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Archive for April, 2019

Beautiful #Cornwall

Cornwall has long been my bolt hole from the world, where I come to switch off. I find myself back here for the second time in a week, spending this glorious Easter weekend with family.

One of my favourite pastimes here is walking the coast. There is a particular stretch I must have walked a hundred times over the years, between Portreath and Godrevy. Since my family moved to Illogan, I have turned it into a round walk, from the top of Park Bottom, through Tehidy Woods to the coast, past Hell’s Mouth and on to Godrevy Point, then back to Portreath.

I’ve yet to to do the full round walk on this trip, and might not, but I have made the trip to Godrevy and Hell’s Mouth a couple of times. Here are some photos from my walks over the last couple of weeks, including the seals basking on the beach. I’ve also thrown in a few of Holywell Bay that I only discovered, shamefully, last week.

Cornwall has also inspired a lot of writing, too. This is a piece from a few years ago that was inspired by a walk very similar to those I have enjoyed these past weeks.

A Cornish Walk

They sold ale here long ago, 

To miners and travellers,

This ancient kiddleywink

Maintaining a vigil over

The crossroad hedges.

I take a winding lane past

A slope of straggle-eared

Wheat, through a dark

Cathedral tunnel of oak,

Beech and elm, past the

Mining way where weary

Cousin Jacks once walked,

Dreaming of New World

Lives an ocean’s sail away.

On, then, down Green Lane,

Where golden corn meets

Blue water meets bluer sky,

To the cliffs that loom

Above the sand and rocks

That story-boarded my

Childhood adventures of

Wreckers and pirates,

And above the tunnels from

Caves to twisty cottages

Cradled in the granite.

On to the moor, high

Above the beaches

Where revenue men

Fought smugglers for kegs

Of rum and gin, and crates

Of tea and tobacco from

Magical lands, where shaggy

Ponies chew the grass and

Watch those passing by

With lazy curiosity.

Further on, sheep, beyond

The dips and climbs that

Drain lungs and legs

And test the heart, 

Smile furtively, before

Shuffling slowly cross the 

Meadow, a late August’s

Morning sun beating down

On wool-laden backs.

And by the crumbling path’s

Edge, a scent of low tide,

Of salt-crusted grass and

Fresh sea breezes, lifts

Me out of my thoughts

And causes me to smile:

Pleasure in such simplicity.

By the roadside Café  I

Pause, tea and frozen

Orange to slake a thirst, and

I think back on the years

I have walked these paths,

The company kept from 

Time to time, though,

Ruefully, I acknowledge,

More often alone than not.

And as I strike out on the

Final miles, I pass the vicious

Maw where once a foundered

Trawler’s bell tolled its haunting

Requiem for those that

Drowned one stormy night,

But, where rust and waves

Have silenced even that

Lonely memorial, all that

Remains are the memories

Of those of us that knew.

Through fields of cattle and

Over stiles, and on and on,

I climb the final headland

Until a gleaming jewel, 

The island lighthouse, presents

My exhausted journey’s end. 

Satisfied, I make my rest and

Wonder: why this walk, year

After year? Why this stretch

Of coast above all others?

Why the peace from so much

Toil? Is it just the promise of

The sea’s refreshing churn?

No matter why, I smile, and

Close my eyes to dream a while.

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The growing clamour for Remain parties to work together to maximise the number of Remain MEPs elected in any European elections is almost too late. The Greens and The Independent Group, preparing to stand candidates as Change UK – The Independent Group, have already rejected approaches from the Liberal Democrats for such an alliance.

Why is cooperation so important?

Voting in the European elections is conducted under the D’Hondt system. If you are looking for a good primer on how it works, the European Parliament’s Liaison Office in the United Kingdom has one here.

It is a broadly proportionate system, but it is not truly proportionate. It favours broad coalitions of small parties at the expense of small parties standing as single entities.

I have no idea why the Greens and Change UK have rejected working together. Perhaps it is out of a cynical determination to preserve party identity or perhaps it is because they don’t understand that this election doesn’t confer the benefits of a preferential voting system like the Single Transferable Vote, where every vote really does count.

In the end, it doesn’t matter.

The Electoral Commission deadlines for establishing a formal electoral arrangement have passed. The Greens and Change UK are refusing to cooperate informally to maximise the number of Remain MEPs elected.

Pause here for a moment to think about the sudden and meteoric rise of the Brexit Party.

The reason they are in such an electorally strong position is that they can treat any European election as a further referendum. They have their message in their branding. They have a capable, populist leader who has achieved success in previous European elections. And, as is apparent from recent polls, they are basically an electoral coalition. They are harvesting disaffected Tories, embarrassed former UKIPers, probably some Labour #Lexiters, and even those on the left, like George Galloway.

So, what is the answer for Remainers?

Well, if sending a message on Brexit is truly the priority for Remainers, and if they can stomach electing Remain MEPs above their traditional party loyalties, one option would be for Remain voters to ruthlessly game D’Hondt and go around the bickering parties.

When you go to the polling station, you will be given the opportunity to place one ‘X’ next to the party you want to win. You do not get to vote for the individual parties’ candidates (the only candidates you can vote for are independents without party affiliation). You do not get to offer a preference. You cannot put more than one ‘X’, even if, for example, you want to support both Change UK and the Greens, as you will spoil your ballot paper.

Your ballot paper will look something like this:

The only way to maximise the number of Remain MEPs is to ensure that Remainers vote for the strongest Remain party in each region – and only that party – to avoid splitting the vote and ending up in situation where, potentially, none get elected.

So how could we do this?

  1. Decide who the Remain parties are. My view is that Remainers should abandon Labour. They are negotiating to facilitate a disastrous Tory Brexit. Despite Labour’s Remain membership, leading spokespeople like Barry Gardiner insist they are not a party of remaining in the EU. If this election is about sending a message, Remainers must be ruthless in designating Remain parties, in just the same way that Leavers are ruthlessly abandoning the Tories for the Brexit Party. Unless Labour takes a pro-Remain position, and offers unequivocal support for a further referendum, Remainers should not put their ‘X’ by Labour. That means we are looking – in England – at the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Change UK, who are working with Renew. (I accept others will make the case to include Labour and perhaps Labour is included in regions where clear Remain Labour candidates top the lists, strengthening the case for facilitating candidate sign-ups to a Remain banner – see below.)
  2. Create an authoritative Remain banner that candidates from these parties can sign up to. We can’t rely on organisations like the People’s Vote campaign or Best for Britain to do this, as they will be restricted on how they can campaign in any European elections. But it needs to become an authoritative stamp of Remain credentials. This should be a clear commitment to a People’s Vote and campaigning to remain in the EU.
  3. Provide an easy and visual way, via a website, that shows two things: a.) who the Remain parties and candidates are in each region; and b.) how those parties are polling in each region. The latter polling point is crucial. It needs to aggregate and interpret the very best and most recent regional polling data to give the clearest view as to which party is leading in each European Election region. When it comes to election day, the party at the head of the Remain queue in each region is the one that Remainers should vote for, whichever party it is. You abandon your party loyalties, hold your nose and vote Remain.
  4. Create a mechanism on the website for individuals to vote match, so they can find solidarity with someone in a different region who is voting for someone they wouldn’t ordinarily (e.g. a Green voter voting for a Lib Dem) and a way to say why. This doesn’t have the same effect as tactical vote-matching in a First Past the Post election, but is about creating a sense of movement, of solidarity across party lines to deliver the message.

This is only one idea. It is fraught with complications.

Can Remainers organise quickly and effectively enough? Can they get a single, authoritative banner together that will encourage candidates to sign-up and drive competition amongst the parties to push up their campaigning and polling and become the lead party in a region? Will Remainers really abandon their party loyalties and vote for parties they may resent over issues like Coalition?

But the truth is, in the absence of parties working together to establish lead Remain parties in each region, Remainers need creative solutions to force an outcome on them and present a serious, UK-wide Remain challenge to the Brexit Party’s simple, hard-hitting Leave position.

And quick.

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Questioned on a people’s vote on Radio 4, she sounded weak and evasive, unable to address the chasm between her Labour members’ support for a people’s vote and her leader’s resistance to it

This article was written for The Independent and first appeared on Thursday 4 April 2019.

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This past Tuesday, along with assorted family, I had the privilege of seeing The Secret Garden at the Minack Theatre.

For those who don’t know it, the Minack (from the Cornish meynek meaning ‘rocky place’) must be one of the most dramatic performance venues in the United Kingdom, perhaps the world. Built on a rocky outcrop at Porthcurno, the theatre sits on top of granite cliffs with a sweeping view of the Atlantic, its stage open to the elements. Constructed rock by rock by Rowena Cade and her gardener to accommodate local village players, the theatre’s first performance was The Tempest in 1932.

I realised the last time I had been was 1995, to see The Questors perform Denise Deegan’s Daisy Pulls It Off. On that occasion, we sat there with black bin bags on our head eating a huge Spanish omelette made by our friend Victor, who spoke very little English. Quite what he made of these barely audible schoolgirls pranking each other in the rain, we never found out, but it was surely a very English summer experience.

By contrast, this visit was in stunning sunshine, the kind of April day that teases with the possibility of long hot summer days to come. The site has been considerably developed over the last couple of decades, with a little complex of shops and a cafe. If they were there twenty-four years ago, I certainly don’t recall them.

Jessica Swale’s adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic is a superbly paced and good-humoured romp, the energy of the cast, young and old, matched by wonderful, inventive puppetry. Although manipulated by humans, the animals, particularly the fox, are beguiling and the movements uncannily lifelike.

This was the first performance. The younger cast members divide into two teams, Foxglove and Bluebell, for different shows and it was Foxglove for the premiere. Perhaps the standout performance for me was Alina Hulse, whose portrayal of Martha, one of the nurses, was simply superb. She had all the assured presence of an actor twice her age – learning after the show that she was just twelve (my sister, who is an artist and also involved in Cornish theatre knew a number of the cast and the puppet makers). Credit, too, to Juliet Colclough (Mary Lennox), Roisin Bermingham (Dickon) and Harry Ladd-Carr (Colin Craven), for drawing us into the magic of The Secret Garden.

Seeing shows like this takes me back to the 1980s and Basildon’s Towngate Theatre and the shows we did with the English National Opera and the Basildon Youth Theatre.

Perhaps I should have stuck with acting.

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