cornwall

New songs, albums and radio stuff, plus a big move…

Some updates on my acoustic singer-songwriter side of life. Because you asked*.

I’ve got some new songs (you can have ’em for free)

As usual, they’re home recordings, i.e. I’ve stuck my phone on a random surface and hoped it came out OK. Most of the time it vaguely works. I think…

1. A cover of Defiance Ohio‘s brilliant rallying cry against modern society:

2. An instrumental piece inspired by Cornwall and the summer:

A new ‘album’

I’ve stuck together a collection of my recent demos in a free compilation thing called Luddite Ballads. Which I might use as the title of my actual new EP thing coming out soon from Rack Mount Records. More on that in a mo.

Actual new album thing

The proper EP I’ve been recording over the past year (feels like forever!) is finally coming out soon on iTunes and Spotify and all that stuff, so I’ll have something official for once. Which will be great. Keep your eye out! Just being mastered etc. at the moment I think so I’ll wack it on the blog when it’s all done.

On t’ Radio

I did a BBC Introducing session the other week with Radio York, as part of their York and North Yorkshire Introducing programme to get up and coming artists heard. You can still listen to it here. I’m 43:30ish in so listen out.

I play three of my own tracks, two of my favourite artists (Bragg and Guthrie) and have a general chat/interview about life, politics and music. It was good fun. Hope you enjoy it too.

On me travels

And with that, I’m off to Belgium to live for six months, working as a (paid!) intern with the Green European Foundation, a think tank linked with the Greens in the European Parliament. It should be exciting and a nice chance to live abroad (despite my lack of French/Flemish). I’ll keep the blog going and will keep strumming. See you soon.

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* That may or may not be true.

Drop the cynicism – Cornwall’s national minority status should be welcomed

[Cross-posted from my article for OpenDemocracy]

Cornish politics, including nationalist politics, is a strange beast. It ranges from would-be-terrorists who demand English flags be removed, to those who envy the SNP’s success and seek to imitate a progressive patriotism (to steal a phrase from Billy Bragg). But speaking as a ‘naturalised’ Cornishman myself, the news that Cornwall has been given ‘national minority’ status under the Council of Europe’s ‘Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities’ is one which, despite some caveats, should be welcomed.

The caveats are worth mentioning, of course. Firstly, Cornwall is one of the most impoverished counties in the country – and famously the only to receive the EU’s ‘Objective One’ funding for ‘undeveloped’ regions. It has one of the highest house price-to wage ratios, a source in itself of much anti-English ‘immigrant’ (or emmet, in Cornish dialect) hostility. This in itself has prompted calls for extra hotel taxes and second-home expropriations.

Policies like the bedroom tax (and austerity in general) have hit Cornwall hard, with 61% of those hit by the policy in the county falling into arrears – prompting the council to send over Christmas thousands of fairly-offensive ‘Pay Your Rent Before It’s Spent’ newsletters. Meanwhile, just 14% of the bedroom tax relief fund has actually been spent.

My own city of Truro – the only Cornish city, by virtue of its Cathedral – is now the third most expensive in the country, while thousands linger on the minimum wage in the county’s main sectors of tourism (when it’s not raining), retail, and hospitality – from pasty shops to pubs and B&Bs. But with little progressive or trade union tradition, there’s scant pressure to radically alter Cornish society – except, perhaps, to abolish the outdated model of the Duchy which grants immense land and inheritance rights to the Duke of Cornwall.

But politics, as always, partly explains the government’s unexpected decision. Cornwall is a firmly Lib Dem/Conservative swing area – there hasn’t had a Labour MP in many years, and only then confined to the deprived Camborne & Redruth constituency. Is the government eying up the three Lib Dem seats – all of which rest on slender majorities? Just 6000 extra votes could bring all three to the Tories. Needless to say, the Lib Dems aren’t too popular in the county at present, despite narrowly taking control of the council in a coalition last year, so an all-Tory Cornwall is a theoretically plausible outcome, while the Tories are desperately trying to see off an insurgent UKIP threat – the party won six seats on the council last year, while left-wing Cornish nationalists Mebyon Kernow sadly won just four (although encouragingly, the Greens won our first ever unitary seat, in St Ives).

The decision to give Cornwall national minority status doesn’t grant it any extra funding, desperately needed both culturally and economically. But it does add gravitas to a welcome £120,000 given to the Cornish Language Partnership recently to promote the on-going revival, while it opens up possibilities for easier grant applications through the EU and other bodies. At the same time, Bewans Kernow, a local charity, has just been granted £40k to increase community cohesion and boost knowledge of Cornish culture.

It’s easy to be cynical, especially about coalition decisions. But, caveats aside, the move should be welcomed for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it grants Cornwall an automatic right to consultation over government policies, as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland already receive. With all the social problems Cornwall has, this is undoubtedly a positive.

But, more sentimentally, it recognises an identity that is already there and one which, with no real right-wing nationalist grouping in the county, is relatively benign. There’s no real push for separation (even Mebyon Kernow reject independence), but there is a sense of community and uniqueness. 84,000 people declared themselves Cornish in the 2011 census, while thousands celebrate St Piran’s Day (treated as a bank holiday by many organisations in the Duchy), Trevithick’s Day, Flora Day and a whole raft of other festivities. There’s the language – now seeing somewhat of a revival, with Cornish-language nurseries and classes springing up all over – as well as the food, the folk scene, the surfing, the accent and even the tartan, however ugly it might be…

But more than anything, there’s a sense of pride, despite the odds. And although Eric Hobsbawm was right when he said that all national identities are to some extent ‘imagined communities’ rooted in myth, does it really matter? For now, I’m proud to be an adopted member of that imagined community – a collective in an individualistic age, or as the county’s motto goes – ‘Onen hag oll’. One and all.

New Songs and Stuff

Just a quick update on the musical side of life. Since publishing my last post here I’ve recorded three new songs – all covers, for a change. As usual, free to hear/download/pirate/destroy/share/generally defame.

The first I recorded for St Piran’s Day – the Cornish ‘national’ day – and the song is the Cornish anthem Trelawney (or Song of the Western Men). Gets the patriotic blood flowing. Not that I’m in to patriotism generally, but Cornwall is pretty great so I don’t really mind.

The next is a cover of Bob Dylan’s beautiful Song to Woody, an ode to Woody Guthrie, the early 19thC socialist folk hero of America. Hope I’ve done it justice. If not, well, soz.

Finally, another Guthrie-related tune, This Land is Your Land, written by the great man himself. I’ve tried to ‘angry’ it up a bit. The lyrics are brilliant, and still very relevent.

The new EP is coming along slowly and should be released with a launch gig over the next month or so, and I’ve got a gig lined up at the Sage in Gateshead on the 29th April, as well as a couple of other speculative gigs lined up. Everything’s up in the air with the end of my degree, but music is a nice distraction.

Anyway, that’s all, folks.

PS don’t forget to visit my SoundCloud page where all my stuff resides/goes to die – soundcloud.com/josiah-mortimer. I’m also, inevitably, on Facebook. Have a gander, and ‘like’ that shiz.

Cornwall Council apologises for offensive Christmas newsletter

It’s been an interesting couple of weeks after the ‘pay your rent before it’s spent’ newsletter from Cornwall Council was sent out and received by tenants across the county on Christmas eve. I complained to the council on the 30th about the content of the insulting winter publication and received this statement below on the 7th (after an unsatisfactory online response here).

Thanks to everyone who has followed the campaign and put pressure on the council to act and to treat its tenants with the dignity and decency they respect.

The next step for the council should of course be to refuse to evict anyone hit those hit by the bedroom tax and other welfare ‘reforms’ which have pushed thousands into poverty, and to put a stop to the planned £3-£5 a week rent rises for 2014.

This is a start, though. I’m going to leave the mini-campaign here because I’m mostly satisfied that this is an apology (even if some of the response continues the attitude of the newsletter re. ‘the consequences of people not budgeting correctly and not prioritising their debts’).

(Names have been deleted, and I have made some text bold – otherwise it is verbatim).

Dear Mr Mortimer,

Your Complaint about Cornwall Housing Limited

I write in response to your complaint to Cornwall Housing Limited dated 30th December 2013 which has been passed to me to respond to.

Thank you for your comments regarding the recent article ‘Pay your rent before it’s spent’ in the Winter 2013 edition of our tenants newsletter.

The newsletter is intended to provide information and advice to our tenants on a variety of topics.  The article you refer to was in no way intended to patronise any of our tenants or customers and we apologise if you found it offensive. Cornwall Housing feels it is important to remind all tenants about the dangers of falling into rent arrears and the article offered advice to anyone who was experiencing financial difficulties and urged tenants to contact us if they were struggling.

It was also intended to remind tenants in east Cornwall that we no longer give two ‘rent free’ weeks at Christmas.

The article about possible rent rises was submitted by Cornwall Council. The Tenants Forums had specifically requested that we publish this information as soon as it was available as they believed that tenants would want to know about any proposed rent increases as soon as they were suggested.

With regard to your point about Welfare Reforms, Cornwall Housing and Cornwall Council have taken a proactive leading role in understanding and explaining the Government’s Welfare Reforms and how they affect people in Cornwall and we continue to use the newsletter as a way of keeping tenants up to date with what is happening, though this information may not be relevant to all of our tenants we feel it is important to make everyone aware of the help and support we can offer. We deal with homelessness first hand so know the consequences of people not budgeting correctly and not prioritising their debts.

The newsletter was printed and sent to reach customers before Christmas but some customers received it later than intended because of delays to the postal service. These delays resulted in some copies being delivered during the festive period. This is something we will consider when putting together and sending out the newsletter in the future.

Thank you for your suggestion regarding ethical banks and credit unions, we will try and incorporate this information, if relevant, in future

Once again we apologise for any offence which was certainly not the intention of the article.

I conclude that I partly uphold your complaint.

I am satisfied that this matter has now been dealt with and therefore I will close the complaint from further investigation.  If you feel that your complaint has not been answered or that you have further information to demonstrate that the response is incorrect, you may refer the matter to the Cornwall Housing Complaints Coordinator who will escalate the complaint to a step 2 complaint. [details about stepping up the complaint have been deleted].

Please find (enclosed/attached) a leaflet regarding the complaints process for your information.

Yours sincerely

[Council officer]

Communications Officer

Cornwall Housing

Tel:0300 1234 161

Cornwall Council newsletter scandal – the ‘apology’ that never was…

Since writing my blog post on the Cornwall Council Christmas newsletter (which contained the message ‘pay your rent before it’s spent’), the story has sort of…exploded*.

You’d think with so much negative coverage for the council they would just admit that the newsletter was offensive, patronising, in bad taste and poorly timed. My family received it on Christmas eve – not a time when you want to hear that the council will bring the bailiffs in if you don’t cough up, or that you will be evicted. Also not a good time to announce rent rises of £3-£5 a week (hundreds of pounds a year) on the same page, alongside the claim that the government’s benefit ‘reforms’ are not viewed as a valid reason for underpayment.

As I’ve said elsewhere, the whole page perpetuated the myth of council tenants as reckless with spending, poor at budgeting, and the notion that poverty isn’t the cause of things like the bedroom tax and low wages but of the fecklessness and carelessness of the poor. It’s a slap in the face to thousands in Cornwall.

Was there an apology? Well…no. Yesterday the council posted an update on the scandal on its site – presumably to deflect the growing chorus against its actions. It said:

The article was intended to remind tenants of the importance of keeping on top of their rent payments over the festive period…[and] that we no longer give two ‘rent free’ weeks at Christmas.

Referring to homelessness (and implicitly, evictions), it went on to say:

We have seen first hand the consequences of people not budgeting correctly and prioritising their debts.

This is basically just another veiled threat to kick out struggling tenants for under-/non-payment of rent. But the final line is priceless:

It was certainly not our intention to patronise our tenants in any way and we are sorry if some people have interpreted the article in this way.

Basically, they are apologising for their tenants’ supposed misinterpretation of the clearly insulting newsletter. They are apologising for what they see as their residents stupidity. Essentially, ‘we are sorry if you got the wrong end of the stick’. It puts the blame on the tenants rather than the council. It’s not an apology therefore, and I’ll be seeking an actual formal apology and retraction from the council itself – not an apology for their tenants.

In sum, the council’s response continues the patronising attitude of the newsletter – that tenants are idiots to be belittled. It is not much better than the original article itself, and it certainly isn’t a retraction.

How did I hear about the ‘apology’ that never was? Twitter. No formal letter, no visit, no phone call. Instead, the council said:

I told them my family was waiting for a full formal apology. None yet.

What have the actual (Lib Dem/Indy) councillors responsible said? This is from the BBC article:

Liberal Democrat councillor Geoff Brown, cabinet member for housing, said he was sorry if anyone was offended by the newsletter, but the council was trying to help tenants by stressing the importance of people being “very, very careful and managing their money”.

Again, not actually saying sorry, just apologising for tenants’ ostensible myopia. I don’t even need to say how patronising the phrase telling residents to be “very, very careful” at “managing their money” is.

Without wanting to start a new People’s Front of Judea, the response from Labour has also been disappointing, criticising only the timing of the article, not the content or overall message and tone. “The timing of the newsletter was terrible”, said Labour councillor Michael Bunney.

But the story is kicking off. Let’s hope Cornwall Council see sense and do the right thing. Better than an apology though would be a pledge not to evict tenants hit by the bedroom tax and a pledge not to raise rents. People cannot afford the housing & council benefit cuts, and hundreds of pounds extra in rent a year.

Feel free to write to comments@cornwall.gov.uk if you have any thoughts for them!

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*It’s the most viewed article on the blog with nearly 500 views in around a week, and it has sparked national coverage in the Morning Star (in print), BBC News Online (here), BBC Spotlight, and the Cornish Guardian (next week – with a news piece, plus  a short comment by me).

Here’s the full message:

Cornwall Council tenant newsletter

Cornwall Council’s offensive newsletter: ‘pay your rent before it’s spent’

Something pretty disturbing and offensive came through the door of my parents’ council flat on Christmas eve. It was Cornwall Council’s seemingly innocuous winter housing newsletter to all council tenants in the county. Skimming through the pages I spotted this full-page message:

Cornwall Council tenant newsletterYep, this arrived on the doorstep on Christmas eve – a message not to spend money over the festive season and instead to send all your money to the Independent/Liberal Democrat-run Cornwall Council.

It was offensive on a number of levels – not just its timing but the implicit assumption that council tenants can’t handle their own money, that people’s poverty is self-induced and that social housing tenants are reckless with their spending – no doubt on fags, booze and Sky TV in the perspective of the political right.

Not only that, but after the obligatory information about help with payments, the second half of the message is dedicated to how many people they have tried to evict since April – 29, they inform us, as well as about a hundred legal cases sent to solicitors in recent months. They also tell us that the welfare ‘reforms’ are not a valid reason for underpaying rent – the bedroom tax is apparently not an impediment to making ends meet. At least not for Cornwall Council.

Scroll down and, after you’ve got past the stuff about how likely you are to be evicted if your rent payments slip at the end of the year, the council announce they will be ‘reviewing its current policy on rent setting’ – in non-council speak, hiking rents in 2014 by between £3 and £5 a week – a significant rise. But, in their logic, this also won’t be a valid reason for falling behind on your rent. Nope, raised rents, benefit cuts and the bedroom tax aren’t the cause of difficulties – instead Christmas spending is. Reckless tenant spending is the only true source of poverty.

On a side note, the whole page is also incredibly idiotic after the national scandal that was Hammersmith & Fulham council’s ‘Christmas card‘ to their tenants:

This made national headlines and fundamentally humiliated the council – and rightfully so.

I spoke to Alex Folkes, a Lib Dem member of the council administration, who said he would ‘look into it’ after the Christmas period. But if council tenants don’t get a break from the administration, neither should the administration get a break from tax-payers, especially after this offensive slap-in-the-face was delivered a day before Christmas. As if struggling families don’t have enough to worry about.

For some reason the Cornwall Council newsletter hasn’t created such a stir (yet). But it should, and can.

If you want to let the council know your thoughts, please write to comments@cornwall.gov.uk, cc’ing in housing@cornwall.gov.uk and customerservices@cornwall.gov.uk or call 0300 1234 100

You can also write to:

Cornwall Housing, Cornwall Council
County Hall
Treyew Road
Truro
TR1 3AY

Support the Strikes in Cornwall on June 30th – Rally on Lemon Quay

Hundreds of striking workers and their supporters will be rallying on Lemon Quay in Truro on June 30th to support the thousands of public sector workers in Cornwall who face job losses, a tripling of their pension contributions (with the average public sector pension only £4,000 as it stands) and pay freezes.

Cornwall Anti-Cuts is helping to organise the rally and is linking up the unions, with a meeting last Wednesday successfully bringing together the striking unions.

Up to 750,000 could be on strike on the day and it is vital they are shown support. Striking is a last resort – but hard-working people in the public sector are being made to pay for the financial crisis. Let’s stand up for them on the 30th and fight the Tory-led coaltion.

UK Uncut are organising a national day of action alongside the strikes. This is going to be big – and not one to miss.

There will be more strikes to come in the next few months. Looks like were building for a general strike. A bit later than Greece, admittedly.