Saturday, 28 March 2009

Liam Fox visits Cornwall

Yesterday we had a visit from Liam Fox. I have known Liam for many years. He has extensive knowledge on defence and foreign policy issues so I was pleased when he confirmed he would be able to pay us a visit this week.

RNAS Culdrose, which is in the St Ives constituency, is of huge importance to the whole of West Cornwall and is an important defence facility for the country - contributing to efforts in Afghanistan and the Gulf. The visit was confirmed at short notice but Captain Graeme Mackay and his team at Culdrose pulled out the stops and provided Liam with a very impressive programme and comprehensive briefing on their work.

But we started the day in Truro with a meeting at Cornwall and Devon Media. This is the home of many familiar newspaper titles in the westcountry including, of course, the Cornishman and West Briton. Across the country, local newspapers are suffering from a sharp fall in advertising revenue which has put the whole industry under pressure and forced many to close. The West Briton and Cornishman are faring better than most but no one is escaping the trend.

I think independent local papers have a crucial role to play within our communities and also in making local democracy work but they face a changing environment. We need to look at how they can be helped and that is why the Conservatives have outlined ideas this week to relax some of the outdated laws that are preventing local papers from consolidating and diversifying into new media platforms such as local TV.

At a recent debate I attended at Tremough, Terrye Teverson, the Lib Dem candidate in Truro and Falmouth, was fiercely critical of Cornwall's local papers and argued that the County Council's promotional leaflet, Your Cornwall, was better for local people. But I totally disagree with her. We need an independent local media that is free of political influence, not partisan publications paid for at council tax payers' expense.

We finished the day with our annual constituency dinner. Liam is a strong speaker and attracted a lot of interest with around 120 guests joining us at the Penventon Hotel.