Democracy in Cornwall
Who are the voters in Cornwall? First of all, there are the Cornish, people born here of parents born here of parents born here…….. There was a debate in the local press at the time of the last census in 2001 and a well-known protagonist of “Cornishness” ended up saying that if you lived here and felt Cornish – you were Cornish.
Only about half the electorate are Cornish (however you define it); the other half are like me – blow-ins as some rude lady once said. However, many of us have lived here for a long time, and unlike many of the Cornish, we have chosen to live here. So, I will call us the Cornwallians.
As we all have a single vote, any major change should aim to carry us all with it. Which is where what I call the “Western Ghettoists” go wrong. They want enforced Cornishness and they also want the rest of the UK to pay for it. A very unlikely arrangement!
At the moment in Cornwall, we have seven layers of government. At the top is the French government in Brussels. Unelected by us and remote and untouchable. And unloved. Below them comes the Scottish government in London. Roughly speaking most of us don’t like them at all. Below them is a regional assembly. Unelected and situated in Swindon or somewhere up there. Nothing to do with us and also disliked.
Finally, we reach Cornwall. Sitting in Truro is the County Council, overall rulers of the county. Heavily constrained by the three layers above them and increasingly secretive. We get to vote on them every 4 years, but we always return the same people. Odd that, as no one has much time for them.
Below them are the six District Councils. These are the nuts-and-bolts people. They collect the rubbish, maintain the street lights and so on. We get to vote for them, but don’t care much for them. Most people think they cost too much.
Right at the bottom are the Parish Councils. Also elected, they have few powers but they usually have to be consulted and they are required to consult us – the voters – and we are right at the bottom.
How does all this work? Well, in my small village (now 150 households), a developer wants to build a row of five houses. At the village consultation no one was in favour. The Parish council advised against. The District Council voted it down and it went to appeal. An unelected bureaucrat in Bristol, who probably doesn’t even know where we are, has approved the plan. Democracy it is not!
Now, the Scottish government is thinking about yet another re-organisation of local government. The paranoid section of the press thinks this is all part of a secret plan by the French government in Brussels. But it is probably just something governments do when they are desperate to do something. They have called for helpful suggestions.
The County Council wants to abolish the District Councils. The District Councils want to abolish the County Council. They both claim their plan will save money. We know it won’t. But it doesn’t matter what we want – because we are not being asked. The County Council has conducted a telephone poll of 1000 people and says they like its plan. Really? Who are these people? Are they all council taxpayers?
What this shows is that democracy in Cornwall is in short supply. The voters are irrelevant to these people. I don’t have any solutions – well, I do – but they won’t be adopted.
As a last resort, perhaps taking one in ten of them out and shooting them might help!