With the exception of Gavin Barker and Andrew George, no record of names is normally kept at part of meeting records. We do not speak on behalf of our parties or make decisions. Comments are unattributable. However those of you who are members of parties may use this to feed back to your local branch.
There were around 25 participants drawn from different parties and in some cases none. The purpose of the meeting was to reflect on the election and map a way forward.
Feedback from participants
The order in which these points are made does not reflect priority of importance
- Round table introductions revealed fluid party loyalty. Virtually everyone present had voted for different centre-left parties at different times including Labour and Liberal Democrat. This election was no different with many voting for parties that were not their first choice. This was not driven purely by tactical voting; many commented on the positives in different party manifestos and were not persuaded that one party had all the answers
- Unsurprisingly those present expressed a strong desire to move away from narrow tribal politics. One participant from Ireland described our politics as ‘bafflingly tribal’. In her home country, coalitions and deal making were the norm. While there will never be any neat, clear demarcation point between valid party differences and narrow tribalism, there was a need to change the mentality that governed political behaviour in and outside political parties.
- Many were unhappy with the negative campaigning material produced by different party HQ’s which involved attacks against other centre-left parties. Some felt this damaged party credibility and alienated voters
- Many were also upset at the level of spite and vindictiveness against those promoting a progressive alliance whether at local party level or at a broader national level. One person noted the contrast between Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to political debate which refused to personalise political debate – in contrast to his followers who did the exact opposite
- Another participant flagged up the strong shift in the political landscape now underway. The electoral arithmetic showed Labour as the front runner both locally and nationally . If people wanted a progressive politics, only Labour could deliver this. This caused some contention and among the points made were:
- The strong Labour vote in Truro-Falmouth was due to the demographic shift with an expanding student population in Falmouth. For example it did not apply to St Ives and it was pointless to push a Labour vote if it split the overall constituency vote and allowed the Conservatives to remain.
- Labour were taking others’s votes for granted. One person warned this might result in a growing backlash and an unwillingness to give their vote to Labour next time round. Labour needed to acknowledge political plurality in Cornwall and elsewhere, if it was to sustain the surge and ensure it won power at the next election.
- Electoral reform was a big issue for everyone present but no-one got the sense that Labour took this seriously. Liberal Democrats had not helped the issue by pushing for AV which was mis-sold as a form of proportional representation and which the public rejected
- The majority of people present wanted Jeremy Corbyn to be PM. This was quite separate from a desire for a genuine multi-party politics based on PR
- More than one person observed that there was a high degree of voter ignorance among both young and old about our present election system and how Parliament worked. One person present found himself explaining what a constituency was, what the role of a Prime Minister was
- There was also a high degree of voter apathy. Many had no interest in voting or politics in general. Many others felt that their vote did not count anyway and that regardless of which party got in, they were not listened to.
- Place based politics is ignored by all the big parties – a sentiment shared by most but not all. They are too Westminster centric and fail to understand the local context which gives issues such as the NHS and housing a particular dimension that cannot be resolved by one-size-fits-all top down policies. The main parties also fail to understand or acknowledge Cornwall’s distinctive sense of identity. That said, one dissenting voice argued that Labour had worked hard to address local grassroots issues, whether they have national resonance or not- and to address the Cornwall dimension to major national issues.
- There is little sense that Labour, either locally or nationally, are interested in talking to other centre-left parties. The one-more-heave approach dominates party strategy and it was telling that only two Labour members were present at this meeting. (NB it was later pointed out that few Labour members knew of this event and were in any case tied up with ongoing local campaigns on e.g. second homes; it also clashed with a local constituency AGM meeting.) Another person observed that the conference in March may have sent a wrong signal. It was chaired by a Labour member and conveyed the false impression that Labour was seriously interested in pushing for a local progressive alliance.
West Cornwall Post-Brexit Alliance – a ‘common values’ document
A 1-page discussion paper setting out common values was submitted by Andrew George (click here>>>). This drew a positive response from those present. It is divided into two parts: what we oppose – for example growth in second homes, public sector cuts, increased poverty; and what we are for – fully funded health and education, electoral reform, fair funding for Cornwall.
The purpose was to find a form of words which ‘captures a perspective and a set of values that bind a broad group of people together’ and ‘raises the discourse above the process and personality laden obsession of routine tribal disputation’.
It is not a manifesto but ought to be attractive to Liberal Democrat, Green, Labour and MK parties and to non-aligned floating centre-left voters.
What does a progressive candidate look like?
There was some discussion exploring the possibility of naming and supporting a progressive candidate that might command the support of voters from all parties. But what would such a candidate look like and does this mean moving outside traditional party politics?
There was little time left to explore this in substance but comments broadly coalesced around the following:
- A move away from the party political label – ‘independent Labour’, ‘Independent Liberal Democrat’, ‘Independent Green’
- A strong voice for Cornwall who demonstrated a strong contextual understanding of key issues to do with a failing and underfunded NHS, Education, homelessness, the blight of second homes and high housing rents. It would not be someone who simply sought to sell standard party messages crafted at Westminster and impose one-size-fits-all policy solutions. Cornwall was different
- He/she would respect and promote plural politics and champion the voice of smaller parties including MK and the Green Party
- Work for electoral reform and the implementation of PR
Both these broad themes will be explored in more detail at the next meeting.