On October 21st the Cornish were told, in no uncertain terms, and by a Cabinet Minister no less, to buck themselves up and stop thinking they were ‘distinct’. There was absolutely no prospect of Cornwall being recognised as a region. So stop whinging about it and get on board the glorious devonwall project being launched from its HQs at Exeter and Plymouth.
In reality however, there is no rational reason why the territory of Cornwall could not be an efficient container for the sort of vague statements and even the vacuous ‘vision’ that was laid out at the Exeter devonwall conference. With its own institutions in place, ones that held out the prospect of a genuinely democratic response to its communities, a Cornish region could unleash the talent, energies and creativity of its residents a lot better than a remote, undemocratic region based in Exeter.
But there’s the rub. Such a region might end up putting its own communities first, building a properly sustainable Cornwall, making the retention of home-grown talent its first priority, using the cultural resources provided by its heritage and culture rather than replacing that culture with metropolitan myths of lifestyle and gentrification by the sea. Those peddling devonwall can’t allow a region like that to emerge.
The reason is mundane and simple. It’s money. The key drivers of devonwall – South West Water, the Western Morning News, Exeter University – want a political and economic region that suits their own purposes and their own marketing areas. They’re organised on a devonwall basis. So devonwall it has to be.
If we look again at their words, the speakers at last month’s ‘growth summit’ said little that could not be applied to a Cornish region just as easily as a devonwall region. There was a lot of waffle about ‘connectivity’ and being ‘outward-looking’. But that’s hardly a function of size. Indeed, a lot of the comments they made would seem to fit a Cornish regional context much more neatly than devonwall.
For example, Chris Loughlin, Chief Executive at Pennon and South West Water said that living in the ‘south west’ was like ‘living on the edge’. It was ‘slightly controversial, slightly away from the mainstream … taking a few more risks, feeling independent’. This was an argument for a Cornish region surely, not devonwall. Mark Duddridge, chair of the Cornwall & Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), added that devolution was ‘in our DNA’. ‘If you go back 500-600 years ago, we had an independence of governance, and language and culture. So it may be inbred in us’. The ‘us’ here is plainly Cornwall, not devonwall, isn’t it?
Deborah Waddell of the CBI said that ‘regions are different … You can’t have a blanket approach’. Except when it comes to Cornwall it seems. Even Sajid Javid said that devolution deals had ‘to come from local communities’. Devolved powers ‘which may be different, have to be suited to the region’. And yet he also told the Cornish to throw away the strengths of cultural distinctiveness and merge seamlessly into a devonwall region. Don’t these people read their own speeches, or the speeches their civil servants write for them in Javid’s case?
Some speakers implied that the bigger the region, the louder the voice, and the greater the ‘clout’, another reason for Cornwall and Devon to join together. Except that it isn’t. If that’s the case, then a Devon, Somerset and Dorset region would have more ‘clout’ and make more sense, as well as better reflect local identities. And a six-county South West region would have even more ‘clout’. Their assumption of a devonwall template is fundamentally nonsensical, based merely on cultural frameworks reproduced by the media to reflect their broadcasting reach and the institutional geographies of corporate interests.
Our task in Cornwall has to be to point out the irrationality of this thinking and make the case for more coherent – economically, socially and culturally – and more democratic Cornish regional institutions. It’s unfortunate therefore that we have a fifth column in our midst. At least three representatives from the Cornwall & Scilly LEP made the trip to Exeter to join the ‘Growth Summit’. As well as proudly proclaiming that one of their few big ideas for Cornwall was to make more housing a priority, not one of the three challenged the devonwall project.
That outcome would have been as likely as President-elect Trump joining Greenpeace. Chris Loughlin of South West Water and Pennon said he had ‘great confidence the LEPs and others will pull that [‘a unified voice for devonwall] together’. He had cause for confidence, as Chris turns out also to be the vice-chair of the Cornwall & Scilly LEP. It seems that the LEP has already been captured by the devonwall corporate agenda. How long before Cornwall Council’s leadership falls into line? After all, they’ve swallowed the housing growth myth, hook, line and sinker.
Tomorrow, you’ll be able to read the final blog in this series, which will sum up the corporate agenda for Cornwall and note in passing the shoddier real world record of South West Water in Cornwall.