We’ve always enjoyed watching Mebyon Kernow’s progress and learning from what they get right, or very occasionally wrong. Our association dates back to the 70s, when the founding generation of MK members was still at the helm. It was the era of grainy, photocopied leaflets and duplicated magazines, produced in a political climate that is barely conceivable today. British nationalism wasn’t the preserve of UKIP. It was the mainstream consensus and any questioning of parliamentary sovereignty or cultural uniformity was treated to torrents of abuse. Even Cornish nationalist arguments struggled to escape the confines of a unionist past, to cast off deference to the Duchy and loyalty to Liberalism. A web of self-censorship was the accustomed response to an uncomprehending electorate.
The 80s saw a reaction against the colonels and the county set – with new policies that were radically Left-wing, but not exceptionally Cornish – amid great reluctance to accept that all parties, and all communities, have a Left and a Right. Today MK has settled down to a synthesis that reflects where the wider world has got to. Still radical, but more confident in asserting a Cornish dimension because Cornishness can now be much less defensive about itself. The flag is flown widely, as Cornwall’s flag, no longer accused of being simply the flag of a political movement. The language is used in schools, in local government offices and for tourism purposes, not so harrumphingly derided as a sign of deliberate division at odds with a gloriously united kingdom. This year saw it praised by folk as diverse as comedian Ed Rowe and poet Benjamin Zephaniah. Cornwall is changing, because peripheral Britain is changing and becoming a place more at ease with itself.
There’s one very big problem though. Cultural confidence hasn’t led to political confidence and without that Cornwall continues to be subject to colonial-style government, both externally in terms of powers denied and internally in terms of aspirations curbed. All of that is evident in the feeble ‘Devolution Deal’ its political and business elites have been handed by the London regime. MK Leader Dick Cole commented that “From our perspective, it is not ‘democratic’ to give more influence to unelected bodies with limited democratic legitimacy such as the Local Enterprise Partnership, and it is also extremely disappointing that Cornwall has failed to secure any new powers over planning or housing.”
The London regime remains adamant that devolved powers are only available to those areas willing to give 100% support to its own objectives. One of these is de-democratisation – handing powers to unelected bodies and replacing what democratic debate does exist with elected mayors and fewer councillors. Another is the whole ‘turn your environment into cash’ scam of growth and development. Devolving only the power to lock yourself in to someone else’s vision would cause riots in Scotland or Wales. So why are there none in Cornwall or the English regions?
To be fair, these things do take decades to reach fruition. It took Wessex 40 years to go from first steps to legal recognition of our flag. It will take a while yet for politics to pass from the hands of a generation that can’t see the point of what we’re about (or even views it as dangerous) to one that can’t see why we should wait any longer. That’s why, in Gramscian terms, achieving cultural hegemony is so important: it makes political change easier, to some extent automatic, while without it political success can only be ephemeral.
The current issue of Cornish Nation reports on the defection to MK of Michael Bunney, a much-respected member of the Labour Party and former county councillor. In a statement to the media, Michael said: “After 22 years of membership of the Labour Party, and having been a parliamentary candidate, I have taken the decision to leave Labour and join MK… In so many areas of policy, the one-size-fits-all approach from London has damaged Cornwall. Planning policy is ruining our beautiful landscape. House building targets are enforced on us by Westminster and yet there still aren’t houses for local people and the Government prevents Cornwall from tackling the problems of second homes. Economic policy has enforced cuts in Cornwall, while vast sums are spent on infrastructure projects elsewhere, such as HS2… MK exists to represent all the people of Cornwall, whether they were born here or have chosen to make our beautiful Duchy their home. I believe it is time for a new generation to join the campaign for Cornwall and that only MK can unite all people in working for the best interests of our local communities.”
Those east of the Tamar may well be asking how they too can have some of this. Where can they find a political party that is open to new ideas benefitting the place where they live and the people who live there? As far as the shires of Wessex are concerned, they need look no further. We’re here for them all, to be for Wessex no less than what MK strives to be for Cornwall.