thoroughgoing debate for all the people in Cornwall about the different sorts of change that might be had in the governing of Cornwall, a democratic opportunity after the undemocratic imposition of a unitary council. Alas, the bill was introduced into parliament without that; and there is no provision in the bill for the assembly to be ratified by a vote of people in Cornwall. These democratic deficits diminish the bill.

Change throughout England
People in any place would probably say that they want more say in what affects their lives. I think decentralisation, in the sense of local decision-making, is popular everywhere and a case can be made for ‘assemblies’ in every county and city, along with enhanced powers for lesser councils. The debate in England about these possibilities of decentralisation, subdued but not wholly silenced after the defeat of Labour’s regional scheme for the northeast, has now been animated by the input of Conservative party ideas which are discussed here. Of course, Conservative governments have a record of emasculating local government so their present pre-election ideas for strengthening it must be taken with salt and caution. Labour and Libdems, are also broadly in favour of decentralisation, and for all I know the Monster Raving Looney party is too. Indeed, no one seems to be against it in principle and fuzziness. It is, initially at any rate, in this context that any debate in Cornwall should be placed even though the Rogerson bill is about devolution not decentralisation and local government change.

However, these debates have not yet engaged many people in Cornwall or the rest of England: nationalist noise isn’t numbers.

Let me now look at finance, where, I think, the bill is noticeably lacking.

Where will the money come from?
All governments need money; indeed, it is a foundation stone of governments and they cannot effectively exist without it. Section 38 of the bill deals with the funding of a devolved Cornwall; it is very brief — the section dealing with the remuneration of assembly members is twice as long — and says that the Cornish Assembly will get money for its work directly from UK taxpayers through the UK parliament. As far as I can see there is no provision which gives the assembly direct powers to levy or vary income tax in Cornwall.

There seem to be no other sources of money for the assembly other than the UK (and presumably the EU) though, as the assembly would also be a local council, perhaps it will levy, collect, and spend local council tax. I’m not at all clear about council tax as revenue for the assembly because the bill isn’t. There should be much more clarity on the entire financial issue but the basis does seem to be UK taxpayers collectively handing over money, presumably on the basis of the discredited Barnett formula, to the assembly to spend as it wishes.

A reliance on all UK taxpayers to pay for Cornish nationalist schemes undermines them. A bold and confident nationalism would turn away from supplication and look to the assembly’s work being wholly financed by tax raised only in Cornwall.

Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government
Arguments for decentralisation and devolution in England are usually cast in terms of sound governance, that is, more power for local people, more responsiveness to them and their concerns, greater efficiency, better outcomes for people, and the saving of money for taxpayers (as the arguments were for the unitary council though few agreed). A Cornish assembly, it is sometimes claimed without convincing evidence, will revive and develop the economy of Cornwall. No doubt the bill’s supporters advance such arguments for it but the popular emphasis of this bill seems to me to be Libdem nationalism-lite.

Commenting on the bill on his website Rogerson says, “Cornwall is a unique part of the country and this should be reflected in the way it is governed” and he equates Cornwall with Wales and Scotland. In as far as they seek to identify Cornwall as singularly different from the rest of England, those are straightforward and routine political nationalist arguments which remove Cornwall from a general debate about decentralisation within England and take us away from regional devolution for Cornwall as part of England to Cornwall as a separate country within the UK.

Rogerson claims that there is a will in Cornwall “to be recognised as its own nation”. That will is not universal: some people in Cornwall see Cornwall as its own nation, a country separate from England, and wish that recognised, some do not and see Cornwall as a county of England. I think that both views should be candidly acknowledged. Let us remember that explicit Cornish political nationalism has been consistently rejected by much the most voters in election after election and was again rejected by a decisive majority of voters in June’s local and European elections (see here). The last nationalist endeavour, the Cornish Fighting Fund, failed.

Rogerson dives into contested history to say that “constitutionally, Cornwall has the right to a level of self-government”. The feebleness of these words — it begins majestically as a constitutional right and peters out in timid “level of self-government” — does not convince. The Aristotle’s teeth post on this website challenges such attempts to resuscitate a medieval corpse.

People in Cornwall, including those who see themselves as Cornish, know that they can celebrate local culture and achievements and their Cornish identity without being a political nationalist. They know they can support local decision-making without being a nationalist and without wishing to see Cornwall separate from England.

MK says No
The bill does not satisfy the explicit nationalists. The Mebyon Kernow party (MK) has described the bill as “flawed” and insufficiently ambitious. It rightly points out that the bill mixes a country and a local authority; it would leave a rehashed Cornwall Council as a legislative assembly and dealing with refuse collection and routine planning applications. MK would like a bill that gives Cornwall the powers of the parliament of Scotland. That appears clear but perhaps there is an ambiguity: does MK mean the current position or do its aims stretch to the more ambitious independence apparently desired by Scottish nationalists? What is MK’s ultimate vision for Cornwall? The party should be clear with us about this.

Localism has drawbacks
I think an argument can be made for decentralisation to areas of England although there are difficulties in localism that decentralisers tend to ignore. I have outlined some of them here and add that decentralisation and localism in England, and especially the Tory sort, may turn out to be largely privatisation and cuts; the quality of local decision-making is variable; and there are reasonable concerns about the heightened vulnerability of localism to parochial prejudices — for example, think about affordable housing and nimbys.Tory decentralisation ideas include the localisation of benefit rates which will adversely affect the level of payments in Cornwall and I think the minimum wage is hardly safe with localisers as a wage that pays the same rate throughout England. There may even be localising challenges to paying national pay rates in places like Cornwall which would be damaging to people like teachers and nurses here. I have not come across any coherent explication of what should be left to locals and what should be reserved to central government.

The way to do it
It is in the initial context of a general and ongoing program of decentralisation throughout England that the case for Cornwall should be made not on the ‘fly-blown phylacteries’ of an unconvincing political nationalism. The bill will deservedly fail because it fractures the case for coherent decentralisation across England; and in centring its appeal on the particularist sentiments of Cornish political nationalism it excludes many in Cornwall who do not share them.

Indeed, I have indicated that there are several possible forms for local empowerment from full-blown independence outside the UK to an enhanced county or city status within England; and there is variety within those forms. There are different levels of financial independence possible too and different legislatures. Of course, not every area will wish to have the same degree or form of local self-government.

The bill has not gone to parliament with the full-hearted support of all the people of Cornwall. Better to inclusively explore with the whole people of Cornwall the pragmatic arguments for change and the range of options, including those options which keep Cornwall within England and those which take it out of England and perhaps out of the UK. When a consensus or majority view is clear, the case can be taken to parliament. This Libdem shortcut is unacceptable.

Parliamentary support
The Government of Cornwall bill was supported at its introductory first reading by the other Cornwall MPs (all Liberal Democrats) and two Scottish nationalists and one Welsh nationalist, along with a Labour MP (Hansard 14 July 2009 column 174).

Strange women…Dennis responding to king Arthur’s talk about the Lady of the Lake and the sword Excalibur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Fly-blown phylacteries: Rosebery’s description of the views of some of the Liberal party, 1901

MK response to the bill