Friday, 18 May 2018

Votes at 16!

Votes at sixteen is a campaign that I have always supported and I was pleased when the Scottish Parliament allowed 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the 2014 independence referendum. It was particularly heartening when the Parliament then legislated to lower the voting age for all subsequent Scottish elections (including local councils).

Last week, a (cross-party) private members’ bill to lower the voting age to 16 for parliamentary and other elections was presented to the House of Commons for its second reading.

I found myself in total agreement with the proposers of the bill – Peter Kyle MP (Labour), Norman Lamb MP (Liberal Democrat) and Nicky Morgan MP (Conservative) – who released the following statement:

“Opponents of reform have argued that 16 is an arbitrary age. However, in many crucial areas, such as in taxation, we already treat our 16-year-olds as responsible contributors to society. We grant economic rights without the correlating political rights. This should concern any democrat. And this is just one example. The experience from Scotland is that 16- and 17-year-olds are both capable and responsible enough to meaningfully engage with, and improve the vitality of, our democracy.”

Sadly, the Representation of the People (Young People’s Enfranchisement) Bill did not proceed as it was “talked out.” One MP even accused colleagues of a “corrupt and unfair filibuster” and demanded reforms into how private members’ bills are dealt with.

This is just one example of why I think that the democratic system of the United Kingdom needs a major overhaul, and it came just a few weeks after a series of “unrepresentative” results in the recent local elections.

We all know how at the 2017 General Election the Conservative Party secured 48% of the votes but won all six seats. In addition, there were many areas in England where the Conservatives won all – or nearly all – of the seats, while Labour was equally dominant in places such as South Wales, inner London and some metropolitan areas in the north.

But in London on 3rd May, there were three boroughs (Barking and Dagenham, Lewisham and Newham) in which all the elected councillors belonged to the Labour Party, leaving the local authorities with no opposition group or groups. Taking Lewisham as an example, Labour won all 54 seats on the Council with 52% of the popular vote, while the Greens (18.4%), the Conservatives (13.0%) and the Lib Dems (11.8%) did not win a single seat between them.

This cannot be right in a modern democracy.

[This is my article in this week's Cornish Guardian].

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Have your say on the "National Planning Policy Framework"


My article in today’s Cornish Guardian is as follows:

The UK Government is presently consulting on a revised version of the National Planning Policy Framework, which sets out its principal policies on planning. The consultation ends on 10th May.

The new version still contains something called a “presumption in favour of sustainable development,” which has been consistently criticised by numerous communities and a wide range of interest groups who feel that it has often led to “unchecked and damaging development.”

I share this view and note that the document still states the “presumption” should be “sufficiently flexible to adapt to rapid change.” But surely, rapid change is, more often than not, inherently unsustainable?

The revised NPPF also includes a new and top-down “standard method” to set out (higher) housing targets for council areas, and a Cornwall Council briefing has made it clear that “the scope for local influence over the target is very small to nil.”

I remain extremely frustrated at how Cornwall’s housing stock has been growing at a faster rate than almost all other parts of the United Kingdom and yet Whitehall continues to dictate that the rate of development should be ratcheted up still further.

For me, one of the key priorities is the provision of genuinely affordable local needs housing. But this has been undermined by the NPPF and there are no improvements in the revised version.

Definitions of affordable housing in the new draft NPPF do not include “social rents,” which have traditionally been charged for council houses and housing association properties. Instead, “affordable” rents or sales are defined as needing a 20% discount off market prices, which still leaves the homes ridiculously expensive. The document further includes a ridiculous definition of “starter home,” which is being promoted for families with a “household income” of up to “£80,000 a year.”

In addition, the NPPF states that affordable housing “should not be sought” on development sites of less than ten units, except in “designated rural areas.” I continue to be extremely frustrated at how the definition of “rural” is a total mess, and this has not been addressed by central government. It is a nonsense that in my local area of Clay Country, four of the five parishes are deemed “urban” while one has been defined as rural.

There are many further areas of concern. For example, local wildlife trusts are campaigning against the proposal to reduce protections for “local wildlife sites” which cover vast tracts across the country.

On behalf of Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall, I will be sending a detailed submission to central government, and it is my hope that many other individuals and organisations will also be making representations.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

"Pills and Profits"


For many years, I have been a supporter of the Global Justice Now organisation, which was previously known as the World Development Movement. It campaigns for a “more just and equal world,” and seeks to mobilise people across the UK with a wide range of campaigns for social justice.

Much of its focus is on less-developed countries, but it is also playing a leading role in a campaign against large corporations making massive profits from the sale of medicines.

Global Justice Now has published a report entitled “Pills and Profits,” and a central tenet of the document is that the public sector has played a pivotal role in the discovery of new medicines. It states:

“The UK government is the second largest funder country, after the US, for research and development (R&D) in diseases that predominantly affect poor countries. The UK Government spent £2.3 billion on health R&D in 2015 alone. Globally, it is estimated that the public pays for two-thirds of all upfront drug R&D costs, with around a third of new medicines originating in public research institutions. On top of this, many medicines developed by pharmaceutical companies are often built upon a large body of scientific work undertaken and paid for by the tax payer.”

The report also makes it clear that that “even when the UK Government has funded a substantial proportion of the research and development” for innovative medicines, “there is no guarantee of an equitable public return on this investment.” It is also the case there is no promise that patients in the UK and further afield will be able to access the medicine at an affordable price.

Intellectual property rights ensure that large pharmaceutical companies have time-limited monopolies and are able to generate huge private profits – charging “high prices for products with relatively low production costs.”

These companies often claim that they need a commercial incentive to undertake further research and development, but they “consistently spend more on sales and marketing.” The reality is that their priority is shareholder dividends and that is plain wrong.

Global Justice Now is right to point out that the high prices of new medicines are unsustainable for an already under-funded NHS, while many patients in poor countries around the World are denied access to new pills and treatments because of the cost.

It is good that Global Justice Now has joined forces with Missing Medicines – a coalition of UK organisations, which want conditions on all public health research to make sure the medicines developed are affordable and accessible here in the UK and across the World. Please support this campaign.

[This is my article in today’s Cornish Guardian newspaper].

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Remembering Joel Cole


This year marks the centenary of the end of the First World War and I am pleased to be involved with a project to remember the fallen from Fraddon, Indian Queens, St Columb Road and Summercourt. Organised by St Enoder Parish Council and part-funded with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, it involves the publication of a book which will include the life stories of more than seventy servicemen who lost their lives in the 1914-1918 conflict.

I would like to share what we have found out, so far, about one of the men. He happens to be my second cousin, three-times removed, and died one hundred years ago today.

Joel Cole from Fraddon was born in 1884. Both of his parents were local to St Enoder Parish and he worked in the china clay industry. He married Laura Annie Tregunna from the parish of Veryan in 1906 and they had two children, though one died while an infant.

Joel enlisted at Newquay and served with the 7th Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, which was particularly badly hit during a German Spring Offensive in March 1918 near Picardy. In his history of the regiment, Hugo White has written that 18 officers and 413 solders from the Battalion “were killed, wounded or reported missing,” though “thankfully, many of the missing eventually found their way back to the Battalion or were reported as prisoners of war.”

The war diary for the Battalion listed Joel as “missing during operations 22-3-1918 to 2-4-1918,” while the Cornish Guardian in May 1918 reported he was a prisoner in Germany. Sadly, his family were unaware that he had already died, approximately one month earlier, at Cologne’s Fortress Hospital on 11th April 1918. He is buried in the city’s Southern Cemetery.

Joel’s passing was not confirmed in Cornwall until August 1918 and on the first anniversary of his death, Laura Annie Cole paid a heartfelt tribute to her husband and “darling daddy of Charlie” with a notice in the Cornish Guardian:

He dropped like a flower that’s nipped in the bud,
He has the repose of the gentle and good.
Cold, cold lies the clay of his mouldering head,
But sweet is the rest of the innocent dead.
And the love which we love him shall dwell in each breast,
Till we meet him again in the realms of the blest.


Anyone interested in finding out more about the project is welcome to view a display, which will be in the Ante-Room of the Indian Queens Victory Hall on Saturday 21st April, between 10.00 and 1.00. The Parish Council is particularly keen to hear from anyone who may have family memories and / or photographs about local servicemen from the First World War.

This is my article in today’s Cornish Guardian.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Next MK meeting in St Austell & Newquay Constituency


The next meeting for Mebyon Kernow members in the St Austell & Newquay Constituency has been arranged to take place on Friday 13th April.

The meeting will take place at ClayTAWC in St Dennis and start at 7.30.

We will be using the meeting to plan our approach to numerous local campaigns and activities.

Anyone from the St Austell & Newquay Constituency, who would be interested in attending the meeting and / or finding out more about MK and its local campaigns, can call me on 07791 876607 or email dickcole@btinternet.com.