Mebyon Kernow and the UKIP effect

StPirans day

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. (Albert Einstein)

Last week’s three English by-elections were notable for the unprecedented success of UKIP, scoring two second places and a third. It would be an exaggeration to say that this heralds the crumbling of the ‘establishment’ political parties, but when a fringe party grabs 22% of the vote, as UKIP did in Rotherham, there is clearly something afoot. And not forgetting, of course, that it was one of the parties in the coalition government, the Lib Dems, that received the biggest drubbing.

All of which got me thinking about what this means for other fringe parties, and in particular Cornwall’s own Mebyon Kernow? On the face of it, MK should be rubbing its hands over last week’s events. Why?

Well first, it appears to signal that disillusionment with mainstream political parties is continuing to grow. UKIP has been described as a party for the ‘politically homeless’ and it would appear that an increasing number of voters are putting themselves into that category. If so, that offers an opportunity for non-mainstream parties to step in to fill the void.

Secondly, it suggests that the party which would previously have been the biggest beneficiary of a protest vote, namely the Lib Dems, is losing that role. Maybe this was inevitable the moment they got into bed with the Conservatives. Whatever, now that they are ‘insiders’ as part of the Coalition, voters who wish to express their unhappiness with the ‘Big 2’ in Westminster will have to go elsewhere; the Lib Dems are now part of the establishment.

Finally, the waning in the fortunes of the Lib Dems is particularly significant as far as Cornwall is concerned. While their dominance of the Cornish political scene is not as strong as it once was, Cornwall remains a Lib Dem bastion. They still account for 3 of the 6 MPs that we send to Westminster, while at county level, 37 of the 123 members of the unitary council are Lib Dems. So the Lib Dems probably have more to lose, and by extension the other parties have more to gain, in Cornwall than in many other parts of Britain.

There is another element of UKIP’s rise that is relevant to MK. I appreciate that most MK members would choke on their pasties to see the name of their party in the same sentence as UKIP, but stay with me on this. I’m not talking about ideology, obviously; it’s tough to imagine Nigel Farage and Dick Cole getting together for a cosy chat about policy over a pint of Doom Bar.  But like Mebyon Kernow, one of UKIP’s main selling points is not so much who they are as who they are not.  Much of their appeal is built on the fact that they are not one of the big established London-based parties. They are not part of the political class that has had its snout in the Westminster expenses/second homes trough. They appeal to those who see British politics as dominated by a southeast of England metropolitan elite who seem to feel that they have a right to tell the rest of us what we should think. MK too has always stressed that it is not beholden to political masters in London and right now, that should be a major advantage.

So will Mebyon Kernow seize this opportunity? Is this the chance they have been waiting for to turn their claims to be the real representatives of the Cornish people into electoral reality? Well, the first major test is in just six months time with the May 2013 Council and Parish/Town Council elections. The challenge is enormous. MK’s failure to break through in General Elections is well known; in 2010 they received just 1.9% of the total votes across the 6 Cornish constituencies, less even than UKIP, which managed 4.9%. But even at the local level, progress in the 60 years since MK’s foundation has been glacial. At the Cornwall Council level, where you would expect a local party to do better, MK has just 6 out of the 123 seats, while Independents hold a whopping 32 seats! And there is not a single MK representative amongst the 12 Council Cabinet members.

Are there any signs that this bleak situation is likely to change in the next few months? Perhaps, at least to the extent that the broad political environment is shifting in a way that should be more favourable to MK. However, the bigger question is whether MK itself is changing. Has the party recognised that, for all the hard work of a dedicated few over many years, as far as the electorate of Cornwall is concerned, its approach has fallen on deaf ears?

So to go back to the title of this post, there is a real risk to Mebyon Kernow if it does not radically alter the basis on which it appeals to the voters. The risk is that by doing the same thing it has always done it will get the same outcome; electoral disappointment and a continuation of life on the political fringe. And that would be a real tragedy for the people of Cornwall.

Welcome to Cornwall Now


Welcome to a new blog about Cornwall now.

I’m a writer with an opinion or two on most subjects. This blog focuses on  business politics, and culture, from the Tamar to Land’s End. I serve no vested interests and have no agenda, apart from wanting the best for Cornwall.

And Cornwall is  facing big challenges. Some are common to the country as a whole but many are unique to our corner of the British Isles. I believe that all of these issues would benefit from vigorous public debate and I’ll be trying to engage as many of the interested parties as possible through this blog.

Please use the ‘Comment’ sections to tell me if  a blog post causes you to nod you head or shake your fist. But let’s keep things civil. Erudite and witty posts are encouraged, but shouty and opinionated comments are also welcome (though please try to avoid being too obviously bonkers). I reserve the right to delete unnecessarily rude posts. This may be the Internet, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be nice to each other.

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