I made the rash promise that the elections to Cornwall Council would be one of those I gave an overview to this year in preparation for the local elections on 2nd May so now is the time to have a go.
Cornwall Council has 123 members which are (after recent boundary changes) elected for 122 divisions (large wards), with Bude Division electing 2 councillors. The Unitary Council replaced the 6 Borough Councils and the County Council with the elections in 2009. The only other local level of authority are the Town, City and Parish Councils (also up for election on 2nd May), but they have relatively minor responsibilities with the bulk of responsibility lying with the Unitary Authority. The Council is controlled by a Conservative/Independent coalition
The 2009 election results were: Conservatives 50 seats
Liberal Democrats 38 seats
Independents 32 seats (2 not members of the Group)
Mebyon Kernow 3 seats
Many of the seats were won on remarkably small shares of the vote, 24 of them on a third or less of the vote, with 8 councillors winning with less than 30% of the vote. In Falmouth Arwenack, the Independent Councillor Steve Eva was elected with only 24.3%, making him the councillor with the lowest vote share on Cornwall Council. It is the remarkable fissiparous nature of the Duchy that makes it both a fascinating place to watch and a nightmare for the psephologically-minded to predict. Only a fool would try, so I will put on my jester's hat and have a go.
For the Conservatives, 2009 was a very successful night reflecting the growth in support the party had experienced across the country. The became the biggest Group on the new Authority, up from a remarkably low figure of 9 (out of 83) on the council elected in 2005 and saw their vote share rise from 24.2% to 33.9%. In January of 2011, they lost a seat to Labour in a Camborne North byelection, but Walter Sanger gained one from the Independents in the St Keverne and Meneage byelection in September of 2012. In December of 2012, Anthony Pascoe held the Gwinear-Gwithian and St. Erth division for the Conservatives in a byelection with a 5.5% swing from Independent. There have been defections from the Conservatives: Cllr Jan Powell (Liskeard North) to the Lib Dems; Cllr Carolyn Rule (Mullion), Cllr Lance Kennedy (Bodmin East) and Cllr Armand Toms (Looe East) to the Independents. A Conservative seat, Rame, is vacant following a resignation.
For the Liberal Democrats, it was a very disappointing night, especially compared to the advances the party was making nationally on the same day. The had controlled the old County Council and had 47 of the then 83 seats elected in 2005, taking 36.6% of the vote, reduced to 28.4% in 2009. In a November of 2009 byelection, they gained a seat from the Tories in St Austell Bay when John Oxenham achieved a 13.5% swing to them. In a October 2011 byelection, the Lib Dems David Parsons comfortably held the Bude and Stratton seat with a swing of 4.4% to the Tories. There have been defections from the Lib Dems: Cllr Chris Pascoe (Threemilestone and Gloweth), Cllr Graham Walker (St Austell, Bethel) and Shirley Poulmounter (Mount Charles) to the Independents, Cllr Tamsin Williams (Penzance Central) to Mebyon Kernow. They gained a defection form the Conservatives in the person of Cllr Jan Powell (Liskeard North).
Independents have traditionally thrived in Cornwall, with many people preferring to avoid party political choices at a local level. In 2005, they had been the second largest group elected with 20 seats and 21.8% of the vote, rising to 32 seats (though two sit a 'stand alone' Independents) and 23.9% in 2009. They are the third largest group on the Authority. There have been defections to the Independent Group: Cllr Chris Pascoe (Threemilestone and Gloweth), Cllr Graham Walker (St Austell, Bethel), and Shirley Poulmounter (Mount Charles) from the Lib Dems; Cllr Lance Kennedy (Bodmin East), Cllr Carolyn Rule (Mullion), and Cllr Armand Toms (Looe East) from the Conservatives. Two Independent seats are vacant following resignations: Ludvgan and Wadebridge East.
The unique party in Cornwall, unrepresented outside the Duchy, is Mebyon Kernow (Cornish for 'Sons of Cornwall'), which seeks greater autonomy for Cornwall, promotes the re-establishment of the Cornish language, has close fraternal links with Plaid Cymru in Wales and less so with the SNP in Scotland. It is a broadly left-of-centre party with a strong commitment to the the environment. Founded in 1951, it became a fully-fledged political party when it began to stand candidates in local and General Elections in the 1970s. In 2009, the party could stake a claim to be the third political party in Cornwall by virtue of both out-polling (with 4.3% of the vote) Labour and taking 3 seats on the Authority. Since then, Mebyon Kernow - The Party for Cornwall (as it now labels itself) has gained a seat through a by-election in Wendron gained by Loveday Jenkin (former party leader) from the Independents on a 16.5% swing, and by two defections, Cllr Ian Plummer of Stithians (elected as an Independent), and Cllr Tamsin Williams of Penzance Central (elected as a Liberal Democrat).
As can be seen, Labour had a humiliating night, failing to take a single seat and being reduced to only 3.4% of the vote cast (partly a reflection of the small number of candidates it fielded), making them sixth behind UKIP. 2009 was a disaster for Labour across England in 2009, but this was a comprehensive disaster for a party which, whilst always the third party in elections in Cornwall, had areas of traditional strength, mostly in Camborne, Penzance, Falmouth and Redruth - the western 'ankle' of Cornwall which elected a Labour MP between 1997 and 2005. Since then, in January of 2011 Labour's Jude Robinson gained the Camborne North seat from the Conservatives in a byelection, coming from 5th place on a 15% swing from the Conservatives.
The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) came fifth ahead of Labour in 2009 with 3.5% of the vote and are hopeful of picking up seats fielding a massively increased number of candidates this time.
The Green Party, quite strong in west Cornwall, came behind Labour in 2009 with 1.9% of the vote.
I apologise to other parties I haven't discussed, I will refer to them when discussing each division.
So, after a remarkable amount of party switching and some byelection changes, the political make up of the authority entering the 2nd May elections are as follows: Conservative 44
Liberal Democrat 36
Independents 33 (2 not members of the group)
Mebyon Kernow 6*
Vacant 3 (2 Ind, 1 Con)
* Councillor Plummer (Stithians), who defected from the Independents to Mebyon Kernow, is not listed on the MK webpage as a candidate for them and he is registered as an Independent candidate for Stithians. He is still listed as a member of the MK group on the council website.
The number of candidates fielded by each party for the 2nd May elections is:
Conservatives 100 (123 in 2005)
Liberal Democrats 91 (119)
UKIP 73 (26)
Labour 68 (60)
Mebyon Kernow - Party of Cornwall 25 (33)
Green 22 (16)
No Description 6
I will look at each Division in my next posts and, for the sake of ease and a certain cohesiveness, try to group the seats under the old district council structure.