General Election in Cornwall: It's not a two-horse race says woman hoping to be next David Penhaligon

If the polls and political chatter are to be believed, the Truro and Falmouth constituency is a two-horse race between its former Conservative MP, Cherilyn Mackrory, and Labour's Jayne Kirkham who could well steal the crown. However, Liberal Democrat Ruth Gripper - who grew up in the area - says anyone who thinks that is wrong.

In the latest (and probably last now the election has been called) interview with candidates in the constituency, Ruth tells us that she wants to build on the reputation of former Liberal / Lib Dem MPs in the area, David Penhaligon and Matthew Taylor, who "properly spoke up for Cornwall and were hard-working constituent MPs".

We chatted in the heart of her constituency at the St Piran Cafe at Bissoe, where Ruth once worked frying breakfasts and serving ice cream. She grew up in Perranwell Station after her parents moved to Cornwall to work as trainee doctors at Treliske. Her father was a very well-known GP at the Devoran and Chacewater practice.

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"I think I got from both of them, and from growing up in the village, a sense of being part of a community. They were involved in the parish council and playing field committee, school governors, that sort of thing - village life," Ruth told me. "I left Cornwall to go to university, and worked upcountry and also abroad - a year teaching English in France - but Cornwall was always 'home' and I knew I'd come back one day."

Ruth now lives in Falmouth and works on an environmental project with the University of Exeter on the Penryn campus.

Liberal Democrats parliamentary candidate for the Truro and Falmouth constituency, Ruth Gripper, grew up in the area she hopes to represent
Liberal Democrats parliamentary candidate for the Truro and Falmouth constituency, Ruth Gripper, grew up in the area she hopes to represent -Credit:Greg Martin / Cornwall Live

The seat - when it was Truro and then the Truro and St Austell constituency before a boundary change led to the formation of Truro and Falmouth - was always a Liberal / Lib Dem stronghold, as was the majority of Cornwall. So what happened?

"I think the Conservative tide came in. Certainly growing up here I remember Cornwall being Liberal Democrat with that independent-minded, slightly different way of thinking. I don't think it's [the Conservative hold on Cornwall] is going to last.

"At the moment, you'd be quite hard-pressed to find people who say they are voting Conservative. The main reaction when I've been out speaking to people is this feeling of being tired, exhausted, fed up, disillusionment - jaded was the word one man used.

"All parties have got a challenge in terms of rebuilding people's trust. I think the experience of the last five years where politics has been so chaotic and we've had scandals and incompetence at the top has affected politics as a whole. There is a really strong appetite for change. What change people want and what they vote for can vary quite a bit."

David Penhaligon and Matthew Taylor are big shoes to fill from a Lib Dem point of view as people in the constituency still really respect them as politicians.

"I've been quite struck by how often their names come up on the doorstep. I think people remember them because they were good, hard-working constituent MPs and they really felt like they were on our side. They properly spoke up for Cornwall and the constituency in a way that I feel we haven't really had for the last few years. Very big shoes to fill, as you say, but that's certainly the kind of model I aspire to. Yes, I'm standing as a Lib Dem but the important thing for me is to be a local champion in that style."

Let's take Truro first - what help do you think the city needs that it might not have been getting in the last four years in your opinion?

"I've seen some of your stories and people talk to me about the high street - how it feels with the empty shops, anti-social behaviour, people often talk about a lack of visible policing. I know the city council is trying to change that with the rangers and extra funding.

"That kind of concern about how do we bring back the vitality and the vibrancy of Truro. I think there are things we can do around better support for the high street, so rate relief and business rate reform. Can we be a bit creative about brightening up the city centre?

"It's about making sure public services have the funding they need to make sure some of the issues around rough sleeping, mental health, drug and alcohol use have support."

What about Falmouth?

"It's an interesting constituency because of the contrast between the two places. In Falmouth you've got the students so you have that year-round energy and life. The Pydar development in Truro, when that comes through, should make a big difference.

"There are really big opportunities around the docks and what is happening with floating offshore wind. For me, it's about making sure we in Falmouth, and Cornwall more widely, get in the best position to take advantage of those opportunities. The announcement recently about port investment saw Falmouth miss out, so as MP I'd be banging the drum for funding for that kind of future infrastructure down here. There's a danger that we miss the boat and fall behind.

"Truro and Falmouth are the big population centres, but an important thing for me is those rural communities. They have different needs and issues, and they need someone to speak up for them as well; whether that's public transport or opportunities and services. A lot of people in Cornwall often feel quite remote and forgotten about in Westminster."

Lib Dem candidate Ruth Gripper says it's not a two-horse race between the Conservatives and Labour in Truro and Falmouth
Lib Dem candidate Ruth Gripper says it's not a two-horse race between the Conservatives and Labour in Truro and Falmouth -Credit:Greg Martin / Cornwall Live

Sewage is something you've been very vocal about which is of massive importance to people in Cornwall.

"The sewage issue is something that people bring up on the door - they are really angry about it. That contrast between the shareholders' dividends and bonuses that are being paid and the dumping that is supposed to be exceptional and seems to be routine.

"This is an area where the Lib Dems are putting forward bold ideas and taking a bit of a lead on it. We've certainly led on it in Parliament in terms of tabling amendments which have been voted down every time by our Conservative MPs in Cornwall.

"So we would stop bonuses until the sewage dumping stops, toughen up the regulator because Ofwat does not seem to be doing anything particularly useful and then transform water companies from private companies into public benefit companies. That way you have environmental and community representation on the board. There would be a legal requirement that it's not just about pursuing profit, it's about environmental considerations as well. That would be a really transformational thing to do."

Ruth has found that another big topic on doorsteps is housing, unsurprisingly.

"Housing is one of the most common things people bring up. It tends to be NHS, the environment, cost of living and housing. Housing has all the knock-on effects in those other areas. The Lib Dems have always been in favour of pushing powers out to local communities, so giving the local authority more power to manage and control second homes and holiday lets in their area.

"So changes to planning and making sure that second home owners and holiday let owners are paying their fair share of tax. There are these loopholes - you shouldn't be getting tax breaks if you have a second home or holiday let.

"We need to build more social homes - the right kind of housing that's in the reach of local people. Renters also get forgotten about. I was fuming last week with Parliament coming to an end - the no fault eviction issue which has been promised since Theresa May in 2019, every single one of those Prime Ministers has promised to end no fault evictions. Michael Gove in February said 'we will do it before the election' and they just let it drop. Five years of promises and now we're nowhere.

"Over that time the number of families in Cornwall being turfed out to make way for a holiday let and having nowhere to go is shocking."

What would you say to people who say it's just a two-horse race?

"I'd say I think they're wrong, bluntly. We've talked about the Lib Dem MPs we've had here in the past. Labour have had one MP in the whole of Cornwall in the last 50 years and this constituency was Liberal Democrat before it was Conservative.

"Talking to people on the doors, there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot of people making up their minds. Anyone who tells you how it's going to go is having you on frankly. We had a similar argument last time round and Labour threw everything at this seat and the Conservative majority increased.

"I'm just making the case we're not just electing the Government, we're electing someone to represent this constituency and who is going to do the best job of speaking up for people here. That's what I'm all about."

In a nutshell, why should people vote for you?

"They should vote for me if they want someone who is going to put the constituency first. I want to represent this whole constituency - if I'm elected I would be the MP for everybody here whether you voted for me or not. I think it's really important we have someone who will speak up for us in Westminster and not just toe the party line and defend the Government position down here."

For interviews with Conservative candidate Cherilyn Mackrory head here and for Labour's Jayne Kirkham click here.