Britain’s forgotten peninsular is still being ignoredThe first question at the St Ives constituency hustings is about mobile post office provision in Godolphin Cross. I knew it would be. We sit in a Methodist church in Helston, under a sign: Be Not Dismayed for I am Thy God. There is Derek Thomas, the Tory MP since 2015 (majority 4,280), who has the guileless likability of a children’s TV presenter. There is Andrew George, the former MP and Lib Dem, who will probably win this time. He tends to preen and is the subject of a small personality cult: a woman in Newlyn keeps a Lib Dem poster in her front window all year, and the orange is faded to white. There is a Green who looks phlegmatic, a frightened Ukip candidate, who shudders when the microphone is passed to him, and says nothing, and two independents, one of whom looks like a wizard. Labour didn’t show up: the tiny CLP is focusing its efforts on Camborne and Redruth, where they might win, and this adds to the sense that the drama in this general election is happening elsewhere.

The mobile post office, then: everyone agrees that it is terrible that provision is down to one day a week in Godolphin Cross. I have lived in west Cornwall for seven years and I know the question doesn’t speak to the smallness of Cornish pride — Phoenicians came here for tin when London was mud — but, I think, the smallness of Cornish hope. West Cornwall is beautiful, isolated, and poor. It is a sump for competing fantasies, because beauty in landscape does that. It is a peninsula that feels like an island, its churches feel like pagan shrines. The local gentry are influential, the working classes are conservative — the castle from House of the Dragon looms over Mount’s Bay, after all — and, due to the Isles of Scilly, this constituency often declares last, which speaks to a spiritual, as well as logistical, truth. Because we are always late with the count. It is sunny half the year, and rainy half the year, like a clock.

The hustings drag on: one man has a long question about septic tanks, and a sheaf of notes, should he forget what he is so angry about. Everyone is polite, because west Cornwall is a village. If Andrew George allowed his daughter to live in a taxpayer funded flat when he was last in parliament, the Tory does not say so, though everyone knows it. If Partygate was a disaster, the Lib Dem does not say so, though everyone knows it. When I meet John Harris, the man who looks like a wizard — he is from the Common People Party, and he wants a universal basic income and underground cities, with a rewilded world above — he praises the mainstream candidates. He says Cornwall is time travel and this is, essentially, happening in 1974 — hence the courtesy — in a constituency with its back to the sea. “There’s nothing else beyond it,” he says. “You go back into prehistory as far as you like.”

The real issues — poverty, housing and low pay — are barely discussed today. We don’t hear, for instance, that emergency accommodation might be a caravan with mould slaked walls; that the inhabitant might be hospitalised for a lung complaint, and the landlord might say it is the occupier’s fault for not cleaning enough. We don’t hear that people compete to rent property by telling the landlord they are the deserving poor, or that women with a few hours of cleaning during school hours wait in the rain for a bus that never comes. Not in winter, anyway: the summer tourist buses always run.

“The real issues — poverty, housing and low pay — are barely discussed today.”

The Lib Dem campaign has the most energy, but it is muted, because this is west Cornwall. There is none of the orange mania you find in Tory to Lib Dem swing seats further east. Still, there are vast orange signs on verges, and the candidate appears on bridges with small gaggles of supporters and poses for photographs on Newlyn beach. He is too well-known to be exciting, and people remember that his daughter stayed in his flat. Fishermen particularly mention it, but fishermen are Tories, now segueing to Reform.

The Tory campaign launch is at a hotel near Prussia Cove. Two supercars are parked outside: they look odd here, a cry for help. The Tories are ageing and dressed as farmers on Sundays, though there are two young men. They eat pasties, and grumble about central government, which is common: many Cornish people behave as if taxes go to Westminster in error. They are not sullen, but disappointed. Sunak came here two weeks ago, bought a bacon sandwich by the station, met railway workers, and headed east.

“This week’s been very difficult,” says the Party chair.  “One couple said to me, ‘my husband’s father was at D-Day, he was on the beaches, and he’s voted Tory all his life. He could never vote Tory again after what happened’. Nearly everyone I spoke to [agreed].” “At this point it seems like Rishi has given up,” says one of the young Tories. Another says: “It’s just so unfair. We had an 80-seat majority, and we pissed it away sucking up to old people and drinking like students. Pure self-indulgence. We could have built a million houses. Harold Macmillan did.” A woman tells me: “In spite of their appalling record of inaction I am still voting Conservative because they are the only party who have stood up for the reality of biological sex. Very feebly.” The next person says: “I’m voting for Derek because he’s a hard-working chap. I’m not a great fan of Rishi. I think he’s behaved appallingly quite honestly.” How so? “I think he stabbed Boris in the back.” I ask a final man: why are you voting Conservative? “Because I always vote Conservative,” he replies, surprised that I asked. “I wouldn’t vote anything else.”

Bill Johnson, a fisherman of the inshore fleet in Mousehole tells me that 75% of local fishermen voted for Brexit “on the promises that things would get better. None of them think things have got better. They have got a whole lot worse.” The six-mile limit hasn’t materialised yet, and over-regulation and bureaucracy is rife: they make elderly fishermen use Apps at sea, which baffles them. I saw one fisherman on the quay in Newlyn last autumn, paperwork falling from his pockets. He looked dismayed.  “Fishermen,” Johnson says, “have been pawns of political expediency.” He remembers the day the Brexit Flotilla called at Mousehole: he stood on the quay. But fisherman, he judges, will not go Labour (“they are city Socialists”) here. The unions never had a foothold. For him, the Liberal Democrats, “are like an echo in an empty room”. He is voting Tory still — he feels a personal loyalty to Thomas — but others are tempted by Reform, who “are uttering the right sort of words on immigration”.

We walk around Mousehole, and he points which houses are lived in full time: it’s quicker that way. The centre of the town is a miniaturised St Ives: 87% holiday lets and second homes now. Turn-out on Election Day will be low. Denied access to housing, young people live with their parents, or in sheds, or move out of county, hoping to return with London money. Tourism work is seasonal and low-paid. Six fishing boats sail out of Mousehole: in twenty years Johnson thinks there will be none. Even so, it’s so busy in summer that the bus cannot get through: once, in an appalling metaphor, I saw an Ocado lorry parked in the bus stop, as if it was the bus. Today there is a replica of a tenth-century ship on the beach. It smells of pitch. It came from Brittany, sailed into Mousehole, and is stranded on the beach until the tide is high enough to carry it away. Its sailors — medieval reenactors — sell common rustic goods at vast prices on the sand, and this meets the current Mousehole aesthetic: an awful pastiche.

Lynne Dyer has been feeding local people from the kitchen below her Growing Links office since 2014. The men in the tents on the prom, and in the woods by the Coombe River, and by the boating pond, come here each night for supper, or they walk from Mousehole, and their tents on the cliff. Dressed for mountaineering in a town, the most painful to see are the youthful, with their insistent courtesy. She feeds people who live in temporary accommodation — cheap hotels or those repulsive, mouldy caravans — where they aren’t allowed to cook, and families and the low-paid.

The system isn’t broken, Dyer tells me. It’s worse than that. Rather: “It does not exist. This is like a fucking cowboy town. From mental health to rough sleeping and the housing problem and energy crisis. No money, no food, changes to Universal Credit. Oh my God, I could go on forever.”

“We were feeding over a thousand people who couldn’t afford to eat through the pandemic every week,” she says: fishermen were selling mackerel from boxes outside their doors. “Families who were starving; doctors who are referring people to us who’ve got malnutrition; mums who are feeding their children are not feeding themselves. I’ve never ever seen Mr Thomas ever. Andrew George was a volunteer for five years.”

This morning, she says, she drove back from Wales. “And I saw lots of flowers on the prom and then I’ve come into work and there’s flowers outside and I just thought, ‘fuck, who’s died?’” She starts to cry. “It’s a young man who killed himself outside The Lugger. He was constantly homeless and in addiction.”

“That’s what the Tories have done,” she says. “They killed that young man by taking away family services, by taking away social services. Everything preventative has been stripped from us. It’s young people’s lives who fall through the cracks. And they grow up and they anesthetise themselves with drugs and alcohol and,” — her voice flattens — “everyone hates them. That’s what the Tories have done. I hold them responsible for every young person who’s overdosed or killed themselves during this reign of terror on people.” She cannot wait for them to go. She counts the days. She thinks “Starmer might be a good Socialist. I want him to win. I will be voting Liberal Democrat for one less Tory seat: for Labour to get in.”

I walk to the boy’s memorial on the sea front: the wall across the road from The Lugger is decked with flowers and balloons. They fight the wind. It’s low tide on one of those June days when the water sparkles with the promise of a child’s eternal summer. When the tide is this low, you can see the petrified trees of the once great forest of Mount’s Bay. Again, and as ever, one Cornwall conceals another.

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