The recently published book ‘The Alternative’, is a publication edited by Labour MP Lisa Nandy, Green MP & co-leader Caroline Lucas and Lib Dem candidate Chris Bowers. It contains chapters by politicians from their parties, plus The SNP, Plaid Cymru and other progressive campaigners. It examines areas where cross-party co-operation could “reinvigorate politics and inspire a credible alternative to the Conservatives.”
It is a book which suggests potential solutions to various issues which dog Cornwall as well as other parts of the United Kingdom at present, such as Social Security, Regeneration, Movement of People and Devolution. The authors of the pieces all have one thing in common – they are either already MPs of opposition parties, or they are actively campaigning for an alternative to the present Conservative policies.
One particularly impressive chapter in the book is entitled ‘Regeneration With Imagination’, by Jonathan Edwards, the Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr. Edwards has held the seat since 2010, presently with a majority of 5,599. He has also been a staunch supporter of Cornish issues, tabling an Early Day Motion in January 2012 calling for a Cornish Assembly, which was supported by his fellow Plaid Cymru MPs Hywel Williams and Elfyn Lloyd, along with Labour’s Paul Flynn.
Edwards’ paper centres around his anger at the unequal social society that Britain has become. His arguments focus on Government plans for regeneration centring around large cities or other urban areas whilst seriously deprived parts of Wales (and, for that matter, Cornwall), continue to be ignored by Westminster. He calls for Government to look at existing skill sets among the populations of these deprived areas and trying to match them with investment in these fields. He points to arts projects in struggling parts of Bristol which have used existing skills of unemployed people to regenerate the dock area in a socially inclusive way. Edwards also cites Preston (where the council have “made it a central pillar of their local environment strategy to study where the money it spends flows to, and whether it can keep it flowing locally for longer”).
For Edwards, it is vital that the Government also looks abroad for ideas – to Germany where, he argues, “the state deliberately pursues a policy of reducing wealth inequalities.” He also calls for a UK Convergence Fund, which would do similar work to the EU in funding areas of the UK who are in poverty, and for revenue from Corporation Tax to be spent locally. He ends by quoting the Welsh Economist Professor Edward Nevin: “The Welsh economy is drifting not because the crew are fast asleep, but because the boat has no engine and the navigator no map.” Whither Cornwall?
Clearly Edwards, and many of the other writers in the book – notably Mhari Black – are deeply passionate about the areas they represent and are full of energy devoted to putting right the real societal issues that plague their constituencies and local areas. Yet none of Cornwall’s Conservative MPs feel able to do this. Who can possibly do it for Cornwall?
At the present time, it is arguable that, due to the amount national media attention they have gained, the role of campaign groups such as Kernow Matters To Us have taken over from Mebyon Kernow as the voice of the indigenous Cornish people. Yet in order for the Cornish voice to be seriously heard, it needs to have a solid presence at Westminster until the day that anything like a Senedh Kernow comes into existence. We presently have the patently absurd situation of Plaid Cymru and SNP MPs standing up for Cornish issues such as an Assembly, language cuts and Devonwall whilst the territory’s MPs maintain either a silence, or worse still, are actively supporting the language cuts and Devonwall plan.
We are rapidly running out of time before the next General Election for that voice to come through. Should the opposition parties in Cornwall consider coming together and fielding fewer candidates in the next Westminster election in a bid to avoid splitting the anti-Conservative vote? Yes – but only if the candidates that eventually stand can show some of the Cornwall first and real understanding of their local issues that many of the writers in ‘The Alternative’ do.