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Is it too late for Alec to learn from Alex?

Graham Smith | 15:47 UK time, Friday, 10 June 2011

Jan Powell is said to be "taking advice" before speaking publicly about her removal from the Health & Adults Overview & Scrutiny Committee at Cornwall Council. I think there's a good chance we'll hear her considered opinions about the matter on BBC Radio Cornwall before too long.

The reason I say this is that council leader Alec Robertson this morning declined my invitation to talk about it on the grounds that it was "an internal political group issue." This confirms that Jan's removal from the committee, which had elected her as its chair, was nothing to do with competence or popularity. And there is no shortage of councillors, from all political parties and from none, who tell me that this is all about the worsening feud within the Conservative group at County Hall.

It's only a couple of months since Cornwall's Conservative councillors held their annual general meeting and Alec narrowly survived a challenge to his leadership. Then wheels started falling off his plan for Cabinet Support Members; he lobbied the government to approve the St Dennis incinerator project, despite having opposed it himself; and then he had to spend the best part of a week fighting fires caused by the Daily Telegraph's "credit card scandal" - a non-story of the council's own making.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, Alex Salmond is today reaping the rewards of what happens when you take a rather different approach to a very similar set of initial conditions. In 2007 the Scottish Nationalist Party leader found himself at the head of the largest group in the Parliament, with 47 of the 129 seats (in 2009 Alec had 50 out of 123 in Cornwall).

Rejecting the idea of coalition, Alex Salmond then lead a minority administration which picked only those parts of his election manifesto which could command broad support. At the end of the term, many commentators described the administration as being notable for its competence, rather than political ideology. Despite this Scotland remained a land without university tuition fees, but with good schools, an excellent health service and universal care for the elderly. Earlier this year the Scottish government even abolished NHS prescription charges and today Alex Salmond commands all that he sees, with no need to ask any other parties about anything in Scotland if he doesn't want to.

I suspect that Alec Robertson sometimes has to deal with some backbench members of his own Conservative group who are perhaps less pragmatic than those in Alex Salmond's party in Scotland. But the bottom line is that there is no point behaving as if you have an overall majority if the reality is that you "command" only 40 per cent of the votes. And in Alec's case, with a hopelessly divided group, not even that. As I have blogged previously, a cardinal rule of politics has always been to keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.

What would it take, I wonder, for the Cornwall Council Independent group - currently junior partners in the Conservative-lead administration - to draw up their own list of key priorities and then do a deal with the Liberal Democrat and Mebyon Kernow groups, and other individual councillors? Or perhaps those on the Opposition benches at County Hall are currently having too much fun.


  • Comment number 1.

    Jan be an independent,Alec is having a mid life crisis. You have too much integrity for political party games with Alec 'just scraped in' the leader Robertson.You stand for the people and have more balls than Alec and Armand put together.You have my vote.

  • Comment number 2.

    Nothing would make me happier than to see Scotland leave the union and prove what many know, it will cost them. The fall-out from this would bring to an end all notions of Cornish nationalism which now knows it walks the primrose path alone and in the dark.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    Does the truth hurt that much hahaha

  • Comment number 5.

    The problem is the paucity of talent across the political spectrum at County Hall. Each party has a few moderately switched on councillors: the rest are, frankly, a disaster. Easily the worst grouping are the Independents: they are either invisible, crass, clueless or all three. Political ideology prohibits a 'council of all the talents': and even if it didn't, there'd barely be enough to fill even Our Glorious Leader's slimmed-down cabinet.

    A word about the Colonel. The Tories obviously understand that he is a walking disaster: vainglorious, patronising, smug and *utterly* out of his depth. Watching him in Chamber is an embarrassment, relying as he does on constant feeds from Lavery and blustering his way through - heads down, bully and shove, as Alan Clark used to say. The trouble is the mismanaged way in which they challenged his leadership: Fiona Ferguson and her henchmen were *so* crass in the way they tried to bulldoze her into the leadership that it put a lot of wavering Tories off: hence the Colonel's narrow escape. Now they have nowhere to go. And of course the LDs and MK want no part of the administration - they are too busy enjoying the fun and watching the Tories take the flak.

    2013 is not that far off. What MK and the Libs *should* be doing is identifying some real talent to challenge in soft Tory areas, instead of the standard party hacks and self-aggrandised stuffed shirts. Tragically, Cornwall Council is one of those organisations no-one with talent would dream of going near. Pity we Cornish - we get the godawful elected representation we deserve.

  • Comment number 6.

    Mk have hit the bottom of the well. There is no extra talent there. The LD's are not able to gather a challenge, they seem to be having a crisis of confidence at the moment, and are simply not campaigning or contesting local elections. Labour is on the rise and is the only crdible opposition to the Tories in Cornwall becuase we can campaign for Cornwall nationally unlike MK and are not part of the problem like the LDs.

  • Comment number 7.

    It’s about time the BBC moderation team read comments before they were removed, you know that supporters of Cornish nationalism will stoop to any low level to remove any comments that paints a realistic view of how little support they have within Cornwall

    We are talking about a party that failed to retain its deposit in 99% of the seats it stood in the last election

  • Comment number 8.

    Labour's centralising obsession and past make them as unacceptable in Cornwall as the Tories. Their cause is not helped by their sole councillor, whose lack of charisma and personal charm - all right, she's just damn rude - is a serious hindrance. The notion that the Labour party has *ever* "campaigned nationally for Cornwall" would be hysterically funny if it were not so tragic. And the standard of Labour candidates in the General Election was shockingly weak.

    There is talent in the MK ranks, but it needs encouraging out. Above all, they need some serious marketing, which on their budget is a big ask. Despite that, they remain a far better option than either the LDs, irrevocably tainted by Coalition, or the non-event that is Cornish Labour.

  • Comment number 9.

    When people realise what Labour put in their pockets, the minimum wage free bus passes etc, and what this coalition government are about to take out, that will be enough to show anyone which side their bread was buttered.

    The proof of the pudding is in the eating, not what the media has to say to sell newspapers, what the Labour government served up to me was very tasty thank you very much, and I bet I am not on my own.


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