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Page last updated at 13:50 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 14:50 UK

Cornwall 'may be key to Tory and Lib Dem fortunes'

By Martyn Oates
Political Editor, BBC South West

Tin mine at Botallack
Parties need to consider the special challenges of living in the countryside

Cornwall could be key to the electoral fortunes of both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

Step back 20 years and every constituency in the county, bar one, returned a Conservative MP.

This Tory dominance started to crumble in 1992, but disaster really struck in 1997 when St Ives and South East Cornwall both fell to the Lib Dems and Labour snapped up Falmouth & Camborne.

In 2005, the Liberal Democrats made a clean sweep of it by snatching Falmouth & Camborne from Labour's Candy Atherton.

Boundary changes

After more than a decade in the electoral doldrums, though, the Conservatives finally seem to be enjoying a revival. Last year's election to the new unitary authority saw them returned as the largest party.

In 2010, radical boundary changes have given the county an extra seat for this election, up to six from five.

The six re-drawn constituencies are: North Cornwall, Truro & Falmouth, Camborne & Redruth, South East Cornwall, St Austell & Newquay and St Ives.

This means two familiar constituency names - Falmouth & Camborne and Truro & St Austell - will disappear into history.

Two MPs - Truro & St Austell's Matthew Taylor and South East Cornwall's Colin Breed - will not be returning to Westminster this summer whatever happens - both have decided to retire.

State of the economy

If last year's local election went relatively well for the Conservatives and relatively badly for the Liberal Democrats, it was disastrous for the Labour Party.

Labour now has no elected representation in Cornwall at all above parish council level. And in the European Election the county's voters pushed it into sixth place behind Mebyon Kernow and the Green Party.

Since 2004 a fourth party - the United Kingdom Independence Party - has made a big impression in European Elections in the South West, gaining and holding two MEPs.

It also polled 5% of the Cornish vote - vastly more than any of the other smaller parties - in the last General Election.

Mebyon Kernow won just 1.4% of the county's votes in 2005 - though this was nearly three times as much as the Greens.

The state of the economy will loom large - not least the prospect of public sector cuts. Cornwall, like the rest of south west England, has a heavy dependence on public sector employment.

Special challenges

The lack of affordable housing, and the gap between average earnings and house prices, remains one of Cornwall's biggest and most intractable problems.

The issue of how to finance care for the elderly will also have a particular resonance. Cornwall has an unusually high proportion of older residents, growing all the time.

Then are also the special challenges of living in the countryside. Transport, post offices, school funding and better broadband services to support the rural economy are all hot topics.

Meanwhile, farmers are demanding political action to tackle the scourge of bovine TB.

Finally, the Conservatives have pledged a free vote on reversing the hunting ban if they are elected. While hardly the most important issue at stake, it is certainly one of the most controversial.

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