What coalition? Partners face off in Camborne fight
Voters will be able to deliver their verdict on the policies of the coalition Government tomorrow when Westcountry polling stations open their doors for the first major election since the General Election last May.
The eyes of the nation may be on the the Parliamentary by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth, triggered after former Labour minister Phil Woolas was stripped of his seat following a "dirty tricks" campaign.
But voters in one of Cornwall's most deprived wards also go to the polls tomorrow to elect their county councillor, after former Conservative member Bill Jenkin stood down in the wake of allegations of sexual assault.
On paper, Camborne North is a six-way fight to represent a constituency divided geographically and socially between the terraced streets of the down-at-heel town-centre and the detached residences which dot the leafier surrounding countryside.
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But after the Labour vote – which once returned Candy Atherton to Westminster as MP in a constituency including Falmouth – fell away so dramatically in May, it is seen by many as a straight fight between the coalition parties.
And in the same way that Oldham East is being viewed as a bellwether for the future of the coalition, so Camborne North will be interpreted as a sign of how the national policies are playing with Cornish voters
Anna Pascoe, the Liberal Democrat candidate, is focusing on local issues which ought to dominate a local election – not least the way Conservative-led Cornwall Council is handling its own budget deficit – but concedes the result will have implications beyond County Hall.
After losing the South West Devon constituency at the General Election to Conservative Gary Streeter, the 29-year-old knows all about going head-to-head with her party's coalition partners.
But she refuted claims that the two parties are too cosy in government to renew ancient hostilities at the stump.
"There is no coalition in Cornwall for the Conservatives and the Lib Dems – we are two very distinct parties and local people recognise that," she insisted yesterday.
"We are definitely opponents and, though it is important to conduct the election in a respectful manner, voters know the Conservative record since they took over at county hall and the cuts that have been coming."
Cornwall Council's recent decision to cut £170 million from its budget over the next four years, with cuts of more than £10 million to frontline services and 2,000 job losses, will divide constituents.
But, unlike Westminster, where Lib Dems are asked to justify support for Conservative policies they opposed on the campaign trail, the political make-up at County Hall, run by the Tories with a group of Independents, allows them free reign to criticise.
Miss Pascoe maintains that the Conservatives remain "the front runners" in Camborne North with the Lib Dems a close second and Labour third. But the only recent form guide available is a Tory victory in a three-horse race for the Camborne Town Council North Ward by-election in November. The Tories won that seat with 478 votes, followed by Labour with 318 and Mebyon Kernow third with 279, but the margin of victory suggests an upset by Labour might well be on the cards.
The Conservative candidate, her un-related namesake, Denise Pascoe, 57, is similarly reluctant to read the national picture into the local battle.
"Most people are interested in local issues which are completely different and they cannot be compared – people vote for the person not the party," she said.
"Local results don't say much about the national ones and it just depends what is in the news – people are more concerned about everyday things, green field land not being built on, rubbish collections and clean streets."
Also standing tomorrow is Labour's Jude Robinson, who came third when George Eustice narrowly unseated Julia Goldsworthy from the new Parliamentary seat of Camborne and Redruth in May. Ms Robinson was contacted yesterday but had not contacted the WMN as it went to press.
Mike Champion (Mebyon Kernow), Paul Thomas Holmes (Liberal) and Jacqueline Norma Merrick (Green) complete the field.