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28.2.08

You've been Quango'd me ansum

As can never be stressed enough, during the governments consultation on regional devolution within England, Cornwall was the only 'region' that showed any real popular interest in greater self government.

A few years down the road and where are we? Still languishing under unelected quangos is the unfortunate answer, and what is worse, next to none of the quangocrats are Cornish. The map on the left produced by the New Local Government Network as part of its study -You’ve been Quango’d! Mapping Power across the Regions- clearly shows that London and the counties immediately surrounding it are home to over half of all quango board members, where as Cornwall and the North of England have next to no voice on public bodies. Basically the poorer you are, the poorer the region you come from, the less likely you are to become a quangocrat. Cornwall, unsurprisingly, is in the bottom ten of barely represented regions.

The Carnegie UK Trust has examine how political power actually works in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and in particular reviewed the opportunities for ordinary people to participate in public decision-making. The Carnegie UK Trust commissioned Democratic Audit to carry out a review of power and participation in the UK. The pdf report, which supports the findings of the New Local Government Network, can be found here - Power & Participation in Modern Britian.

Taken from OurKingdom:

Many of our findings will be familiar enough. Within the UK, the core executive, or government, wields great and often unaccountable power. This power is sealed in most circumstances by the governing party’s majority in the House of Commons - an institution that also acts as bulwark against popular opinion. The City of London and corporate business exercise wide and continuing influence upon government, in part because of the global ideological environment. The media also exert influence upon government policies and the print media, in particular the Murdoch newspapers, clearly exercise political power - for example, on the Blair government’s policies towards the EU. Participation by citizens and communities in the UK is as unequal as the distribution of power and resources in what is an increasingly unequal society. Rich and highly educated social groups tend to dominate associational life, or civil society, and benefit disproportionately from the influence that their organised activities can bring to bear. Social exclusion inhibits the participation of poor and disadvantaged communities and individuals.

Our Duchy is a classic example and the only solution is to dote Cornwall with the democratic institutions that it needs and has asked for, a view supported by Lord Tyler last week at the Justice Committees session on the English Questions.

Taken from Our KingdomPaul Tyler highlighted the fact that it is not just the English question it is also a Cornish question, and a question for all of England outside London that already has some devolved powers. He called for decentralisation of power and reform of the electoral system. 

It is also gratifying to see Peter Facey of Unlock Democracy referring to the Cornish call for devolution and our petition of 50,000. The Justice Committees evidence gathering on the English Questions -Devolution 10 years on- can be watched in full here.

25.2.08

MK on the Unitary Authority

MK HITS OUT AT FAILURE OF MPS TO OPPOSE ORDER TO CREATE UNITARY COUNCIL

Government minister confirms that there will be no extra powers for unitary council.

Mebyon Kernow says Cornwall’s Liberal Democrat MPs have let Cornwall down by failing to oppose the passage of the Draft Cornwall (Structural Change) Order 2008 through the House of Commons which will lead to the imposition of a single unitary authority on Cornwall.

The Order was debated in the House of Commons (Delegated Legislation Committee) on 7th February. All five of Cornwall’s MPs were present and four spoke in favour of the Order – even after the Government’s Local Government Minister John Healey MP clarified that “no specific additional powers are attached to this restructuring to establish a single unitary council.”

Andrew George meanwhile used the debate to describe the Order as “technically, legally and politically defective” and a botched job. He also accused the Minister of producing a ‘minimalist’ regulation which “failed to meet the ambitions of the people of Cornwall.”

However, the two MPs representing Cornish constituencies on the Delegated Legislation Committee (Julia Goldsworthy and Dan Rogerson) both voted for the proposal following the debate.

The Order actually passed through the House of Commons on 18th February by 287 votes to 116. Andrew George MP voted against the Order, something described by MK as “an action that is both too little and too late.” The other four Cornish MPs are not recorded as having cast a vote.

Speaking on behalf of Mebyon Kernow, Party Leader Cllr Dick Cole, said:
“Throughout the debate around Cornwall County Council’s bid for a unitary authority, the Liberal Democrat leadership of the Council and Cornwall’s five MPs made claim after claim that a single unitary authority would lead to the devolution.

“They even continued with this misinformation after a leading government civil servant visited Cornwall and rubbished their statements that a unitary authority for Cornwall would be given greater powers.

“And now we have ridiculous situation of four Cornish MPs continuing to speak in favour of the proposals during a House of Commons debate - even after the Local Government Minister confirmed that the creation of a single unitary authority for Cornwall was about local government reform and nothing more – while Andrew George tries desperately to distance himself from his colleagues.”

Cllr Cole, who is the also MK’s prospective parliamentary candidate for St Austell and Newquay, added:“It is about time that Cornwall’s Liberal Democrats came clean and admitted that they have let Cornwall down by abandoning their commitment to a Cornish Assembly and that their half-baked proposals for a unitary authority will not lead to the devolution of greater powers.”

CONTACT

Cllr Dick Cole 07791 876607

Further information

1. In November 2001, Liberal Democrats held a Cornwall Conference which agreed to “recommend that the Party campaigns for a devolved and democratically elected Regional Assembly for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.”

2. On 12th December, Cornwall’s four Liberal Democrat MPs (Colin Breed, Andrew George, Matthew Taylor and Paul Tyler) were part of the delegation that presented 50,000 individually signed declarations for a Cornish Assembly to 10 Downing Street. The declaration campaign was a Mebyon Kernow initiative.

3. Liberal Democrats contested the 2005 General Election and Cornwall County Council elections with a Cornish Manifesto which included a commitment to a Cornish Assembly.

4. Upon winning control of Cornwall County Council in 2005, they published a list of priorities that included a pledge to “establish detailed plans for a Cornish Assembly” within their first year of office. The Lib Dems failed to do anything to take forward this pledge.

5. At another conference of Cornish Liberal Democrats in November 2005, they re-affirmed their commitment to the campaign for a Cornish Assembly. In particular, the motion agreed that “any programme of devolution to a Cornish tier of strategic regional government should be a precursor to the resolution of how local government should then be structured.” In his press release to publicise the event Andrew George MP mentioned the possibility of a review of local government and said: “I will make clear that the Government will not get away with their belief that they can fob us off with a rearrangement of deckchairs on the Titanic of local government.”

6. On Thursday 26th October 2006, Ruth Kelly launched a Local Government White Paper, which included the announcement of a “short window of opportunity for a small number of councils to seek unitary status.” The Liberal Democrat County Council immediately jettisoned their commitment to a Cornish Assembly and began to prepare a bid for a single council.

7. In spite of the Lib Dems resolution from November 2005 and earlier commitments to a Cornish Assembly, Andrew George MP made the claim that the White Paper is a “golden opportunity” to create a body to “draw down decision-making power from Government quangos, boards, agencies and other unelected departmental bodies.” Matthew Taylor MP meanwhile claimed that local government reforms would “get some powers back to Cornwall from the South West Region and central government” and speaking on the Politics Programme (29th October 2006), Colin Breed MP made the ridiculous statement that such a new body would be “akin to a Cornish Assembly.”

8. The Liberal Democrats even continued to make the claim that local government reform would lead to devolution after Mr David Prout, the Director of Local Democracy at the Department for Communities and Local Government, addressed a meeting of councillors at County Hall on 9th March 2007. At this meeting, Mr Prout confirmed that a unitary authority would not be able to draw down greater powers from regional and central government, stating that a “unitary authority will be a unitary authority” and that there were “no goodies” on offer.

9. The Liberal Democrats on Cornwall County Council continued with their bid for unitary status even when it was apparent that 80% of local people were opposed to the move as shown by the postal poll carried out by four district councils.

10. The majority of Liberal Democrat MPs refused to oppose the Order to set up the unitary authority, even after it was confirmed by the Local Government Minister John Healey MP that “no specific additional powers are attached to this restructuring to establish a single unitary council.”

23.2.08

Cornish referendums & myverdict.net

Some curious signals coming from the Talk Democracy forum and an organisation called myverdict.net that I'd like to bring to popular attention. The following is a synthesis of postings from someone involved in myverdict.net.

It may not be generally known but we already have a degree of direct democratic capability in the UK. As I found out myself only a few days ago, local authorities have their own written constitutions. The council's themselves accept a responsibility to encourage greater citizen participation in the decision making process and councillors have a duty to be an advocate of and for the views of their constituents.

The problem, as I see it, is that there is no 'official' way to find the majority opinion on any issue. One of my local councillors, when elected, polled 1,233 votes out of 2,766 cast. The voter turnout was 29.7% of the electorate. There are therefore about 9000 eligible voters in my ward. If all the citizens who voted for said councillor made their views known to him on any one issue, they would still not constitute a majority opinion of the 'will of the people'. While he would no doubt make representation on behalf of those who made their opinions known, he would not be obliged to support it or vote accordingly, it being a minority opinion. It is for the same reason, Downing St petitions can be ignored. However, if 4,501 people expressed a view, he would be obliged by the council's constitution, to be an advocate of and for said opinion.

The need then, if people actually want their opinions to have an effect on policy, is for them to state their views in greater numbers. myverdict.net is set up to collect majority opinions on every issue. It may not be the ideal but it covers the whole of the UK down to local authority level. It could easily and quickly be extended downwards to ward level. What myverdict.net needs is exposure/publicity, to let people know that it exists. The same is true of course for any and all sites working in this genre.

I've noted a few contributors from Cornwall here at Talk Democracy. Please consider me suitably chastised. I was unaware that there was a sovereignty dispute with regards to Cornwall. After some minor googlin', I find that there's a case to answer. People at all levels of society, from the lowly House of Lords, to Cornish people themselves, admit that the claim that Cornwall is apart from England, is not spurious.

From the evidence that I've seen, I'm unable to say, at present, on which side of the argument I stand. Of course, not being Cornish, I have no right to participate in any decision to determine the status of Cornwall. Regardless of the outcome of the ongoing debate and whether it would be good or bad for the people of Cornwall or England, I believe the right to self-determination of a people, is paramount. I have seen no argument to suggest that Cornish people do not constitute a people. Therefore I, on behalf of myverdict.net acknowledge the inalienable right, under international law, of the Cornish People, to self-determination.

I will, within the next two days, institute Cornwall as a 'home country' of the United Kingdom, at myverdict.net where it will have its own associated pages. Due to the fact that some residents of Cornwall may not be Cornish, I will also maintain Cornwall as a county, within England. Users may then associate themselves accordingly. It is now up to you, the residents of Cornwall, Cornish or otherwise, to find your majority opinions and go on to decide your future.

Roy

15.2.08

Modernising the Magna Carta? Why not start in the bottom left hand corner?

No new Cornish constitutional accommodation without consultation.

Jack Straw gave a speech at the George Washington University about the UK's and USA's constitutional heritage and what a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities might look like. The talk was entitled "Modernising the Magna Carta"; full article here.

The Independent has also produced an article on the United Kingdoms constitution called; Why doesn't the UK have a written constitution, and does it matter? In the article Nigel Morris writes "Britain's constitution has developed in haphazard fashion, building on common law, case law, historical documents, Acts of Parliament and European legislation". Haphazard seems just a little euphemistic to me but anyway what would this constitutional arrangement look like to the people of Cornwall if written down and how would our Cornish Duchy figure in it?

If written, it would include:- The Duke of Cornwall shall be the heir apparent. He shall have Cornwall as a Duchy and the right to control or intervene in proceedings affecting his rights, property or profits. Within Cornwall, He shall have the right to the King’s Writ and Summons of Exchequer, intestate estates, bona vacantia, foreshore, treasure trove, the stannaries, gold and silver and Tintagel Castle (amongst other properties). The Duke and the Duchy of Cornwall shall have the right to a Trial at Bar, crown immunity from prosecution and exemption from the Land Registration, planning and Freedom of Information Acts. H.M. Treasury shall regulate as required by the Duchy of Cornwall Management Acts 1863-1982.

Doesn't much look like the constitution of a modern and egalitarian democracy does it? The situation, as it stands today, has this feudal relic giving the heir to the throne unaccountable and undemocratic powers to the prejudice of the indigenous people of Cornwall as revealed here by the Cornish Stannary Parliament.

Does the government, does anyone, simply suggest codifying that which exists into a written constitution? Would anybody actually accept a constitution which flies in the face of such internationally recognised human rights standards as a guarantee of equality before the law? Why indeed do we put up with this situation now?

A new constitution will have to tackle the 'national' question in an equitable manner for all the constituent peoples of the UK as well as its crown dependencies and protectorates, but it would, of course, not be the first time that this question has been treated in the constitutional construction of the English and later UK state.

One previous settlement, whilst provideing the heir to the English throne with an income thus relieving the English tax payer of the burden, recognised Cornwall's distinct position in the emerging state. The Duchy is still with us today and is one of the 'haphazard' developments that governs us in a much less than transparent way.

Some have suggested that the process of writing a British constitution would be cathartic if conducted in a genuinely inclusive fashion. I totally agree and would add that the Cornish public should be active participants in deciding the future of the Duchy, Cornwall and its constitutional position within any future state.

Following Cornwall's popular call for devolution and the growing celebration of its identity surely removing its last vestiges of constitutional recognition without public consultation would be as unjust as maintaining that which exists.

A just and modern accommodation of Cornwall demands an open and inclusive discussion with the Cornish people, something that, to date, we have been denied. Simply trying to force this round British territorial peg into a square English county hole is never going to work and so it shouldn't.

12.2.08

Fog in Westminster - Europe Cut Off / Cornwall Cut Off

Peter Sutherland of the Federal Trust has produced this pamphlet, Fog in Westminster Europe Cut Off, that reviews the often stormy relationship between the United Kingdoms various governments and European integration.

Sutherland documents the decades of wasted opportunities, europhobia and anti EU populism. He describes clearly the cowardice both Tory and Labour governments have shown in broaching the core European issues with the UK public.

Neither party, in Peter Sutherland’s opinion, has had the “courage to explain to the British electorate that political integration within the European Union is central to the way the Union works, that the European institutions are a necessary part of this integration … and that political integration is beneficial to those who participate in it.”

This pamphlet is a must for all who want to gain a deeper understanding of the UK in Europe and in particular help burst some europhobic bubbles.

Taken from the OurKingdom blog:

There are at least two fatal flaws in this conspiracy theory of federalism. The first is that it in no way relates the reality: what Jacques Delors once described as “a federalising European Union” is characterised as much by devolution of power downwards (to regions and communities) as it is upwards to the EU itself. The second is that it fails to recognise that EU member states have been and continue to be willing to share sovereignty through binding legal and political processes to confront challenges and problems which defy solution at the purely national level. Indeed Sutherland might have made more of the fact that policies get transferred from the dimension of inter-governmental cooperation to decision making at the EU level, when hard experience has repeatedly demonstrated the poverty of actual results from mere “cooperation.”

After a quick glance at the Federal Trust website another document produced by Dr Thomas lane called Regionalism and the Conditions for a New International Organisation catches the eye. Not being the only Cornish person who is generally positive about European integration I'm sure that I am not alone in wishing to see a decisive commitment from European regionalists / federalists to the stateless nations and natural historic regions that are the bedrock of Europe.

10.2.08

Women in Politics

2008 is the 90th anniversary of the Representation of Peoples Act that gave some women the right to vote. It is also 80 years since women won the rights to vote on equal terms with men.

In 2008 a group of organisations has come together to create Woman and the Vote to mark these two monumental dates and to highlight the enormous disparity that still exists between women and men in UK politics.

The Electoral Reform Society has published this map and document which shows just 291 women have ever sat in the Commons; a mere 6 per cent of all those who have ever been elected to the House.

This is a call for all Cornish groups and political bodies in the Duchy to contact and support this campaign. Women are relatively well represented in various Cornish groups but there is still much room for improvement.

Is it conceivable that one or more Cornish organisations could run a parallel campaign in Kernow? It's only going to look good to %50 of the population!

Liberal Democrat Schizophrenia

On first impression the press release below from MP Andrew George looks like great stuff, we can all rest assured because Mr George is out there fighting for Cornwall and democracy, but then something just clashes doesn't it?

The councillors who control the county council and who are pushing through the undemocratic unitary authority are in the same party, the Liberal Democrats, as Mr George.

In the past another Lib Dem MP, Mathew Taylor, once explained to me that there is a "diversity of opinion within the party" when I questioned him about the virulent anti Cornish attitude of the Liberal Democrat councillor Doris Ansari.

Well isn't that great, so much variety of opinion in one party why do we need so many different political parties in the first place? It looks like the Lib Dems are, or at least want to be, all things for all people.

Mr George are you sure you are in the right party?

Taken from Cornwall 24: Unitary Authority is defective

The MP for the West Cornwall constituency of St Ives, Andrew George, told the Government’s Local Government Minister, Rt. Hon John Healey MP, that the Parliamentary order to create a Single Unitary Authority for Cornwall was “technically, legally and politically defective” and that he would do as he had long promised and vote against the order at the first opportunity.

Mr George was speaking in a Committee debate held in the Commons yesterday (7th February 2008). He told the Minister that he would have to do more to ensure that Cornwall could realise its ambitions to gain more power from Central Government and unelected quangos in the Government zone of the South West.

Mr George criticised the order for being legally defective – not having the power to cancel elections in Penwith this year, nor for other plans – technically defective, in that it failed to abolish Cornwall County Council along with District Council’s as previously promised – and politically defective - for failing to provide the structures to devolve powers to Cornwall, nor the internal structures to give local communities the ability to run their own affairs.

Mr George, who had voted against the Government’s Local Government Act – which creates the framework for unitary local government – at every stage last year, accused the Minister of producing a ‘minimalist’ regulation which failed to meet the ambitions of the people of Cornwall.

Mr George also poured scorn on the Conservative MP, Mark Prisk, from Hertford, who he accused of engaging in petty opportunism and putting Party tribalism above the interests of Cornwall.

Although the Minister indicated that he was prepared to back down on his plans to postpone Parish Council elections until 2013, Mr George did not feel that the Minister had gone far enough and that he would stick to his long held commitments, as he reiterated throughout the process, and vote against the order when he has an opportunity in Parliament in two weeks time.

9.2.08

British Bill of Rights

A quick note to point out the following document just released by the Justice constitution committee and a response by the Cornish Stannary Parliament.


The Justice constitution committee has released their report A British Bill of Rights - informing the debate. This report aims to encourage debate on the question: ‘should there be a Bill of Rights for Britain?’ It is intended to focus and inform public discussion on whether our rights are best protected under the current Human Rights Act 1998, or whether it is time to build on that Act by creating a home-grown bill of rights which seeks to entrench specifically British Values and articulate the balance of constitutional powers appropriate for a modern British democracy. The pdf report may be found here.

To be studied by all interested in rights for UK citizens including those of the Cornish. The CSP has produced an interesting response to this document. Taken from the angle of the Cornish national minority, it examines the possible interaction between the Duchy of Cornwall and a written UK constitution.

The JUSTICE proposals for “A British Bill of Rights” recognises at para. 39, page 29, that: “Over the past decade there has been increasing recognition that access to equality and protection from discrimination under UK law is piecemeal and, at times, ineffective”. An ineffective remedy against the abuse of power can be attributed to the failure to secure a statutory guarantee for Sir Hersch Lauterpacht’s internationally recognised basic constitutional right to equality before the law. It is contended that the legacy of an authoritarian ‘rule of law’ continues to facilitate grace and favour government with the freedom to impose arbitrary decisions of bias and discrimination, in particular, to the prejudice of national minorities, such as the Cornish. More..

5.2.08

Unlock Democracy on Cornwall

After some badgering on my part it is gratifying to see Unlock Democracy starting to take the idea of Cornish devolution a little more seriously. 

Unlock Democracy is a UK think tank which campaigns for a more participatory democracy in the UK, founded upon a written constitution. Unlock Democracy works to promote democratic reform across the political spectrum and is not aligned with any political party.

Recently Peter Facey of Unlock Democracy London, in an article called Regions, Parliaments and the future of England produced for the blog site Our Kingdom, had this to say on Cornish devolution:

"Cornwall is larger than Wyoming, Luxembourg, Malta and three Spanish Autonomous Regions. Shouldn't we be presuming that such areas can withstand devolution - rather than that they can’t?"

Unlock democracy also has the following to say on centralisation and constitution in the UK.

Unlock Government: the combination of the inherited powers of feudal monarchs, modern media’s concentration on the Prime Minster and overuse of the party whip has turned Britain in to one of the most centralised countries in Europe. Governments have become locked in a vicious circle of centralising power in an effort to improve public services, only to find this leads to increased dissatisfaction. The quango state - unelected and unaccountable bodies which have a direct impact on ordinary people’s lives - has become a common feature of our political life.

Unlock the Constitution: despite advances such as the creation of the Human Rights Act, a simple majority in the House of Commons can curtail our rights and freedoms by changing our unwritten constitution. At a time of heightened security and fear of terrorism we believe that Britain needs a new constitutional settlement in which basic rights and freedoms are entrenched.

These are also undoubtedly concerns of organisations such as the Cornish Social and Economic Research Group and the Cornish Constitutional Convention so why shouldn't there be a constructive dialogue between them and Unlock Democracy?

Finally way back at the beginning of my badgering on behalf of Kernow I received the message below from Unlock Democracy.

Thank you for your email. The position of Unlock Democracy is that we support decentralisation of power with in the United Kingdom and believe that we should start a the bottom by strengthening local government.

We also believe that citizens should have the right to initiate change themselves by raising a petition and by holding a referendum. Under any such proposal the 50,000 names you have raised would trigger a referendum.

We do not have a policy on Cornwall or on linguistic communities, but we do support people within the UK deciding how they should be governed. In terms of devolution within England we have said that people should be able to define their own regions, rather than going for the arbitrary government regions.

My own personal view is that if the people of Cornwall wish recognition of themselves as a nation within the UK or within England then that should be their right as long as it is done in democratic manner.

I hope this helps

Unlock Democracy, Basement, 6 Cynthia Street, London N1 9JF