1-0 TO CORNWALL: FIRST BLOW IN FIGHT AGAINST #DEVONWALL
The Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill – 2nd reading has been passed in Parliament, sounds boring yes, but in effect it’s a first blow in the fight against the Government’s Devonwall Plans.
In a debate today ( Fri 18/11) in Parliament that lasted over 4 hours, only Sheryl Murray and Steve Double were in the chamber out of the 6 Cornish Conservative MPs .
Steve Double, MP for Snozzle & NQY, surprised and impressed many Cornish campaigners as he made an impassioned speech, immediately setting out that he would be voting against the government.
He made the point that even though there was no logical or legal argument against Devonwall, ‘it was an emotional response’ to object. He said he knew others wouldn’t understand it but he had to take the chance to make Cornwall’s case.
He said he was responding to the people of Cornwall who had urged him to speak up.
“The people of Cornwall feel very strongly about this and whether they are directly impacted or not, they feel very passionate about it. This has provoked very strong feelings from a number of people”
He said he acknowledged this emotional response might not be understood by those up the line but tried to explain by saying :
“It stabs at the very core of the way we feel about our county – we feel it is challenging our identity. That in-built deep sense of Cornish independence is provoked at the thought of our border being crossed. It symbolises something far deeper in the Cornish pysche.
We understand that some people might not understand our point of view, what we can’t accept is our views not being respected”
“But despite the rhetoric, the legal arguments are very weak within the current law” he continued. “No matter how many representations we make to the Boundary Commission, their hands are tied by the legislation” but despite it not being logical, he said he had to vote with his heart.
He went on to say that although the Cornish have been recognised as a National Minoirity since 2014, the FCPNM couldn’t be used in the case of boundary changes.
“The Boundary Commission have respected the borders of Scotland and Wales whilst drawing up the new constituencies, the same respect has not been shown to the Cornish border”
He called for an amendment to the bill to make Cornwall a special case.
In contrast, Sheryl Murray, MP for South East Cornwall, immediately supported the Devonwall plan and went on to criticise Cornwall Council for spending money on legal advice and wasting time debating the issue, which she obviously didn’t see as any of the Council’s business.
Scott Mann, MP for North Cornwall, and therefore representing those constituents most affected by a Devonwall seat was not even present at the debate. Does he not have an opinion on it?
Earlier in the week former St Ives MP Andrew George had called the debate “a golden opportunity for all those MPs who sincerely oppose the cross-border constituency the chance to demonstrate their real commitment to Cornwall” and attend the Friday debate, a day that MPs normally would spend in their constituencies.
The boundary changes that are proposed are only a tiny part of a UK wide review. Many MPs from across the country spoke out against the Govt Plans, mostly raising objections about splitting communities, and on democratic deficit grounds – arguing that if the Govt want to save on the money it spends on Parliament, it should first look at cutting the House of Lords, whose members outnumber the Commons almost two to one. The government is also accused of ‘gerrymandering’ – the practice of changing the boundaries etc so your party has an advantage.
Disappointingly for Cornish campaigners, none of the rest of the country’s MPs mentioned their support for Cornwall, although when introducing her Bill, Pat Glass said that she had received the largest amount of public correspondence from the Duchy.
At one point Alex Salmond of the SNP interrupted Steve Double to ask if he was aware that “the nonsense like the one he was eloquently describing could be replicated across the four nations of the United Kingdom, as well as in the nation of Cornwall”
Sheryl Murray’s performance was particularly guiling. She seemed to be there solely to delay proceedings, filibuster and do Tory Party work – anything but represent her constituents. She even interrupted fellow Cornish MP Steve Double at least twice, at one point saying to him
“You say you are here to speak for the people of Cornwall. Well, I’m a Cornish girl and you don’t speak for me”.
She disputed the strength of feeling Devonwall has provoked, claiming that only 400 out of her 70,000 odd constituents had signed a petition against it. She then went on to say that although it was unpalatable to some, the argument was lost, then she sat down with a smirk on her face. Other Tories joined in the delaying tactics, with one Conservative, Mark Harper getting told off by the Speaker for lying – about having a cold so he asked to go first so he could get to his sick bed, then he dragged on for about an hour whilst supposedly poorly. He was still there at the end of the debate at approx 2pm!
She wasn’t finished for the day – she remained in the chamber and filibustered through a bill about disability rights, which meant it couldn’t become law. Her behaviour has received widespread criticism and been called “awful and despicable”.
Steve Double concluded by asking the MP who had brought forward the Bill Pat Glass, to consider putting an amendment to the Bill, as it proceeds, to make a special case for Cornwall, under the terms Special Minority Status that the Cornish enjoy, to protect the traditional Cornish Parliamentary boundaries.
Commenting after the debate, Steve said:
“I have always said that I am a Cornishman first and a Conservative second. As MP I can use my position to speak up and vote in Parliament where I think I can best affect change. This is one of those occasions when I believe that speaking up for Cornwall is the best thing to do even if it means disagreeing with the Government and so that is what I have done.”
The constituencies bill now goes to committee stage, and so although a blow has been landed, the fight against Devonwall continues.
See Steve Double’s speech here:
(meur ras to @Kernowpods for link)