Wednesday, 17 January 2018

We need to reinvigorate opposition to Devonwall again


Today, I have been in an all-day meeting of the Electoral Review Panel at New County Hall, which is coming up with proposals to reduce the number of Cornwall Councillors from 123 to 87 – something the majority of councillors opposed.

Feeling battered by having to work through this assault on Cornwall's local democracy, and have got home to see media reports stating that the Democratic Unionist Party may drop its opposition to parliamentary boundary review, after massive changes to the nature of proposed seats in Northern Ireland.

It is all frankly unbelievable and we can have no trust in the whole process. It is hardly surprising that a large number of people are already condemning the process in Northern Ireland as gerrymandering.

Does this mean that the changes might now actually get through parliament? It certainly means that we need to reinvigorate our opposition to the Devonwall seat.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Next MK meeting in St Austell & Newquay Constituency


The next meeting for Mebyon Kernow members in the St Austell & Newquay Constituency has been arranged to take place this Friday (19th January).

The meeting will take place at ClayTAWC in St Dennis and start at 7.30.

It is the first branch meeting of 2018 and we will planning our approach to numerous campaigns and activities.

Anyone from the St Austell & Newquay Constituency, who would be interested in attending the meeting and / or finding out more about MK and its local campaigns, can call me on 07791 876607 or email dickcole@btinternet.com.

Claims of landmark change in our democracy are far-fetched

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian looks at the Minister for the Constitution’s claim that he is pushing for “landmark change” for the UK’s democracy. It is as follows:

The Cornish Guardian has, on numerous occasions, reported on the parliamentary boundary review, through which the Conservative Government is seeking to reduce the number of MPs to 600 and redraw the political map of the United Kingdom.

Here in Cornwall, there has been massive opposition to the changes which would breach the territorial integrity of our Celtic land and lead to the creation of an unpopular cross-Tamar Devonwall seat.

There have been many reports that Theresa May intends to scrap the whole process but, at the end of last year, the Minister for the Constitution Chris Skidmore published an article in the Daily Telegraph.

In it, he criticised opponents of the Boundary Review, who he described as political opportunists attempting to gerrymander the UK’s parliamentary seats and “taint” future elections.

It was all a bit over-the-top, and the newspaper itself chimed in by stating that the present system was “slanted in favour of the Labour Party.” They went further and claimed that the previous “thwarted” boundary reforms, if enacted, would have given the Tories an overall majority.

The reality is that in the 2017 General Election, the Conservative Party won 42.4% of the popular vote but managed to secure 48.9% of the seats. Labour meanwhile polled 40% of the votes and returned 40.3% of the MPs in the new House of Commons.

It is simply unbelievable that certain Tory politicians and their cheerleaders consider it appropriate that a vote-share of 42.4% should give them the right to a majority of seats in Westminster and control of the UK Government.

It is also a reality that in many parts of the United Kingdom, the Conservatives dominate politics on a minority of the vote. Here in Cornwall, they won all six constituencies in 2017 but 52% of local residents – a majority – voted for other political parties.

In his article, Mr Skidmore even claimed he is pushing for “landmark change,” which I find extremely hard to believe. His party’s reforms are focussed on securing political advantage – not making the United Kingdom a more democratic society.

After all, Mr Skidmore and his allies all voted for the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, but ignored it when they thought they were in the political ascendancy and cynically engineered last year’s snap General Election.

If Mr Skidmore is really committed to “landmark change,” there is much he can do. How about starting with an end to the unelected House of Lords, proportional representation in parliamentary elections, a National Assembly for Cornwall, a reduction in the number of undemocratic quangos of unelected appointees, fair funding for local councils and an end to cuts in the number of local councillors?

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

NHS needs better funding deal!

My article in today’s Cornish Guardian looks at the crisis in the National Health Service. It is as follows:

Last winter, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine publicised its concerns that “emergency care in the NHS” was at “crisis point.” At the same time, the Chief Executive of the British Red Cross claimed that the NHS was facing a “humanitarian crisis.”

Twelve months on, the situation has worsened. One headline figure being quoting in many newspapers is that a total of 55,000 “non-urgent” operations are likely to be postponed to help the NHS cope with increasing demands and winter pressures, which presently include an upsurge in sickness linked to the flu virus.

Much has been made of the fact that the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister have publicly apologised to those patients who have had their operations cancelled but, it is notable, they failed to address the depth of problems facing the National Health Service.

Interviewed on the BBC at the weekend, Theresa May continued to claim that hospitals were better prepared than ever before, and winter pressures have to be dealt with each and every year.

Sadly, there was no acknowledgement that there is a significant “mismatch between demand for services and funding.”

An independent charity, known as the “The King’s Fund,” recently detailed how the demand for health care is rising. It has reported: “The population is increasing; more people are living longer, often with multiple long-term conditions; and technological advances mean that new treatments are available. As a result, health services are treating more people than ever before.”

It is accurate to state that the health budget will increase by an average of 1.1 per cent a year between 2009/10 and 2020/21, but the cost of treatments are rising and hospital admissions have been going up, year on year, by nearly 4%.

It is therefore not surprising that “The King’s Fund” and other organisations have declared that the NHS is “enduring the most prolonged funding squeeze in its history.”

Likewise, the British Medical Association has stated that: “Each winter the pressure on the NHS worsens, and politicians are not taking the long-term view needed to ensure the NHS can keep up with rising demand.”

In this context of underfunding from central government, reforms are being promoted which local campaigners, especially here in Cornwall, are right to be worried about.

The Sustainability and Transformation Plan for the local NHS does not solve, but reinforces, historic financial problems; the possible centralisation of radiotherapy provision from Cornwall into Devon would make it harder and harder for Cornish families to access vital health services; and there have even been claims that some community hospitals could be downgraded.

A massive change in approach is needed at Westminster and, in the first instance, that means increased funding for health and social care.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

2018 – Groundhog Day?


In my article in today’s Cornish Guardian, I look ahead to 2018.

It is as follows:

When I was considering the content of my columns for the Cornish Guardian over the Christmas and New Year period, the editor suggested that I might look back over 2017 and “do a bit of a retrospective.”

It has certainly been an eventful year with council elections, a General Election and a great deal of political upheaval. But most of all, looking back and contrasting then to what is happening now, it all seems a bit “groundhog day.”

Early in 2017, we were digesting the news that Cornwall had the lowest economic performance of any nation in the United Kingdom. And now, twelve months on, the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics tell the same story.

England has a GVA per head of £27,108, which is 102.9% of the UK average, followed by Scotland on £24,800 (94.2%). Doing less well are Northern Ireland and Wales, with GVA figures of £19,997 (75.9%) and £19,140 (72.7%) respectively.

Cornwall (and the Isles of Scilly) trail way behind with a GVA of £17,069 (64.8% of the UK average) and the ONS’s new approach to the statistics only seem to show the gap between Cornwall and the other nations of the UK to be wider.

So much for our call for the Government to tackle the over-centralised nature of the United Kingdom, and to end the inequalities between the various nations and regions of the UK.

Twelve months ago, I was writing about the unfairness of funding settlements for local councils and the irony of Conservative MPs lambasting their own Government for cuts that meant that local councils had not only “trimmed off” the fat, but had “gone through the surface of the bone” and, in some instances, were “sucking out the marrow.”

And yet, it has got worse, and councillors are presently having to consider sizable increases in council tax in an attempt to offset cuts in central government funding.

Twelve months ago, there was massive concern about the National Health Service, the crisis in social care, and the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan which would institutionalise underfunding of £270 million in the Cornish health service.

And now, the stress on the NHS continues to grow and grow, many people are worried about the possible ACO reorganisation of the health service and associated social care, and the issue of underfunding has simply not been addressed.

I could go on and list many more examples where, shamefully, little meaningful progress has been made.

And as we look ahead to 2018, it all shows that political change is desperately needed for Cornwall and the well-being of its citizens. Surely we should all be uniting to make that better deal for Cornwall a reality.