13 December 2014
The superfluity of words in the unitary council’s hazy draft document, the Case for Cornwall, boils down to two demands: give us more money and let us spend it as we choose, though of course the demands are not put in so candid a form. The ‘we’ is the unitary councillors. Always ask Who decides? and do not be blinded by first person plurality.
Note that this is seeking the enhancement of local government, not the semi-independence of political Cornish nationalism.
How much more money is sought? How will it be spent and for what purposes? Ah, let us see.
Present deficiencies in Cornwall
The document lists some of the well-known present deficiencies in Cornwall such as low paid work, seasonal work, low productivity, unemployment, modest educational achievements of many, high house prices. As it says, “Our economy is underperforming”.
It lists the work the empowered council will do such as focusing on low wages levels, improving skill levels, providing affordable and decent housing, providing private sector investment, improving productivity, even tackling inequality.
It is a noble list: these are the ills and we shall cure them with more money and more powers to decide what to do.
Yes, yes, but how? How will the council – probably eventually called an assembly like London’s – grow the economy of Cornwall? How will it increase low wages? Provide affordable housing? Improve skill levels? Improve productivity? Provide private sector investment? Reduce unemployment? How will it reduce inequality? How will it increase life expectancy in areas of Cornwall where it is low? How?
There is a difference between glittering generalities and concrete plans. No one would dissent significantly from the diagnosis, what needs tackling though I think many would doubt the self-confidence of the present council that overflows in the document. However, if the council wishes to command belief it must explain how it would do these things. It is exact in identifying some sources for the money it wants; it must also be exact in explaining exactly how it would use that money and those powers, if it got them, to realise its goals.
This supposes that there is a link between local government empowerment and more funds on the one hand and economic growth and social goods on the other. I do not think that link has been convincingly demonstrated in reality or theory. The council’s response earlier this year to the inquiry on fiscal devolution to cities and city regions struck me as an unconvincing account of the link.
How much money?
The council’s response to the above inquiry also sets out its serious lack of knowledge on the possibilities of financial self-sufficiency in Cornwall: “We have been unable to assess the level of information that we need to create a comprehensive picture of income and expenditure for Cornwall”.
Downsizing local government
I have another concern. The document robotically calls for “fairer funding” for Cornwall, not an objective and absolute figure as the immediately above section shows but the code for unsatisfactory comparisons and more money, but the austere future will be less funding. There is scant recognition in the document that local government is changing in this time of austerity; vast cuts in funds are quietly and radically downsizing it, reducing it, withering it. The ability to deliver public services at a reasonable level is being compromised. The document scarcely explains the future will be pared down and does not assure us that there are worked out plans that take that into account in the devolution demands. The document does not explain how a downsized, underfunded Cornwall Council will deliver its goals.
I think the document also fails to acknowledge that it is describing the current contingent economic model not an essential one. It places too much reliance on what it calls Cornwall’s “defined geography”, an extraordinarily narrow perspective in the vicinal and cooperative world of 2014. The incoherence is realised as there is an anxious assurance that the isolationism isn’t isolationist and the council works with other bodies outside “defined” Cornwall.
The council’s view of itself in the document is not only too self-confident; it disregards the concern that it disregards the interests of Cornwall’s far flung parts. There are complaints that the council is over-focused on Truro. The council’s own localist agenda amounts to little more than offloading difficult services such public lavatories, more cloacalism than localism.
The draft document was accompanied by political nationalist ideas: “The Cornish have minority status, we have one heritage.” I understand pride in Cornishness but the political nationalism is a misdirection of reality in the county. In the 2011 census 59 percent of people in Cornwall gave their nationality as solely English; 10 percent gave it as exclusively Cornish. The heritage of the majority of people in Cornwall includes far more than only Cornwall. The document should acknowledge the diversity in Cornwall, the value of all nationalities and cultures in Cornwall, and explain the place of English people and culture in its devolved Cornwall.
Of course political nationalism may be being used only as a marketing tool for an economic devolution argument, a bolster for that argument; perhaps Cornish is intended to mean everyone who lives in Cornwall. But consider that bit in the document about cornishing English Heritage in the county. Why? What is the justification for this? None is given. What would be the practical difference if a local organisation ran the Cornwall sites? None whatever apart perhaps from some partisan history; it is naked, pointless, petty, tribal political nationalism.
27 August 2014
A month ago I explained in the post MK stranded in yesterday that Mebyon Kernow (MK), the Cornwall nationalist party, was being left behind in devolution debates and stuck with a medieval model. That post looked at the positive comments on devolution in England from Andrew Adonis of the Labour party.
Labour pushes devolution in England
Now in a letter of 25 August 2014 to local authorities, Hilary Benn has reinforced Labour’s devolution message for England. Both Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties also support devolution in England. MK’s devolution fox is shot. They are not the party for Cornwall but the party for yesterday.
Benn, the shadow secretary of state for local government, says Labour will “pass power, money, and responsibility” to local authorities who will be expected to work cooperatively with one another. Labour will devolve “£30 billion of existing public spending over the next five years” to local councils and local economic bodies for the funding of growth projects decided by those local councils and bodies. Councils that prove themselves competent will be able to negotiate for more devolution of powers.
Response to asymmetrical devolution
Labour is giving convincing details of its England devolution project. The project is a belated but welcome response to the rising awareness among people in England that their country was disadvantaged by devolution to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The devolution asymmetry has caused unacceptable anomalies such as MPs from Scotland voting on laws that basically apply only to England, the asymmetrical distribution of the Barnett formula and its consequences for public services in the four component countries, the divergent party political support in those four. Labour seems to have come to a commendable understanding that the present arrangements are unsustainable and there must be democratic change for England.
It is especially welcome that Labour’s ideas are not bound up in an inflexible model, the failed regionalisation model. Now we are being offered an elastic and practical scheme that encourages cooperation across boundaries that have often been unhelpfully rigid. This reduces the likelihood that localisation will turn into parochialism and a postcode lottery of provision and opportunities.
How petty and parochial and irrelevant the Tamar obsession seems set against this.
Incidentally,there is a welcome promise in Benn’s letter to secure the building of more homes – again a contrast with Cornish political nationalism – but no acknowledgement of the last Labour government’s appalling record in this sphere, the worst domestic inaction of any Labour government in Britain, I think. That dismal record reflects the comfortably housed Labour cabinet’s utter failure over thirteen years in government to grasp the importance of house building, especially affordable housing, and I wonder whether the party is yet ready to prioritise housing.
Will it happen?
Of course all parties support devolution in England in opposition but have a less glittering record in office. Will it be different this time? I think it will because there is a keener awareness in central government of its limitations and a more realistic approach to devolution by local government. Localisation in a time of austerity also handily throws responsibilities and flak upon local authorities.
The irrelevance of MK
MK, the party of yesterday, is a failure. It has failed to attract much support for its signature proposal, a Cornish legislative assembly. Since I wrote my last post on this six weeks ago only six more signatures have been added and of course not all are from Cornwall. Remember the failures of political nationalism that I have charted: Campaign Kernow, the Cornish Fighting Fund, the petitions for an assembly, the petitions for a holiday on St Piran’s day. I sense that nationalism is now reluctantly with understandable disappointment and bewilderment facing up to MK as a failed political cause, oh dolor repulsae. I have pointed out several times MK’s dismal electoral record with few seats in local government, no seats in parliament and nowhere near getting any. This political failure continues while cultural Cornishness, even the invented and kitsch pieces, happily flourishes apart from the reconstructed language. See the Piran and Ptolemy post for an account of this discrepancy.
Is MK done for?
MK is not a serious contender party; it is rejected by the people of Cornwall, its ideas ill-developed, its arguments unconvincing, its whingeing tedious, its policies a tabula rasa bereft of details and costings. Its devolution notions have been outflanked. Can MK change, adapt its policies to the new circumstances? As yet it uneasily rests in the mistaken old certainties. If it does not change, and soon, it will wither away. Oh, I expect there will be an occasional flash but an unchanged MK is done for.
dolor repulsae: see Ovid Metamorphoses, book 3, Echo’s pain of rejection
MK and the grand academy of lagado 11 February 2014
Empowering Cornwall 8 March 2012
14 July 2014
The debate around devolution to a Cornwall assembly has shifted. As I have argued previously Mebyon Kernow (MK) languishes in yesterday’s England and should drop its claim of Cornish uniqueness on this and other questions and drag itself into the real debate about a general devolution within England.
The other day Andrew Adonis added to the momentum of devolution within England and presented Labour’s argument for such a devolution. All the major parties – Conservative, Liberal Democrat, and Labour – are now agreed about devolving powers to major cities in England. It has already begun and will spread to populous areas outside the cities, including to groups of counties. Of course, we must hold the hands of the parties to the fire of local devolution in England but also be aware of the problems that localism brings.
Frankly, while nationalists played with blueprints for a separatist assembly, the mainstream politicians and parties quietly worked on a general devolution throughout England. What happens in Cornwall will happen within these general moves in England. It will be interesting to see how MK responds, whether it places itself within the devolution-in-England movement or remains impotently outside.
Only 1 in 300 back assembly petition
Meanwhile, notice that when I looked today the MK online petition for a “legislative Cornish assembly” has got 2453 signatures since late November, half of them by the end of the year. However, six of the ten latest signatures displayed on the website were from outside Cornwall, indeed one from outside Britain. There are about 425 000 adults in Cornwall; assuming half of the signatories live in Cornwall, that’s about 0.3 percent of our adult population, one in three hundred, signing. This political nationalist cause does not command widespread support. Andrew George, Libdem MP for St Ives, who came first in the House of Commons draw ballot for private members’ bills, was wise not to pursue a Cornish assembly bill.
Comment on the city deal project 30 October 2012
First set of city deals 5 July 2012
Empowering Cornwall 8 March 2012
How should Cornwall be governed? 24 October 2009
10 April 2014
Mebyon Kernow (MK), the Cornish nationalist party, is being left behind.
There isn’t widespread, eager support for this party and its political nationalism; in the last election it contested, a by-election last December for two seats on Camborne town council, a favourable area for MK, only 14 percent turned out to vote although there were two MK candidates to vote for and each of MK’s candidates received support from less than 4 percent of the electorate. Enthusiasm for MK? No.
The petition calling for a Cornish parliament – a law making national assembly – is gathering a trickle of signatures from Cornwall and elsewhere: after nearly five months I estimate less than 1000 from people in Cornwall have signed, a pitiful small proportion.
In the real world all three currently major parties, Conservative and Labour and Liberal Democrat, have now said they support devolution within England. The Tory Libdem government is pressing ahead with city deals. So far twenty eight councils are involved, including Plymouth. City deals are the devolution of powers to cities and city regions, with some cities working with neighbouring areas in a “combined authority”. The primary aim is to better advance local economic growth and each area will have different and tailored devolved powers such as housing and transport; local enthusiasm and competence are essential.
The government’s approach in practice is somewhat incoherent (see this sensible scrutiny ) but English devolution is happening at last. The process having begun, it will be impossible to stop or reverse.
The word “city” is perhaps misleading: it is clear that counties are included and Cornwall, Cumbria, and Essex were specifically mentioned by Nick Clegg last October 2012.
Labour has supported the city/county devolution policy and expanding it, writing this week to every council leader (scroll to the very bottom to link to the letter; he specifically mentions devolution to cities and counties).
MK will argue that all this is about local government and what it seeks is a national government for Cornwall separate from England; that is more than “more powers” for Cornwall. However, the kindest that can be said about the MK approach is that it has been bypassed. The devolutionary future of England is here already and MK has been left behind in a nationalist fantasy.
First set of city deals 5 July 2012
Second set of city deals 19 February 2013
Comment on the city deal project 30 October 2012
Camborne by-election result 19 December 2013
The petition is here.
6 March 2014
The online petition for a law-making assembly for Cornwall has been going for about three and a half months. It now has 1693 signatures and I reckon around six tenths are from people outside Cornwall and even outside Britain.
My best estimate is that about 0.16 percent of the adults in Cornwall have signed. If the organisers know better, I shall happily draw attention to that.
Another quiz, I think
0.16 percent. Is this:
a) An unstoppable tide
b) A triumph
c) Up there with storming the Winter Palace
d) A disaster
e) A bloody disaster, for god’s sake let’s talk about something else
f) Anglo-Saxon arithmetic.
Assembly petition plays lento 13 January 2014
11 February 2014
Looking at Mebyon Kernow (MK) and devolution I am reminded of Swift’s satire on the projectors of the Lagado academy: “He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams from cucumbers, which were to be put into vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers.”
Without form and void
Mebyon Kernow (MK) cried up a long overdue review of its signature autonomy policy, a policy currently largely “without form and void” I think. While we wait through the MK gestation we have a few disappointing snippets. This article on the MK website gives some but the petition for a law-making assembly reserves “a detailed proposal” to any future discussions with the UK government. Mus ridiculus, I fear.
In this post I shall look again at the funding of an autonomous Cornwall, a matter that MK has so far not dealt with thoroughly and convincingly. I shall look at matters of governance and the nationalist economy later.
Cornwall, the dependent beggar
In finances, what nationalism is suggesting is, I think, very unattractive: a suppliant Cornwall whose new symbol is a begging bowl. Does MK see Cornwall as a perpetual suppliant?
There appear to be no ambitions for Cornwall be self-financing, spending in Cornwall only what Cornwall raises here, a Cornwall financially autonomous. Nationalist Cornwall will apparently be underwritten by taxpayers in the UK, largely by London and the South East of England (see the funding posts at the foot of this post). Nationalism apparently seeks an initial financial settlement – what it costs to run nationalist Cornwall – and then to that presumably is annually applied a percentage according to the the discredited Barnett formula.
Gone is the nationalist fable that Cornwall – with low wages, low GDP, high pensioner numbers – pays more in than it takes out of Britain. What nationalism is tacitly admitting is that Cornwall cannot survive without subsidies from the rest of England – and that largely means, let us be very clear, London and the south east.
This is not autonomy; it is dependency; it is Belloc:
“And always keep ahold of nurse
For fear of finding something worse”.
Apparently MK expects to negotiate with the UK government to arrive at the initial settlement. This would, it presumably hopes, take account of the nationalist view that Cornwall is currently underfunded (as, it might be argued, is much of England) and be based on needs, or rather the needs met by what is devolved to Cornwall. The website also talks of “needs-based funding”.
There are several points of difficulty that MK is not addressing here.
Who gets a say?
MK suggests that the UK government should “work with the people of Cornwall to formulate a detailed proposal” for the assembly. I am unclear who the “people of Cornwall” are here. I suspect it will be a handful of people. MK should explain whether and how the generality of the people here would have any input into any discussions with the government; or which “people of Cornwall” actually will. The end will be a binding referendum of the “electorate”. Which electorate is that? Only voters resident in Cornwall? MK is not seeking independence which could reasonably be seen as only a matter for Cornwall voters. The limited devolution sought is a different question as the rest of the UK and England would still be involved and have responsibilities. Would the electors in the rest get a vote on the reassignment of their taxes and their being the financial underwriters of the nationalist project and their residual and continuing responsibilities for Cornwall?
What are needs and fair funding
To say needs should be met and consequent funding should be fair is insufficient. MK should tell us what it sees by needs and consequent fairness in funding. What is the underlying principle on which needs and fairness in Cornwall are worked out? I have written several posts such as this one about the inadequacy of nationalist (and Libdem) cries for fair funding. Look at two examples, the NHS and schools. The debate about the funding of the NHS in localities shows how needs and fairness are not Sinai-given, undisputed ideas, but rather ideological notions, heavily conflicted.
We should ask too how much school funding should be a simple matter of equal percapita arithmetic and how far deprivation such as the proportion of free school meals – another contended aspect – should be taken into account. The nationalist foray into the scale of public funding for the only state school in the City of London compared with schools in Cornwall shows the difficulties and does not build confidence in MK. Of course more schools are becoming academies funded directly by government and it looks as though Cornwall Council will in effect cease to be an education authority. How does MK see this working in an autonomous Cornwall?
Too often the impression is given by nationalism that needs and fairness can be ascertained by average percapita arithmetic which is at bottom population-based rather than needs-based funding. MK should clear up how it sees the relationship between these two approaches. The unitary council’s recent foray into perceived underfunding seemed to fix on percapita arithmetic.
The council also raised the question of allocations among urban and rural areas of England. This is a shift to a new take on fair funding, a late recognition that this is not a Cornwall-only issue but an all-England one. This aspect should certainly be explored though with more understanding and finesse than the simplism that it costs more to provide often lesser services in rural than urban areas. Writing about fair funding and urban and rural allocations, the MK leader recently wrote in terms of percapita comparisons.
I assume that MK will be more forthcoming and tell us comprehensively and exactly what the devolved matters would be, what it wishes to see devolved to its Cornwall. This would indicate how ambitious it is for Cornwall.
Does MK intend a nationalist Cornwall to be able to vary income tax and if so by how much? Claim stamp duty, whatever? How far is membership of the UK compatible with tax freedom? How far is financial control by central government compatible with autonomy? MK should share its thoughts.
People currently are being asked to support this devolution without knowing wholly what it involves.
Would an autonomous Cornwall be better or less able to resist the localisation, the cornishing, of benefits and pay? What would be the basis of any nationalist, assemblied Cornwall claim to be different from England but entitled to England-level benefits and pay? I have explored this in several posts about localisation and it is another aspect on which MK should be forthcoming. MK believes that Cornwall is a historic nation distinct from England but also in its election manifesto opposes distinct regional pay for Cornwall: it is difficult to see coherence there.
Localisation throws up another problem. I think that central government is needed to guarantee the rights of local people to affordable housing against their fellows who want no change. This is a challenge for localism that nationalism shirks: localism in places in Cornwall has meant opposition to affordable houses for locals. An autonomous Cornwall would continue to face this reactionary response; how would MK deal with it?
And what does the base cost
MK should tell us what it expects the initial settlement, the foundation funding, to be. At present nationalism says that the initial funding would be based on what the British government currently spends in Cornwall. That’s a muddy point. What is MK including in that spend? Only assignable public expenditure of the devolved functions, presumably. At presently PESA data does not separately cost places smaller than countries and regions but I assume MK is already doing the arithmetic. Is it?
What does Cornwall raise
From that there is the question how much towards those costs is currently raised and, as I mentioned earlier, should be raised in Cornwall. That’s back to the arithmetic which I assume MK is already doing.
There is also the question of balancing public spending in Cornwall and taxing. Would people in Cornwall pay more taxes to get better public services? What does MK think?
Additionally nationalism seems to make two incompatible points. One the one hand it appears to argue that any funding for Cornwall would not cost the UK any more than the county receives at present; on the other it claims that Cornwall is underfunded by the UK government and a future funding agreement should put this right. Thus, simultaneously not costing a penny more than now and costing more than now.
Let us suppose Cornwall is widely underfunded and that should be set right. MK does not identify where any more funding for Cornwall should come from. Nationalism always shies away from identifying the source of the extra money for Cornwall, that is, from telling the people elsewhere in England they must lose present or future public money (from growth or higher taxes) so that Cornwall can have more; that, for example, the funding of their schools and hospitals must be cut for Cornish devolution. MK should send out its missionaries to spell out to people in Sunderland and Liverpool, urban both, that it believes they must get less so that nationalist Cornwall gets more.
It is irresponsible not to explain where the extra money will come from and how much we are talking about. How much must Sunderland lose or forgo? MK is silent.
Mugging the poor
There is an added difficulty for MK with sees itself as a progressive leftist party.
Eighty four percent of the most deprived neighbourhoods are in English cities (Cities outlook 2014). Look again at the indices of multiple deprivation, the figures for free school meals, and deprivation pupil premiums: a shift in funding from urban to rural areas would in gross be taking funds from the most deprived parts of England. That is not progressive politics.
Swift again: “There was a most ingenious architect who had contrived a new method for building houses, by beginning at the roof and working downwards towards the foundation”
It is inadequate for MK to prate generalities, however glittering. This is a Gradgrind moment. We are not talking Cornish on every tea towel to entice the tourist. An assembly is a signature MK policy and the party must spell out fully what it sees as assembly matters, the cost of their provision, and how much of that cost is to be raised in Cornwall; and the party must explain fully the principle on which needs and consequent fair funding will be based so that one can scrutinise proposals.
To fly to the moon all one has to do is point a rocket at it and light the touch paper
People in the rest of England have the right to know how much MK expects them to pay for this Cornish adventure. Will they get a vote on any settlement? People in Cornwall have the right to see a worked-out, worked-through policy with details that can be scrutinised, examined, tested, reviewed. MK has had years to get this right and the present vacuities are unimpressive. Let’s hope the promised paper will be comprehensive but at present MK is telling us that to fly to the moon all one has to do is point a rocket at it and light the touch paper. It has to do very much better than that.
Outside the Cornish nationalist laager life in England moves on. The UK government has begun to shift more power and funding from central government to cities and soon will have growth deals for other areas. A current example is Nottingham city deal here. The deal explains in detail how they aim to create economic growth and sets out achievable targets such as a 25 percent fall in youth unemployment and a 4 percent increase in GVA. This growth-orientated devolution makes sense: the economies of Leeds and Manchester city regions are both larger than that of Wales (Cities outlook 2014); growth enables rising living standards and both more opportunity and equality; it destroys the victim agenda. Cornwall may well be offered a growth deal and that would cut the ground from under political nationalism. A negative response from MK would encase the party in irrelevance.
The Libdems will discuss devolution within England at their conference next month. The motion is here : motion F14 on page 57, lines 67-76. Having talked of building on city and growth deals by devolving “more administrative and financial power” to local authorities in England, it then talks of enabling opt-in ”legislative devolution” to London and to principal local authorities, or groups of them, in England with a population of a million or more, and includes Cornwall (population 532 000) in that. Exactly what Libdem devolution involves, what powers would be conferred by it, is not clear from this but it looks like an upgrade to local government and another attempt at the discredited and unloved regionalisation of England.
UPDATE 24 February 2014 Talking of Sunderland, there is this on city autonomy.
He had been eight years and There was a most ingenious: Jonathan SWIFT Gulliver’s travels book 3, chapter 5
Without form and void: Genesis 1.2
Parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus: Horace, Ars poetica ()The mountains are in labour and a silly mouse is born)
And always keep: Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) Jim
Some relevant posts
The second labour of Mebyon Kernow 15 April 2013
London subsidises our bills 16 February 2012
Letter from the City of London 3 March 2009
Funding devolution 18 July 2012
Who pays for Cornwall? 12 July 2012
Stripping the nationalist altar 2 March 2011
How should Cornwall be governed? (There is a section on funding) 24 October 2009
13 January 2014
Oh dear, I thought Cornish political nationalism, a nanority pursuit, had learned the folly of petitions. God knows, often enough they have attracted tellingly few signatories from Cornwall. However, one more is around now, a petition calling for a Cornish assembly which is a signature policy of political nationalism.
When I looked last it had 1542 signatures. There are about 430 000 adults in Cornwall, that is people aged eighteen or over. Those signatories are a minute proportion of that population.
In fact they are a smaller proportion than might appear because some of the signatories give addresses outside Cornwall. How many? The site does not enable one easily to work that out but over several glimpses I reckon as many as sixty percent come from outside Cornwall which would mean around six hundred current Cornwall signatories. Of course some of the outsiders may have familial links to Cornwall but many have addresses abroad and distinctly non-British names – when I last looked four of the ten signatories displayed were from France, more than from Cornwall.
It is interesting that some people abroad are moved to support a reconfiguration of England and the UK, a local rearrangement. Incidentally, the referendum on Scottish independence gives the vote only to people resident and registered in Scotland; around 800 000 people born in Scotland but living elsewhere in the UK, mostly England, cannot vote.
Anyway, six hundred is around 0.14 percent of all adults registered in Cornwall, one in 717. At present the petition is advertising what elections also show, political nationalism’s failure to attract people in numbers here.