Rebuilding the Lib Dem Vote – a Cornish perspective

I attended a talk given by Dan Rogerson (ex-DEFRA Minister and ex-MP for North Cornwall) at a St Austell & Newquay Lib Dems meeting. Dan was extremely interesting regarding the vote in Cornwall – we used to have six MPs out of six constituencies, but now there are six Tories – as to how to rebuild our vote.

Firstly, the historical Cornish nonconformist Liberal vote has shrunk as more incomers arrive bringing two-party politics

Secondly, we have done well in the past when the Tories are weak, building up to sixty MPs during the Blair years when the Tories were at their nadir. They recovered as Cameron appeared to move them to the left, absorbing some of our support. Now they may be on the decline again as their voting bloc ages, and are moving back to the right, leaving us in the “Goldilocks Zone” to attract Liberal Tories and Blairites.

Thirdly, Labour have a lot of members in Cornwall now. This did not manifest in Council seats gained in the last main round of elections in May, or in boots on the ground last June. They appear disorganised and riven by factionalism. However, they are visible with street stalls in the town centres such as Truro, Redruth and St Austell.

Fourthly, public sector workers switched to Labour during the Coalition. We need to engage with their issues and demonstrate that we are the best choice.

Fifthly, Cornwall voted Leave apart from Truro & Falmouth – the latter being a university town.

Sixthly, our local membership is too low following the 2015 collapse, though it is returning. The most important thing for us to do is to recruit, organise and motivate volunteers.

Yet all is not lost! Opportunities for growth of Cornwall’s Lib Dem vote exist. If we Hard Brexit then Tory business donors will walk, and may switch to us nationally. In as much as the left/right axis is relevant, we belong on the centre-left and have been most successful there. However, the Coalition made us look centre-right, especially to younger voters. Winning at least one of the Parliamentary seats back will help us regain credibility, and St Ives is ultra-marginal.

We must get our successes on councils registering with the public. Our Councillors can ally with community leaders and business leaders.

We can carry a message of hope, as does Corbyn Labour – we are necessarily doom-mongers regarding Brexit, but we have a lot to say on the issues that will improve the lives of people in Cornwall.

* Robert Irwin is the PR Officer for St Austell and Newquay Liberal Democrats

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  • Cornwall did indeed vote largely for Brexit.
    Yet it wants to retain it’s £60m EU funding post-Brexit.

    Also, I expect they would like to retain the protected status the EU accorded the Cornish Pasty…

    I think like much of Brexit, this will be yet another case of “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone,”…

  • paul barker 16th Nov '17 - 3:09pm

    on a more general point, we have seen a remarkable recovery in our Local Vote but so far very little has filtered through into our National Polling. We seem to be doing some of the right things, we need to keep on & hope.

  • Roland 16th Nov ’17 – 2:52pm:

    Yet it wants to retain it’s £60m EU funding post-Brexit.
    They know it was originally UK money; rather like a mugger handing back £10 so their victim can get a taxi home. A rejuvenated fishing industry will be worth more than £60m to the Cornish economy.

    Also, I expect they would like to retain the protected status the EU accorded the Cornish Pasty…

    If not covered by a reciprocal agreement, then once out of the EU, we will be free to make such PGI designations ourselves – and it won’t take nine years to do it. Currently, we have to apply to the EU for permission to impose such restrictions on trade (even for products which are just sold locally).

    ‘Cornish pasty given EU protected status’ [February 2011]:

    Cornish food manufacturers have won a nine-year battle to win special protection for their most famous snack, banning any products made in Devon, Wales or the rest of Britain from being called Cornish pasties.

  • The position in Cornwall is severe. We have crashed beyond belief except in St Ives and
    North Cornwall. Labour are in “poll” position to take 2 maybe 3 seats next time round. Let us not mitigate the disadter handed to us by the coalition and a previous Deputy Prime Minister…. It is going to be a mighty long, long road back.

  • The Lib Dem six percenters like to run Brexit areas down, then complain that they are not being elected. Go figure.

  • Robert Irwin 16th Nov '17 - 5:30pm

    Jay, it’s just one factor among many as per the article. I met many Lib Dem voters on the doorsteps who voted to Leave.

  • Ben Rayment 16th Nov '17 - 7:49pm

    As you mention — Cornwall voted to leave and yet it is an important battleground for the Liberal Democrats; you also mention that the Liberal Democrats are to doom-mongers with regards to Brexit, this is true. Perhaps, it might be an idea for the Liberal Democrats could keep this narrative and provide sufficient opposition to the Tories. yet also, it might be useful for the Liberal Democrats to run a parallel plan for a post-Brexit Britain and bring out a paper for what a Liberal Democrat Britain would look like if they return to holding significant power once the Tories have taken the UK through a hard-Brexit. I did like the piece.

  • I found this comment unsettling “Firstly, the historical Cornish nonconformist Liberal vote has shrunk as more incomers arrive bringing two-party politics” – rubbish!

    Andrew George made a similar claim as well, that wealthier incomers had boosted the Tory vote in St Ives. I see little evidence for this and an unwelcoming attitude is part of the Lib Dem problem in Cornwall.

    The Green/Labour vote shows that the vote is dynamic & fluid, the local Party should not just wring its hands and blame incomers, the fact remains that Cornwall is more mobile, our young people leave in large numbers (Uni, college etc) and youngsters also settle here. Cornwall Lib Dems know that Europe has never been a vote winner. The Labour vote is soft in Cornwall – Candy Atherton was always well regarded but showed their vote is mobile. Cornish Lib Dems reach out to everyone, embrace the changes, show that BREXIT is bad for Cornwall – give clear examples, ask difficult questions and pitch your tents up next to Labour. Incomers are voters who want change (that’s why they have come to Cornwall…) Cornwall Council’s Lib Dems need to show that Lib Dems can deliver a vision separate to Tory/Lab spats.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Nov '17 - 12:11am

    Well, the Cornish pasty won’t be protected any more, will it, if we leave? And how about a Liberal Democrat plan for Britain in a reformed EU once Brexit is stopped? I’ll be devoting my annual visit to my Cornish friends once more to helping in local campaigning, if you can use some assistance again next summer.

  • Philip Knowles 17th Nov '17 - 8:59am

    Part of the problem of converting local support into national support is the national party consistently knocking the competition. Bashing Labour doesn’t convert a Labour voter and neither does Tory bashing unless you give them a reason to vote LibDem. It’s far more important to say what we’re FOR rather than against. I was helping out in Leeds They were in despair with what HQ were sending into the constituency. Local success has been based on local knowledge and issues and being part of the solution. Those issues are often reflected nationwide but HQ doesn’t seem to listen to the people on the ground. The regional execs need to be a lot more proactive and act as a better link between local parties and HQ

  • “the historical Cornish nonconformist Liberal vote has shrunk”…. and not just in Cornwall.

    In my childhood it was a strong pillar of Liberalism in West Yorkshire. I well remember my Great Uncle George (a temperance blue ribbonner and choir master of the Bradford Road Methodist Church) chuckling over a story someone told him about a Minister beginning an extemporary prayer with, “Oh Lord, Thou has doubtless seen it reported in the Manchester Guardian…….”

    A.J.A. Morris in his excellent ‘Edwardian Radicalism 1900-1914’ quotes the same story and comments, ‘We may be sure that the congregation would not have been in the least surprised by this revelation of the Deity’s reading habits..,..”

    Times, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, move on. Corbyn, warts and all, often appears to speak for the many whilst, the Lib Dems seem to speak for the few.

  • David Raw 17th Nov ’17 – 9:12am……Times, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, move on. Corbyn, warts and all, often appears to speak for the many whilst, the Lib Dems seem to speak for the few…..

    Sadly, we now seem to be a single issue party…My everyday life is far more involved in living citions in the UK than the farce that is the ‘Brexit Negotiation’…

    Issues like this* should fill LDV threads..but?????

    *New universal credit claimants ‘will get no money before Christmas’
    Peabody Trust says 42-day wait means 60,000 households, with over 40,000 children, will receive no income until after festive season….

    Until 2013 the ‘desperate’ could get help from the ‘Social Fund’; the coalition government stopped it…Now the ‘government advice is, “you might be able to get help from your local council”…The same council that the same coalition slashed their funding…

  • @PaulBarker – on a more general point, we have not seen a remarkable recovery in our Local Vote: two and three weeks ago the results were good, this week’s results were back to being poor/nondescript (one hold, no gains, and four where we didn’t stand). The reason nothing has filtered through into our National Polling is because any progress is so tiny as to be immaterial. We are still doing the same things, and seeking succour in random fluctuations.

    We need to drop the comfort of optimism and hope as our only strategy and do some real hard thinking about why we have failed over the last seven years. That will not be easy, but it might just save the party.

  • paul barker 17th Nov '17 - 1:37pm

    @David Evans, I have to disagree. We have seen a steady & rapid improvEment in our Local Vote, by around 8% over the last 4 Months. That only takes us back to where we were in May but the collapse in our support had only just begun at that point. These are not random variations.
    Of course the numbers of contests are too small to say anything about particular places, we can only look at Britain as a whole.
    Its also untrue that Nothing has happened to our National Polling, we are up about 1% over the same 4 Month period. Thats painfully slow but in line with whats happened in the past, our National voting recovery lags behind our Local votes.
    No-one is claiming that we arent at the foot of a long climb but we have started.

  • @ expats. You rightly highlighting Universal Credit.

    The Lib Dem problem is they voted for the original bill, and in Steve Webb (a self proclaimed ‘social liberal’) had a Minister who claimed there would be no problem with IT (see debate in Hansard).

    As a Foodbank Trustee in the first Scottish authority to implement UC, I confirm our l CAB found :

    1. 52% of clients would lose under Universal Credit, with a median loss of £44.72 per week. This is in comparison to the 31% of clients who would gain under the new system, with a median gain of £0.34 per week.

    2. The worst affected are lone parents. The median increase for gainers was £ 4.59, for the losers it was £ 58.51 per week.

    3. Claimants with disabilities had median gains of 29 pence per week and losers a median of £ 61.51 per week.

    At the Foodbank we have had a 35% increase in clients this year – with many private landlords refusing to let to UC claimants.

    There is a massive IT problem. Many claimants have no access and often have to wait more than six weeks with no income – emergency help has to be repaid. Government says local authority libraries should help – but many libraries are closing. In rural parts there is often poor transport and a poor IT connection. Eliminating the third child is cruel and has exacerbated hunger (and child learning).

    Frankly, it’s a mess. The roll out should stop.

  • Sue Sutherland 17th Nov '17 - 3:21pm

    The other part of our anti Brexit stance has to be to address the issues that people were told was the fault of the EU when they were actually a result of domestic policies. When we entered Coalition we had to sort out the financial situation and austerity seemed to be the way to do it. That doesn’t mean that we can’t change our minds if evidence shows it’s not working, or introduce new policies paid for by taxing wealth and large businesses more effectively.

  • Steve Comer 17th Nov '17 - 3:27pm

    As a former resident of Cornwall, two comments strike me:
    “(Labour) are visible with street stalls in the town centres such as Truro, Redruth and St Austell.”
    This sort of campaigning is both cheap to do, and doesn’t need too many people.
    It used to be at the heart of Community Politics, but are Cornwall Lib Dems also doing it? And if not why not? Or are they leaving the field clear for Labour? If you run a stall talk to 100 people, and 10% are more likely to vote for you, and 1 person becomes a member, then surely its worth doing?

    “….., public sector workers switched to Labour during the Coalition. We need to engage with their issues and demonstrate that we are the best choice.” Good luck with that one!
    I was a Liberal Democrat active in my Public Sector Union (PCS- and its predeccessors, PTC and NUCPS) from Branch Secretary to National Executive Committee for over 20 years.
    Lib Dems DID gain a lot of support from the members I represented in that time, and especially from 1992–2005. However in coalition we turned our back on this key element of our core support. The Coalition reduced redundancy pay, made pensions more expensive, increase the retirement age, and supported a Tory pay freeze! Oh and we cut staffing (and therefore promotion opportunities) too. I tried to raise these issues with Ministers and MPs throughout the Coalition years (when I also served in the Lib Dem LGA Cabinet) but was heard with a tin ear.

    Once we got into Government Lib Dem Ministers believed and trusted their Permanent Secretaries (many of whom had been appointed in the Thatcher era and shared her politics) and their SpaDs (mostly Public School/Oxbridge) far more than they did their own Liberal Democrat activists and members in Local Government, business, and the Trade Unions.

    Public Sector workers didn’t just “switch to Labour.” Many were cynical about Labour post-1997. The fact is we pushed them towards Labour, and until we realise that we will never get their votes back.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Nov '17 - 4:53pm

    David concentrates on the issues of social inequality but in being right on this we must not dwell on the past but get it out that we oppose draconian measures, but incompetence too, Labour are in favour of universal credit in principle, one way of uniting is to recognise it is in practice things work or don’t, this is a mess , the government , now has to deal with it , it is about systems put ahead of individual people, a ore liberal concentration you could not have , for focusing us on something we can speak out on regardless of misdeeds or not.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 17th Nov '17 - 4:54pm

    more , came out as ore , sorry

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Nov '17 - 5:49pm

    @ David R. and expats, you are right that we have to keep fighting about the iniquity and inequity of Universal Credit, and the worsening position of, especially, single mothers at home with children. With Christmas coming this is a resounding theme to be pursued, all along with the constant fight in Parliament and country-wide to avoid the national self-harm of Brexit.

    But David, even in grim times we have to smile occasionally, as you contributed with your great story about the West Yorkshire minister, thank you. It’s wonderful how God’s Own Country gets into a thread about Cornwall, but as my family background is similar to yours I enjoy it. Still, I draw your attention to the initial words you wrote there which made me laugh: ‘The historic Cornish Nonconformist Liberal vote has shrunk – and not just in Cornwall.’
    Eh lad? Ah reckon a Cornish vote can only shrink in Cornwall!

  • Robert Irwin 17th Nov '17 - 6:09pm

    @Steve Comer – an excellent point about the street stalls, and one that I will put to my constituency party at the next executive meeting. Young Momemtumites were bused in from up-country and set up stalls, with Camborne and Redruth a particular target where they doubled the Labour vote. We can copy their tactics.

  • Nice one, Katharine, lass !!! Tha’s so sharp tha’ll be bahn to cut thiself.

    One of the few redeeming features in the dark days at HTAFC was the dark sardonic Yorkie humour. Dad used to say “The daft bu+++r ” with such withering scorn when there was a misplaced pass that it cheered us all up.

    Came away from the Food Bank AGM really cross about U.C. after the CAB briefing – but I think public pressure will get to the Gov’t in the budget. They took a real hammering in the H of L yesterday – great speech by Bishop Butler of Durham. It’s on BBC iplayer.

    PS I’m involved in a scheme to erect a blue plaque to Catherine Marshall at Hawse End, Keswick next year. I’ll keep you posted if you want. Here’s some info on Catherine for a search on google..

    Documenting Dissent | Catherine Marshall (1880-1961): From …

  • Don’t underestimate the importance of the Nonconformist tradition in the West of England. There was an intimate association between Liberalism and Nonconformist morality stretching back far into the nineteenth century. Obviously the passage of time and social change loosened those bonds, but the legacy of great Liberal politicians like John Pardoe, Paul Tyler, Matthew Taylor, and, above all, David Penhaligon resonated until the great betrayal of the coalition. The people who weren’t Tories voted for us often despite our pro-European views because we represented the moral strand of politics. When we went into coalition with the enemy we tossed aside the moral high ground and our principles, and are now perceived as being interested solely in an area of policy that the majority of people in the West of England disagree with us about

  • The ability of the party to grow will,I think,depend on its ability to offer a diverse policy package. How do you continue to appeal to a voter like me who has consistently voted LD but voted leave. I understand the party must continue to campaign on its euro principles as to abandon this would undermine its whole existence.

    But it also needs to begin to promote its policy messages in other areas. What are the liberal messages on health,education, housing, and welfare for example. Its OK for those of us take an interest in politics to find answers but what chance do the general public have. The difficulty will be,as it always has been,to get the opportunities to do so.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Nov '17 - 12:32am

    Our health policies at least were thoroughly aired in the GE, Sean, if St Ives and Copeland were representative, but Labour also of course offers appealing policies to the voters. Tonyhill, I believe you have it right about the Nonconformist tradition being observed as betrayed by Coalition policies, and indeed by the very act of our going into Coalition with the Tories (to whom I and my North Devon friends would drink ‘Confusion!’ when we met!). Ah, and David Penhaligon was iconic: even my extremely right-wing Cornish friend voted for him.

    @ David R. Enjoyed your comment as ever, David, and appreciated the info about Catherine Marshall; yes, please do let me know about the plaque. She was likely from the same family that endowed our fine St John’s Church in Keswick, so I’ll check up on the dates. That church and local community still as it happens benefits from an active Marshall family, as perhaps you know. Anyway, thoroughly enjoy your London week, and if you encounter any Metropolitan elite, do greet them in broad Yorkshire!

  • Sean Hyland 18th Nov '17 - 1:10am

    I could have phrased it better Katharine. My meaning was that the difficulty is nationally getting the message across to voters is the problem the party faces. Good organization and activities by activists locally is a good base to build on but the wider audience may continue to see LibDems as one policy party.

    I remember from my own past party membership that community activities can work but can’t cover all the bases. There remains the difficulty of breaking beyond this when faced with a media with its own agenda. Better people than me will be able to answer that dilemma.

  • Katharine Pindar 17th Nov ’17 – 5:49pm……@ David R. and expats, you are right that we have to keep fighting about the iniquity and inequity of Universal Credit, and the worsening position of, especially, single mothers at home with children. With Christmas coming this is a resounding theme to be pursued, all along with the constant fight in Parliament and country-wide to avoid the national self-harm of Brexit…..

    David is a food bank trustee; I am a volunteer in feeding those who are homeless/rough sleepers…David has spoken of his experiences; mine are similar; I am seeing more and more broken lives every week …
    You mention women…Just this week two new women appeared; what they have in common is that both are fleeing abusive partners and the “system” seems to have failed them…

    With winter approaching fragile tents, blankets and doorways should not be sleeping quarters in a wealthy country…

  • Stephen Yolland 18th Nov '17 - 12:41pm

    As with other parts of the U.K., the only way the party will rebuild is through principled, radical community politics, which is not even mentioned in the article, although it is implied. We badly need to return to an understanding of what community politics is and why it is the ONLY way we will regain relevance. David Penhaligon must be turning in his grave.

  • From a Devon & Somerset perspective, the West Country Lib Dem slump v the Tories pre-dates the Coalition. In the 2009 Devon county council elections, the Tories took over half of the Lib Dem seats, while here in Somerset in 2009 they took several seats, thus ending many years of mostly very good Lib Dem rule.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Nov '17 - 6:25pm

    Our community politics has to be ‘principled and radical’, I suppose, Stephen Yolland, or what would be the point of us? I guess that involves ultimately not only taking up local issues discovered by canvassing and street stalls, but actively trying to help the poorest and worst off as David Raw and expats are doing so commendably.

    I am impressed with local councillors I have seen at work lately, in Copeland and Penrith North. To be successful, I am thinking, will involve besides good local activism, some building on national trends and activity, keeping ears to the ground to hear the approaching hoof-beats, then getting out of the way or else grabbing the reins as the steeds gallop past. You need a bit of luck, as well as judgement and hard work. I suppose the loss of council seats in Devon and Somerset which Mike Read mentions might have had something to do with a Tory comeback nationally after their fade-out in the Blair years – they do after all reckon they have the right to rule. More hopefully, the little team in Penrith North stood against the Labour national surge seen in the GE and prevented it operating in their district. I guess they grabbed the reins, the way we all have to learn from and work at, as many other would-be councillors are surely also now doing.

  • Mike Read is right – I’d forgotten quite how poor our 2010 results were in many places. I’ll leave it to those who know more than I do about the internal organisation of the Party to speculate about how far the responsibility for this can be placed at the door of the leadership, but I remember very clearly how despondent I felt after the first Leaders’ debate and the consequent ‘Cleggmania’.

  • William Fowler 21st Nov '17 - 8:49am

    My bit of Devon has some totally incompetent Conservative councilors and MP in control but I doubt if on the ground stalls etc will make much difference (Labour’s lot soon gave up!), some coherent taxation policies that move the burden from the individual to corporations and a radical move to phase out council tax (replacing it with a turnover tax on large companies) rather than trying to imitate Labour’s nonsensical tax policies would break through, though.

  • Simon Banks 23rd Jan '18 - 4:42pm

    Cris rather misses the point in criticising Dan’s comments about the shrinking traditional nonconformist vote. For a long time, Cornwall was almost equally divided between Anglicans (traditionally Tory) and Nonconformists (traditionally Liberal). I remember it being said, “If you’re Cornish and Methodist, you must be a Liberal”. This was not just sectarian: Anglican traditions were friendly to deference and Methodist culture in particular promoted and appealed to group self-help, which fitted well with Liberal ideals.

    The traditional nonconformist vote in the Westcountry has declined for two reasons. One is the arrival of many incomers, most of whom weren’t nonconformist; and the other is the decline of Nonconformity. with the only nonconformist growth area being rather fundamentalist groups whose natural politics is illiberal. Since nonconformity contributed so much to Liberalism, this undoubtedly weakens us. That’s quite separate from nativist attitudes hostile to incomers.

    I like the idea of combining explaining the damage caused by Brexit with exploring how to mitigate it in a post-Brexit UK (if that does happen). The other strand in a successful strategy, I think, is never to forget that a Liberal Democrat vote in Cornwall, as in Devon, Somerset and Dorset, is a positive vote for things the Tories disparage and a negative vote against the Tories. During the coalition and in the 2015 election in particular we made far too much space for a Labour revival in the Westcountry and the fruits of years squeezing the Labour vote vanished.

  • Richard Underhill 16th May '18 - 10:39pm

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