– the idea of a Cornwall Labour Party grabs the limelight as activists head for Liverpool
By Rashleigh MacFarlane
Next week’s Labour Party conference is due to see what is thought to be the first-ever attempt to create a formal Cornwall Labour Party, similar to the party’s organisations in Scotland and Wales.
The suggestion, which is all about money and power, has already caught the eye of some national media commentators, including the Huffington Post.
A rule-change proposal has been submitted to Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool. The proposal, which comes from the North Cornwall constituency Labour Party, calls for a greater percentage of membership fees to be retained in Cornwall and the devolution of powers to local activists to hire their own full-time organising staff.
Rule-change proposals are notoriously controversial and the North Cornwall initiative is likely to be considered alongside other potentially radical reforms. The current conference timetable sees a debate on internal constitutional issues next Tuesday (25th September.)
If the Liverpool conference backs the idea, the first formal Cornwall Labour Party conference would be held in 2020. Some local activists are hoping to hold an informal Cornwall-wide “convention” or “rally” early next year.
A review of party democracy, led by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, is looking for greater powers for the new army of Labour Party grassroots members. The Democracy Review has unnerved some Labour MPs, and some local councillors, who would become more accountable to rank-and-file party activists.
The North Cornwall proposal is due to be advanced by Bude delegate Ray Shemilt, attending a Labour Party conference for his first time. North Cornwall activists believe the huge growth in party membership calls for a review of its structure, particularly in regard to how the annual £350,000 raised in Cornwall is spent.
Labour Party organisation outside of Scotland and Wales is currently divided into nine regions, each led by a “director.” The South West regional director is based in Bristol and there is currently no full-time organiser based in Cornwall, even though Labour has both the Camborne & Redruth, and Truro & Falmouth constituencies, on its target list of “must-win” seats at the next general election.
Above: House of Commons data shows that Labour Party membership has more than doubled since 2015 – which means that Cornish activists now contribute more than £350,000 a year towards their party’s coffers. Below: next week’s Liverpool conference will be asked to consider returning more of this cash to Cornwall.
Last year’s general election saw Labour poll more votes in Cornwall than the Liberal Democrats, with many local activists believing that this was despite, rather than because of, any help or support from the wider SW region.
Labour’s 7,500 Cornish activists, who each pay on average £50 per year for the privilege of their membership cards, are divided into the six Parliamentary constituencies. The conference proposal would provide a more formal mechanism for co-operation and co-ordination, as Labour also prepares to campaign for significantly greater representation on Cornwall Council.
Not all Labour Party members in Cornwall are enthusiastic about the idea, fearing it risks undermining traditional structures. Mr Corbyn himself is understood to be sympathetic to the North Cornwall initiative, but if approved, the proposal would mean less cash would be available to party organisers in other regions.
Disclosure: Cornwall Reports editor Graham Smith is chair of the North Cornwall constituency Labour Party