Voters in St Ives are in a state of deep perplexity. Many of them feel politically homeless.
A large number of left-wing Leavers in West Cornwall are unhappy about supporting either of the two main contenders for the seat, and can also be heard wondering whether they can trust Boris Johnson.
The highly marginal constituency of St Ives, which includes Land’s End and Penzance, was held in 2017 by Derek Thomas for the Conservatives, who beat Andrew George, for the Lib Dems, by 312 votes.
The same two candidates have faced each other over the last three general elections and will fight it out again this time, George having represented the seat from 1997 to 2015, for much of that period with just over half the vote.
Nigel Farage’s announcement on Monday that the Brexit Party is withdrawing its candidates in Tory-held seats has shocked Leave voters in St Ives.
Tris Stock said on Monday evening in the Longboat Inn in Penzance, the largest town in the constituency, he was so infuriated that for several hours that afternoon he had contemplated standing himself in St Ives under the banner of “Real Brexit”.
He added: “You are speaking to someone who was right on the verge of trying to take votes away from the Conservatives.
“It was because the Brexit Party dumped us, and I liked the Brexit Party a lot.
“I’m a democrat before any other political consideration. I mean that.
“And I’m a Brexiteer. Any socialist has to be a Brexiteer. Don’t think for a moment the Labour Party is anything to do with socialism. It’s about maintaining the status quo.
“There is only one socialist left in the Labour Party as far as I’m concerned and that is Dennis Skinner.”
Stock will not support Labour in this election: “They screwed me over because they said, ‘We will respect the referendum’.”
Nor will he support the Lib Dems, with their commitment to reverse Brexit, although “I quite liked Andrew George as an MP “.
But can he trust the Conservative candidate? Stock wrestled with this question: “Ninety-five per cent of all the people I know are not only pro-Brexit but don’t like Derek Thomas. They hate him. They don’t believe him.
“Those sort of people are why Leave won the referendum – it managed to get people who are not very interested to vote. And they’ll vote pro-Brexit on 12th December.”
ConHome: “But does that mean voting for Derek Thomas?”
Stock: “It probably does. There’s a part of me that wants to pin him down to a written statement that he accepts what Boris Johnson said, that we will not extend beyond 2020. He’ll avoid me like the plague.
“So I have to trust Boris Johnson, who I would not trust as far as I could throw him. Do you?”
A retired coach driver stood up for Johnson: “I actually like him. Everybody said he’s going to make a mess. I said no, he’s too intelligent.
“We’ve got to vote Tory down here and get rid of the Lib Dems. They’re signing up with the Greens to stop Brexit.”
Someone else remarked that Andrew George “is actually a decent guy”. The retired coach driver replied: “”Yes, I totally agree with you there, but I can’t vote for him.
“This area has always been a Lib Dem area but I think they’ve shot themselves in the foot [by backing revoke].
“In Newlyn [the fishing port next to Penzance] they voted out. I hope to God the Tories don’t let them down. They’ve got to protect the fishing thing.”
“Everything is a farce,” another man declared. “You had the referendum which had the highest turnout ever. Now the politicians haven’t carried through on the plan they all support. And that’s a farce.
“And it’s not going to get any better. They want to be ruled by Brussels so they don’t have to take any decisions. Easy life for them, isn’t it.
“The less they have to do for their salaries and the more they can concentrate on their company directorships the happier they are.”
A 72-year-old lawyer said: “I take the view that people of my age shouldn’t be voting at all.”
Before the referendum, he accordingly consulted his 11 children, all of whom – except the youngest, who gave no advice – urged him to vote Remain, which he did: “They feel European and they know full well that all the stuff about we’ll have a great future is complete bollocks.”
Stock urged ConHome to conduct research in some other pubs, so we make our way in the rain up Market Jew Street, a name said to be a corruption of the Cornish for Thursday Market, and admired the statue of Sir Humphrey Davy, famous son of Penzance, in front of the granite portico of the Market Building, whose lantern floats above the town.
My guide recited a Clerihew:
Sir Humphrey Davy
He lived in the odium
Of having discovered Sodium.
We entered the Tremenheere pub, where we met a greenkeeper from one of the local golf clubs. He said he usually votes Conservative but doesn’t know who he will back this time: “Who’s got the best lies?”
An unemployed chef said of Brexit in a judicious tone: “I don’t think there’s a completely wrong and right answer to it.”
A couple waiting for some food said they will be voting Lib Dem. After we had left them, I suggested to Stock that there did not seem to be many Lib Dems around.
He corrected this misapprehension: “Liberal Democrat, Remain types – they exist. They’re all over the place. They sit in the corners of pubs.”
He offered his gut feeling about the election result in St Ives: “It’s leaning Lib Dem, but I can’t for the life of me say why. It’s a Brexit area, right?”
Stock insisted no tour of the pubs of Penzance could omit the Seven Stars, a few yards down a street to the left of the Market Building. The pub was animated, eight or ten figures gesticulating at each other in front of the bar, which is decorated with photographs of Marilyn Monroe.
The music was too loud for interviews, but as we stood with one or two smokers in a covered passage outside, a fisherman came out and introduced himself as Matthew Price of the Ajax. He said:
“I don’t know. The country was given the opportunity – we voted out.
“The British Government is looking so weak it’s an embarrassment. We’ve had no one to lead us into Brexit.
“Theresa May – what a pisspoor choice. This country needed someone like Donald Trump.
“Someone who’s totally outspoken. Someone who’s not a politician. This country needs to have a backbone.
“What we need is a strong leader who’s not going to bullshit us.
“I like Boris Johnson for the simple fact he’s a bit outspoken, he’s not afraid to speak his mind, he’s not some political f—ing puppet.
“But I’m a big Margaret Thatcher fan. She had the balls to shoot the Belgrano in the back.
“She turned round and said, ‘I’m sorry, this is war, it’s in English waters.’
“All I want is can we please have a government that has some backbone. This whole Brexit has been an embarrassment. We look weak on the world stage.”
Price remembered the night of the referendum: “I was on the boat, there was six on the boat, me and the skipper stayed up and watched it all night long.
“This is the biggest thing that’s happened in my lifetime apart from the Eurovision Song Contest.”
High seriousness, jokes and a mercurial sense of independence co-exist in West Cornwall. The Prime Minister might be well advised to go and assure the crew of the Ajax he is not going to let them down.