Cllr James Mustoe represents Mevagissey on Cornwall Council.
Down in Cornwall we are fast approaching local elections, coming up on May 4th.
As I have previously written for Conservative Home, we have a Liberal Democrat problem in Cornwall.
Despite turning magnificently Blue in 2015, we still have a unitary authority that is run by Liberal Democrats, propped up in a wonky coalition by the so-called ‘Independents’, a ragtag collection of oddballs who despite their name are anything but. Instead, a whipped political group that votes as one, often for policies that defy sensible understanding.
Those in charge at Cornwall Council have a serious case of Brexit denial. Their leader made national headlines straight after last year’s referendum when, within hours of the outcome, he wrote to central government demanding ‘urgent confirmation’ that replacement EU funding would be guaranteed.
Bear in mind that Cornwall overwhelmingly voted for Brexit, 56 per cent compared to 52 per cent nationally. In the constituency where my Mevagissey division is located, St Austell and Newquay, more than 60 per cent of those who voted, voted to leave.
Apart from the above outburst, since the referendum the Lib Dems at Cornwall Council have announced they want to keep their lobbying office in Brussels open (funded by our money of course), and also spent thousands of pounds of taxpayer money on a publicly funded jolly to a Celtic Festival in France. Last year they went in unmarked vehicles due to the negative publicity that the logo’d convoy attracted the previous year. As you might expect, neither were popular with the public here in Cornwall.
With this in mind, you would have thought that the current leadership of Cornwall Council would be shying away from EU related matters in the run up to the elections. Happily for us this is not the case.
Back in January, odd rumours started surfacing that Truro, the only city in Cornwall, was going to be at the centre of a council-run bid to be European City of Culture – for 2023. The first the Mayor of Truro (himself a Lib Dem) knew about it, was when it hit the front pages just over a week before the Council’s Cabinet voted for it. The cabinet subsequently almost unanimously approved the bid, which would cost the council a minimum of £536,000 of public money at the bid stage, and a minimum of £10m if ‘successful’.
To say this has been unpopular with the public is an understatement. In fact, apart from the Lib Dems and Independent councillors, the only prominent supporters have been the usual liberal elite suspects, frothed into a self-righteous frenzy of indignation at having their judgment questioned by those outside of their echo chamber of like-minded sycophants, and of course private business, which stands to be the biggest beneficiary of a successful bid.
In successful bids for this ‘honour’ in the past, private business has played a large part, both in running and funding bids. Cornwall’s bid is notable for the lack of private funding – in fact at the original proposal that the cabinet voted on, there were many vocal cries of support from Cornish business, but precisely zero offers of private funding.
I have nothing against championing and celebrating our Cornish culture and heritage. We certainly don’t lack in it, from the very real milestones achieved by captains of industry such as Richard Trevithick, to the more recent fictional exploits of Ross Poldark and friends. I don’t think we need a badge from Europe to tell us what we already know. Cornwall is already a capital of culture.
I particularly object to this bid being funded by public money alone when the administration at Cornwall Council publicly cry that central government has cut their funding and they have nothing left for essential services and highways. They always seem to find the money for their pet vanity projects though, and this risky gamble is the latest in a long list of such things.
It is a gamble not only because Cornwall would be going up against several other bids that have been running for much longer, with more established and tangible support from all sectors, but also because post Brexit, the viability for UK cities as part of the bid is in question. In fact the Government said in December that, ‘… in 2023 … bidding cities should be aware that the European Capital of Culture title may be subject to the outcome of those exit negotiations which could have a bearing on the UK’s participation…’
Conservatives on Cornwall Council sensibly called the bid in for further scrutiny and the Scrutiny Committee agreed, sending it back to the Cabinet because of insufficient consideration on cost, risk and benefit, and lack of consultation. The Cabinet were due to consider it again on 27th February.
In the meantime, Full Council met on 21 February to vote on Cornwall Council’s budget for the oncoming year. Conservatives submitted an amendment that would have seen funding taken from the City of Culture Bid and put towards local highways schemes, one of the areas that the leadership have said they have no money for in the past. This would have essentially killed the bid if successfully passed. Sadly it was not passed and Lib Dem and Independent councillors overwhelmingly voted against the amendment, interestingly in a named vote including several Lib Dems, the archetypal fence-sitters, who had publicly criticised the bid in local press in previous weeks.
On 27 February the Cabinet met again, and despite the growing public backlash and evidence to the contrary, voted the Bid through, publicly criticising the Cornwall six Tory MPs, who are all against it, for ‘lack of vision’.
Voters in Cornwall now have a clear choice as we head into May, a vote to continue the hare-brained schemes and Brexit-denial of the Lib Dems and friends, or a vote for Conservatives, who will work with our MPs instead of in spite of them, to get the best deal for our beautiful Duchy from Brexit and beyond.