Saturday, 14 May 2016

UNDER THE SURFACE OF ST IVES - MINING IN THE PAST AND POLITICS TODAY

This week's blog explores what has gone on under the surface of St Ives in the past and what is happening today, politically, under our very noses but buried - under the surface of our perception - unrecognised.

First, the mining focus.

We moved to our terraced house, situated off the Stennack, coming out of St Ives, uphill, heading S.W., in January 2013. By the summer of that year, I had written the piece that appears this week for the first time on my website. It is called 'Under the Surface of St Ives.' Do read it in its entirety if you can - it provides a remarkable insight into St Ives in the past thanks to the stories of my two sources, John Toman and Jim Hodge. The picture below shows the old Stennack school, the Board School, built in 1880 on the outer margin of St Ives. The river and road are on the other side of the school, unseen in the photograph. The houses you see now do not exist. Instead the landscape is dominated by the spoil heaps of the Trenwith mine. This is an industrial landscape. Men were mining under the surface as the shutter opened on the camera to take this shot. Men were making their living. Men who were to die before their time, some in accidents, some through the substances they inhaled.   

The St Ives Board School, built 1880, now the Stennack Surgery, looking south and towards the spoil heaps of Trenwith mine.

I make the point in the essay that there is little recollection now of mining's 18th and 19th century heyday in St Ives. 'Once the memory of mining passes beyond your grandfather it almost passes out of mind.' Certainly there are few visual reminders now. But we should not forget. It was only with the advent of the Edwardian age at the beginning of the 20th century that a new kind of sensitivity

developed within the ranks of the Westminster elite and the urban and rural elites from which it was drawn. Only then did those with wealth and power begin to vote through measures that raised taxation centrally from their own pockets to pay for the amelioration of the social hardships that unregulated market forces inflicted upon three-quarters of the nation: the labouring poor.

And that brings us to the political focus in this blog. The politics of the early 21st century. The period has changed but the vocabulary remains the same. 'Unregulated market forces'. 'Social hardships'. The electors in the SW of this country voted in the General Election in May, 2015 in ways that secured victories for Tory candidates across the region. Here in St Ives we have Derek Thomas as our MP. A Tory MP by default believes in the power of the market to improve the lives of people. The less regulation the better. We are better off the lower the level of taxation. All this is uncontroversial. These positions are the bedrock of Toryism.

But such views have consequences. I am a socialist. I believe in regulating market forces to create a fairer, more decent society with less inequality. I believe in a world shaped by compassionate values where the default position is to reach out to help the weak and vulnerable. I don't believe in the programme of austerity that has been inflicted  upon us for the best part of  a decade. It is an economically illiterate policy sustained only by power and arrogance and the manipulation of the truth. This helps explain why I mistrust the Conservative Party and the Government of this land. And why I mistrust the Tories who spout the lines from the scripts provided for them by Conservative head office. Our MP, Derek Thomas, is a Tory and I, by and large, mistrust him and his words.

My attendance at two recent demonstrations has brought me into contact with Mr Thomas. The first protest was called by 38 Degrees to draw attention to the perils in the TTIP agreements that were under negotiation and which could lead to American multinationals suing our government for compensation if the will of the people led to a change in government and a reversal of government policy. Mr Thomas was around for this demonstration. He even used it as an opportunity for  a photoshoot. Mr Thomas smiling alongside the demonstrators. He was and has been keen to present himself as a listening man open to the force of argument. Perhaps he is - but I doubt it. Tribal Tories follow their tribal instincts. But if the issue is Leave or Remain the picture becomes blurred.The European Union matter reveals the fractured nature of the tribal Tory - a rather unhealthy and confused beast.

Writing of the 'beast' brings to mind 'The Beast of Bolsover', the redoubtable Dennis Skinner, MP. He remains certain that it is not right for him as a socialist to socialise in the House of Commons with members of the Conservative Party. They do not share his values. Their policies have been, are, and will continue to be bad news for his constituents and most people in this country. That seems an honourable position to hold. It is certainly a useful reminder that politicians are not necessarily 'all the same' as you hear some people say. The Tory is shaped by different values from the Socialist.

And that thought brings me to the detail of my second demonstration. This time Mr Thomas was not present. It was just over a week ago in Penzance. Almost 100 people protested outside his office in Penzance's Wharfside shopping centre at his decision to vote against taking refugee children into Britain. Here we are below, including your blogger, arms akimbo and magisterial, near the front.  

Wharfside Centre demonstration against Derek Thomas' vote


Mr Thomas had already taken to the local newspaper to reassure constituents that 'I completely get the disappointment felt by many' at this parliamentary vote.' No doubt he completely got the message when his leader, the Prime Minister, seemed to do a U-turn a day or so later. What I and others get is that this is a world of politics where spin and manipulation have become ever more evident. People were told that Mr Thomas' explanation was available through Cornelius Olivier, the Labour Party candidate at the last General Election, who was also attending the demonstration. The Beast of Bolsover might scratch himself in puzzled fashion on hearing that detail.

I spoke with Cornelius Olivier as the demonstration ended about Michael Crick and the Channel 4 story about the Conservative election spending scandal. This potentially has the power to bring down this government, I speculated. Cornelius was far from convinced and seemed reluctant to share the outrage that I and others feel about the illegal use of battle buses filled with volunteers to swing marginal constituencies in favour of the Tories in the last days of the election. Illegal because the costs of overnight accommodation and the buses themselves were not properly declared as local election expenses because to do so would have taken the spend over the legal limit. My joy came that evening as I watched Channel 4 News and learnt that police investigations were now taking place. It feels good when you are moving with the zeitgeist. 

I was also delighted this week to see the fruits of my web designer, Steve McIntosh, and his recent work on my photo galleries. More images - more galleries.  All very cool!