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General election 24: Cornwall voters know what’s wrong – but few know which party has the solutions | Politics News

The House of Commons green benches have fallen silent in Westminster and it’s time for us, the United Kingdom, to choose who will occupy them next. 

So, Sky News has decided to take a piece of upholstered parliamentary furniture around the country for you to share your thoughts on.

The bench in Newquay.
The green bench in Newquay

We started our Bench Across Britain series in the West Country, hauling our green bench down the harbour steps, across dark slimy rocks and on to the vast yellow sands of Towan Beach in Newquay Bay.

Here we found our first speaker, surf instructor Rich Holgate Smith.

“I haven’t engaged with it enough myself,” he admits. “I don’t follow Rishi Sunak religiously. But I see what’s happening on a daily basis, like, the way I’m living.

“The cost of rent has tripled in the last few years or the cost of food has gone up. And I see we’re losing a lot of the good things that made this country great, a lot of free services, the NHS, for example.”

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Rich Holgate Smith
Rich Holgate Smith

The feeling that public services are in decline is a recurring theme of conversation on our bench, as is the cost of living.

Young couple Sophia Zielinski-Keall and Max Whiteley are on the beach walking their dog when they stop for a chat.

“I haven’t seen anybody come down here really to see what’s happening in Cornwall,” says Sophia. “Like on house prices; they have spiralled out of control down here. We managed to buy a first home and we feel quite lucky. It was hard.

“I know a lot of people who are trying to buy their own first homes at the moment as well and they’re finding it really, really tricky, especially with the salaries down here. They don’t compare to the salaries in London and house prices are just shooting through the roof.”

Sophia Zielinski-Keall and Max Whiteley
Sophia Zielinski-Keall and Max Whiteley

Max adds: “I think we both got good jobs, but the money just seems to go every month. In a lot of ways I was better off 10 years ago than I am now, even though I was probably earning 50% less.”

Second-home owners pushing up house prices for the locals has been a growing problem in the region. Two teachers from Falmouth, Frankie Baseley and Jessica Fenton, say the same.

“Housing down here – it’s just gone way beyond anything that we can afford,” says Frankie. “We earn a pretty good salary for being in Cornwall, but going to a shop and doing like a weekly shop is just so expensive!”

Newquay in Cornwall.
Newquay in Cornwall.

Jessica adds: “Then I think at work, budget cuts, lack of resources, lack of funding for mental health, especially special needs, especially school trips – like the cost of living is really affecting coach prices, so we can’t go to school trips.”

St Austell and Newquay is Tory-held. Labour were second in both 2017 and 2019 and there was no UKIP or Brexit candidate in either election.

This year there are at least seven candidates, including one from Reform in a seat that is estimated to have voted 65% Leave in the Brexit referendum.

Labour needs a 14.5% swing to take the constituency. With that, uniformly across the country, they would be on course for a 50-seat majority.

There are multiple constituencies for the Conservatives to defend in the region which is currently pretty much a sea of blue. In England, Labour and Liberal Democrats only have two seats each west of Bristol – but are looking to turn the South West into a patchwork of red and yellow.

With 700 miles of stunning coastline, people here care deeply about the environment. One surfer who sat on our bench lamented “the amount of poo in the sea”. Other locals were angry with both main parties for rowing back on green commitments.

Transport is another issue, be it bus and train services, or the price of fuel. Aircraft mechanic Richard Wooldridge says the cost of petrol is “crippling” his family.

Richard Wooldridge
Richard Wooldridge

He says: “I travel for work, my wife travels to work. I work away from home so I can earn a good wage. But it’s now got to the point with the cost of fuel that I have to consider, whether I continue in my chosen career or be a stay-at-home dad because the fuel prices are so high.”

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Down at the harbour at 9am on a Sunday, Richard is part of a group of men who religiously jump into the water come rain or shine. A fellow member of the Blue Ball swim club, teacher Matthew Jenkins, says for him “integrity” is the number one consideration for his vote.

Matthew Jenkins
Matthew Jenkins

He added: “I think the fact that we were told a lot of things and a lot of those things never happened, we were lied to a lot of times, especially during the COVID years.

“And I know some of those things some people found quite trivial, but in terms of integrity, they’re actually really important and they made a big difference to people’s lives.”

Despite the general dissatisfaction with the previous government and despondency over the cost of living – there is no huge enthusiasm for the main opposition party.

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Jessica, one of the Falmouth teachers, reflected the general mood when she said: “I’m going to be definitely looking around at different parties and thinking.”

The people who came to our bench seemed to know what’s wrong with their lives – fewer knew which party had the solutions.

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