Our Island community is too vulnerable for government experiments

The pier is empty, the beaches spacious and calm. On the largest island in England, the residents of the Isle of Wight should be preparing the campsites, making the icecream and dusting off the (fibreglass) dinosaurs at Blackgang Chine.


But the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic has left the usually busy coastal towns eerily silent. Living in one of the most beautiful parts of the UK, Islanders have been supportive of the ‘Stay At Home’ government message. Nevertheless our single hospital has dealt with over 100 cases of the virus, and sadly 24 have died.

Yet the government has big plans for the Isle of Wight. Michael Gove announced to a committee of MPs in Parliament (Wednesday 29th) that “pilot” schemes for easing Covid restrictions could soon be trialled on UK islands.   “There is a specific scientific justification for saying that island communities can be areas where you can pilot some measures – contact-tracing in particular.” Scottish Islands are under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Government. So all eyes turn south to the Isle of Wight.


Unsurprisingly, the Isle of Wight’s Conservative MP Bob Seely is said to be “delighted” that the government are set to trial a coronavirus Test and Trace App in his constituency, according toThe Telegraph.  But such endorsements have made massive assumptions about the level of public support on the Island for an early exit from lockdown, and it would be reliant on mass participation in an initiative based on a ‘voluntary’ app.

Contrary to the government’s thinking, I can tell you that the Isle of Wight is far from the perfect population to trial a medical app leading to lockdown measures to be lifted early.

You may not be surprised to know that 28% of the Isle of Wight are aged 65 years old or over, and so subsequent smart phone ownership is low (only 40% for those aged 65+). Many thousands of islanders have been self-isolating and shielded in their homes for the last six weeks, and significant numbers of residents are vulnerable – for example over 12,000 live with variations of lung disease. There is only one small hospital serving the population of 140,000 people.

If you were going to pick an ideal, robust group to withstand the release from lockdown early as part of a national ‘guinea pig’ experiment – the older, vulnerable and isolated people of the Isle of Wight would be far from the top of your list.

This national initiative to develop a coronavirus tracing app has also alarmed 177 computer security and privacy experts, who are concerned about the transparency of the approach, targeting, and opportunities for future surveillance. The UK government insist on pursuing a centralised system where data will be held by the state, rather than the adoption of decentralised architecture stored locally on the device – which most of Europe have shifted towards.


This raised alarm for many islanders who value their privacy with great resolve. The security experts have also warned such a centralised system could be part of a “function creep” with future versions planned by the application developers NHSX to divulge additional data, such as location. Even GCHQ have been granted the power to make the NHS disclose information from any App.

Islanders are so concerned by the government ploughing ahead with their ‘pilot area’, that over 2,000 have signed a petition to ask the MP to rethink the proposals. Ryde resident Karen Lucioni says “The Island should not be a test bed to leave lock-down earlier than the rest of the U.K.  Residents hold their families close to their hearts.  We need to be told about an exit strategy first, understand what the CCG, NHS trust and other stakeholders views are.”

Undeterred, Bob Seely MP responded by writing an article in The Telegraph (Monday 26th) entitled “Let’s use the Isle of Wight as a testing ground to solve our lockdown dilemma.” He was joined by Isle of Wight Council Leader, Dave Stewart, who went on the Radio 4 Today Programme (21.4.20) to talk about his support for ‘modern technology and apps and things’ through his “Save Our Summer” campaign.


If the government sign off the project in the next few days, the app is set to go live in the next couple of weeks and the Island could see lockdown measures lifted before anywhere else in England – regardless of the substantial fears of many residents. The Isle of Wight may be known as ‘Dinosaur Island’, but only because we protect our fossils like we protect our people. Islanders need shielding from harm, not to be offered up to the government as their lab rats.













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More Green MEPs will achieve visible results

The Great Smog of 1952. The Great Depression in the 1930s. The Great War 1914-18. All these major historical events resulted in the deaths of many thousands of British and international citizens. All disproportionately affected the poor, the vulnerable and the weakest in society. Yet all were overcome and ended by campaigns, mass movement awareness and a desire for peace, prosperity and a healthy future. Furthermore, all three were only tackled when the wider public were made aware of the causes and consequences of the dangers:

          The Great Smog of 1952 resulted in 4,000 deaths in a week followed by legislation with the Clean Air Act

          The soup kitchen, breadlines and shantytowns of the Great Depression were a visible and real symptom of the social and economic breakdown

          The casualty lists and maimed relations returning from the Front were a visible and real manifestation of the horrors of The Great War.

But in 2019 – where is our visible evidence? Where is the manifestation of the climate crisis? Of the damage that humanity is doing to the planet? How can we convince the nation that radical action is necessary?

          We cannot see the CO2 unless it is on Al Gore’s hockey stick graph

          We cannot see the climate breakdown (the winds, the melting ice caps, the deserts) until it has already come upon us

          We cannot see the decline in biodiversity, insect life, forests – unless the scientists tell us and, more importantly, the journalists choose to print.

But the social impact, the inequality, the divisions in society: we see them on our streets, our schools, our neighbours’ homes every single day.

Climate breakdown and social breakdown are intrinsically linked. We humans are animals after all – we are inseparable from our environment. As the climate breaks down, we are witnessing society taking retrograde steps: more poverty and inequality; more political extremism; more social divides.

Greens understand that you cannot separate environmental and social justice. And so we work just as hard to build a fairer society as we do to stop the climate crisis.

Our Green MEPs in the UK have spent the last 20 years building a Better Europe for the people within it. Fairness, equality and accessibility can be achieved through support at a European level for the values we share – societal and generational justice.

More Green MEPs will build a fairer society, through prioritising worker’s rights, a decent minimum income and wages which mean an end to in-work poverty.

More Green MEPs will drive a Green New Deal to decarbonise or economy, ensuring a growth in jobs without robbing our planet of the finite resources it has.

More Green MEPs will pursue fairer taxation. We must reform our tax regimes at a European level, and ensure that large multinational corporations and wealthy individuals cannot use their privilege to avoid and evade their fair contributions to society. Green MEP Molly Scott Cato has spent 5 years cracking down on tax havens and corruption – just imagine what more Mollies and more Green MEPs could achieve!

More Green MEPs will defend the right to asylum and work for safe channels for migrants. Green MEP Jean Lambert’s work with the Migrant Rights Network and European Network on Statelessness has shown how Green MEPs can lead the way on developing fairer treatments for migrants and supporting vulnerable people as well as championing our right to Freedom of Movement – our right to live, love, work and study across all 28 nations. A right which Theresa May wishes to deny us – but Greens will always fight for our Freedom of Movement.

More Green MEPs will champion greater opportunities for our young people through affordable study and training, lifelong learning and schemes such as Erasmus. Generational justice and a fair future for all our young people is central to the compassionate politics we value.

And More Green MEPs will stand up against hatred, against racism and against extremism, Rarely has a European Election been so consequential – but across the continent we are witnessing the rise of populist and divisive politics. Green MEPs defend the rule of law against authoritarianism. Gerard Batten, Nigel Farage, Tommy Robinson – us Greens do not share your values of division, of hatred and fear. We are growing in strength – and we are taking you on!

Brexit has taught us many, many lessons. But surely, most importantly, it is that we have taken Europe and our hope for a fairer, greener future for granted for far too long.

No longer.

Where other leaders seek division, we value inclusivity. Where others predict despair, we bring hope. And where others promise to bring change through a misplaced nostalgia for the past, Greens are always looking forward.

But we cannot afford to waste any more time. The planet cannot wait. In 2018 the United Nations IPCC report said we have 12 Years to Save the Earth. And still the climate deniers protest: they say there is no science, there is no evidence, and there is nothing to see here.

And yet, in 2019, finally we have the visual evidence we have needed to demonstrate to the world that this is a Climate Crisis.

And the evidence is visual, it is tangible – and it is noisy!

In 2019 we have witnessed:

          The Youth Strikes out of our schools

          Extinction Rebellion on our streets

          And the incredible Greta Thunberg in our Parliament

Who would have thought it?

In the last three years, Greens across the country have listened closely to the reasons why people voted to leave the EU in 2016. Our politics is in chaos and the system is broken. It has badly let the people down. It is Greens who recognise there is much to be done in the UK to fix this – and that Europe needs Reform.

That is why the Green Party is the real party of change in these elections.

Now, in 2019, we must get More Green MEPs elected in the United Kingdom – and especially here in the South East.

Just imagine what a great message – and even greater work – they will do!

Vix Lowthion, launch of South East Green Party MEP campaign 25th April 2019   


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Keep Our Studio School

“We are devastated…immensely disappointed…saddened… it will be a big mistake!” – parents across the Isle of Wight are reeling a week after the announcement that the Island’s Studio School is threatened by closure in 2019. On an island which remains significantly below average nationally in terms of GCSE results, social mobility and wages – it is scandalous that the Department for Education are considering closing the door on a centre of excellence for skills building and employment opportunities in a deprived coastal community.


The Isle of Wight keeps hitting national headlines when it comes to its schools. The last decade has seen major reorganisation of education on the island, as local and national government press on with initiatives to overturn years of poor attainment. This has involved the closure of all its middle schools, a new Church secondary school, a new Free School, and the threatened closure of two high schools – including academy trust AET dropping its sponsorship of Sandown Bay Academy (now taken into Local Authority control by extending a nearby primary to being an all-through school). Ex- OFSTED chair David Hoare described it as a ‘ghetto island’ in 2016 on which poor educational standards were damaging the prospects of the young people – and he was forced to resign.

Schools on the island are facing a massive £3.4 million of government cuts by 2020, and are the third worst local authority in the country for staff cuts – losing an average of 16.6 teachers per secondary school. It is no coincidence that the Isle of Wight also has the highest proportion of home-educated pupils in England and Wales (almost one in 50). Parents have reported struggling to find suitable education for their children who they feel are being ‘lost’ in a system which focuses heavily on results and less on skills setting them up for life in employment.


The establishment of the Studio School in East Cowes in 2014 offered a fresh approach to a school system with an innovative vocational and academic curriculum, dedicated to addressing the gap between schools and employment, with weekly opportunities to get into the world of work. Originally a 14-19 school, it has been operating successfully for 14-16 year olds, before many of them choose to extend their studies at a larger sixth form or gain an apprenticeships in local businesses.

Parents are clear that the school should not close. “Sending my son here was quite literally a life saver”. Another parent continues: “Surely a school that gets our kids ‘work ready’, teaching them valuable employability skills, interpersonal and communication skills, and prepares them practically and emotionally for interviews and further challenges can only be a positive asset to our Island community.” However, the Inspire Academy Trust, based in Southampton who sponsor the school, state that the smaller school numbers make it financial unviable in the longer term – a claim that parents dispute. It’s been suggested the school could admit younger students in Year 9, or offer a distinct Careers diploma in Years 12&13.

Up to twenty Studio Schools across the country have been forced to close (with a huge collective cost of £48 million) due to a lack of parental support or failure to improve standards of behaviour and attainment – but this is not the case on the Isle of Wight. Results at GCSE for the island Studio School hit the national average – a boost for the Island which struggles with exam achievement. And the school’s parents are unusually very vocal in their support for the staff, led by Head teacher Richard White. Laura, whose daughter attends the school, says “Mr White and his fantastic team of teachers and other staff are a credit to the Isle of Wight education… closing the Studio School will be a big mistake and a great loss.”


The Inspire Academy Trust requested to close the school last month, which has been provisionally agreed by the Department for Education. But this is subject to a 4 week listening period (ending on 22nd May) – all parents, organisations and residents are urged to make their comments known to DFE.IOWSS@education.gov.uk or the Regional Schools Commissioner Dominic Herrington at rsc.sesl@education.gov.uk or visit http://www.facebook.com/keepourstudioschool to help build the campaign.

Good, quality education requires a range of schools which meet the diverse needs of our young people. Purely a focus on academic studies does not suit all teenagers, many of which are mature beyond their years and itching to get out into the world of work. The future of education on our island needs accountable schools, run locally, meeting the varied needs of our children. To close a new school with such vocal parental support, before it’s barely got into its stride, is a bizarre decision made by people off the island who are unaware of the impact the school is making in our community.

Those local and national politicians who make speeches about social mobility, improving standards and increasing opportunities for young people outside of the classroom, really must step forward with urgency, put these words into action and join us to fight to Keep Our Studio School on the Isle of Wight.

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Genuine politics in 2017 for a new vinyl age

In 2017 we must put aside talk of Left versus Right – for this only serves to fuel extremism and division. It isn’t about Left v Right. It is about People versus Power.

Irecord got a record player for Christmas. One of those suitcase-with-a-handle machines, along with 7-inch singles from my youth (Suede, Big Fun, Bartman…) and vouchers for 12 inches I’ve loved (Bjork, Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley). I am not alone in this quest for real, palpable music – vinyl sales have now reached over £2million a week and overtaken digital downloads. You can say its nostalgia, or pursuit of a hipster lifestyle along with beards, checked shirts and craft ales. Either way, the British public are on a journey for a more physical, tangible and authentic experience when it comes to music.

And as we embark on a new year, it’s clear that 2017 must supply a more physical, tangible and authentic approach to politics. Without grassroots and genuine spokespeople for our struggling communities, the distance between government and citizens will continue to widen – resulting in both apathy and anger in a post-referendum world.

Our political system has been broken by the sheer sense of entitlement and complacency of our government and leaders. In 2016, the then Prime Minister David Cameron instigated a referendum on EU membership because he was convinced he would win, and he led the disastrous Remain campaign with a smugness which was soundly rejected by 17 million Brits. Likewise, the Labour party have failed to capitalise on this mess because of parliamentary party infighting, and complacency that they alone must mop-up any anti-government votes; a feeling of entitlement that that voting for any other party but Labour is a wasted vote.


If we are to make 2017 a success – to garner support and unity against a Conservative government who give tax cuts to the rich, resulting in cuts to the NHS, schools and local government – then we almost have to start politics all over again. Westminster parties have become so detached from the people, so stuck with spin and entitlement and complacency, that UK voters have little faith in who to trust to take us forward. We look to genuine, real, tangible and authentic leaders, like our vinyl records, to speak from the heart and put forward radical solutions to heal our society.

14890479_10157682203555258_1948276519873022037_o2016 brought us Brexit, Trump and our judges labelled as ‘enemies of the people’. All reactions to citizens feeling ignored, detached, fearful and angry about the pace of economic and cultural change, and needing to feel they can ‘take back control’ on their lives. But the solution isn’t isolation and retreat, argument and finger pointing. The solution is being honest and open, engaging in dialogue and ideas, bringing people together.


In 2017 we must put aside talk of Left versus Right – for this only serves to fuel extremism and division. It isn’t about Left v Right. It is about People versus Power. Too much power in our country is held by too few people – and this can only shift when each of us as individuals gets more active, more involved and stands up for our beliefs in our local community.

Make your New Year resolution to read more, talk more and most importantly listen more to each other. Join with other residents in community projects, local meetings and campaigns. Become active citizens! In 2017, more than ever, we have to come together and bring about the positive changes in our communities which we so desperately need. Stop looking around for other people to bring the plans and the ideas. We are the ‘grown ups’. The future of our society depends upon us!

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Alliances on the Isle of Wight?

Islanders don’t want a Conservative MP. It is clear in every recent General Election vote on the Isle of Wight that the majority of voters did not choose to vote blue:

2015 = 40.7% Conservative votes

2010 = 46.7%

2005 = 48.9%

2001 = 39.7%

In fact, you have to go back to the 1980s to find a time when over half of the Island voted for a Conservative MP. And now in a UK wide several-party structure, this is unlikely to be repeated. Our current First Past the Post electoral system for Westminster does not require that the majority of islanders support our MP – just that he (and on the island it has always been a He…) gets more votes than his nearest rival.


This leaves the majority of islanders with a Member of Parliament which they did not want and never voted for. This is where democracy fails.

In the Richmond Park by-election this week, we saw the Green Party take the first step towards showing that an alliance between non-conservative parties can be successful, as the party stepped aside and did not field a Green candidate – in the hope that non-conservative/progressive voters could get behind a single candidate and avoid ‘splitting’ the vote. Now, I am not going to take the time here to debate whether this was a bold or whether this was a foolhardy move (many others have discussed this before and will discuss this after me). But I am interested in the implications for future elections, and in particular the consequences for the Isle of Wight. Because I love the island and its people. I am so proud to call it home and I know we deserve much better than a Conservative government propped up by our Conservative MP who are imposing austerity cuts, hardship, poor economic decisions, environmental damage and constitutional crisis.


The Greens stepped aside in Richmond – for what? As I see it, the move has started a nationwide conversation about how we can bring those in parties and those with no party together: to co-operate, to organise and to work towards a shared vision for our communities which puts people first, and political tribalism second.

And here’s where the Isle of Wight can play a role in this…

On the Radio 4 PM show on Friday, hosted by Eddie Mair, it was questioned why the Green Party would want to be involved in any progressive alliance at all. As a small party with 1 MP, but over one million votes in 2015, co-leader Caroline Lucas emphasised how any progressive alliance must have electoral reform at its heart. She was pressed by Labour MP Ian Austin “Can you name me a single seat where Greens have got more chance at beating the Tories than we have?” Caroline replied “Yes. I can. The Isle of Wight. Where the Tories came first, UKIP were second – but the Greens are third. So they are the party which is best placed there to bring the progressive vote together.”


Is that the solution to the minority mandate for a Conservative MP on the island: for other parties to step aside for a Green candidate? Or would an Open Primary be a fairer method of selecting a unity candidate? Or should we continue to be offered a spread of party candidates at our elections, each of them securing 5-10k votes – but neither of them beating the Conservative challenger?

We really must confront the reality of our plight on the Isle of Wight, talk between our parties and also our independent politicians, and come up with an agreed plan before the next parliamentary election. And in a post-referendum world, with a reduced Conservative majority of only 10 MPs, that may come sooner than we think. The island needs to be prepared, be unified and stand up in large numbers for a more progressive, more compassionate and more forward-thinking type of politics. Be under no illusion – the Conservative party love it that the majority of us are divided. It is what keeps them in power. In 2017 islanders must resolve that we can lead the way in unity. Because we know each other, we can trust each other – and we must work together with each other. For a better solution, and a fairer island.

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Calling all caulkheads, grockles and mallyshags

Today is the inaugural Isle of Wight Day – brainchild of our current High Sheriff Robin Courage. Though many of us would argue that every day is IW Day, the 75 miles of bunting strewn across the island should not have escaped your notice.  Today is an opportunity for all islanders to come together, celebrate and remind ourselves that the Wight really is just the best place to live!


Historically we have gone through many names, from the Roman era Vectis to the Domesday Book Wit. All caulkheads and overners and islanders should recall the Battle of Bonchurch (1545) when the island was last invaded by hundreds of French soldiers – repelled by our own militia. Strong fortifications are still evident from Culver to Fort Victoria, Sandown Fort to the Nab Tower in the Solent, with Carisbrooke Castle in the centre. Charles I was imprisoned there before his execution in 1649, Queen Victoria made her home here at Osborne House and Tsar Nicholas II visited Cowes Week for a bit of light relief in 1909.

Our reputation for cutting edge technology saw the world’s first radio station established by Marconi at The Needles in 1897 and manufacturers Saunders-Roe based themselves here – building flying boats and the world’s first hovercraft. In the 1960s the Black Arrow satellite rockets were also fired up and tested here. Even today we have a reputation for quality engineering with Vestas, Gurit, BAE, GKN and renewable energy technology companies to list a few.


Our infamous ‘rotten boroughs’ of Newtown and Yarmouth were dropped in the 1832 Great Reform Act, but it took until 1885 to get just one MP for the whole island – a status set to be doubled in 2018. However we remain one of only 2 English counties to have yet to return a female MP to Westminster – a statistic we must surely overturn as soon as possible!

The island has been home to some truly brilliant people – the poet Tennyson, scientist and polymath Robert Hooke, Darwin, Dickens, Uffa Fox, Ellen MacArthur and Alan Titchmarsh – to list some of my favourites.

The Isle of Wight can have such a promising future! We have endless supplies of talent, grit and innovation within some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet. Our beaches, rolling downland and chalk cliffs are only surpassed by the riches of local food from our farms, homemade products by the best craftspeople and an abundance of fossils and dinosaur footprints from East to West.


(Photo by Jason Swain )

The Island calendar is full of festivals, music and the arts. Outdoor challenges can be met with the best cycling, walking and surfing opportunities for miles around. We are blinking lucky to call this place our home! So many holiday makers return year after year. Isle of Wight day should be just another event to add to the list. But I hope that it can be more than that. If we get it right, Isle of Wight day will remind us that when the island puts its mind to it, we can achieve anything – together. Somewhen.



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Brexit – are there silver linings?


The people were asked and the people responded. The UK is going to leave the EU. I repeat – just in case it hasn’t sunk in yet – we have voted and the UK will leave the European Union. A highly successful peace project, forum for debate, improved living standards, an economic collaboration at a level of sophistication which no other global free trade area is close to, and a drive to protect the environment, workers’ rights and towards greater equality. We have rejected it all.


Yes, at 52% v 48% this was a narrow Leave victory. But 1.3 million more Brits chose to go it alone. They believe that the EU is so broken, so ineffective and so undemocratic that it is worth ditching for…. for what? I see no other plan on offer from the Leave campaign. They tells us that they want to ‘take back control’ – but so far we have seen little control or plan, just a stock market free fall and financial impact the worst seen for over 30 years.

People in the UK are angry at the pressures they face in their communities – the lack of housing, job security and access to public services. Our government’s response to the banking crisis and economic crash was to withdraw investment to relieve these pressures, and instead slash public spending – leaving communities less resilient and more vulnerable. The North East, West Midlands, Wales and the Eastnor England were persuaded in their millions in the vote that it is the EU to blame for the challenges they face. Immigration, unemployment, lack of public funds: if we left the EU, they believe these problems could be solved.


Except they won’t. The root cause of these pressures are far more complex. And actually it is within the power and control of the government to tackle them. They just choose not to. And in the absence of any action and progress to improve services and jobs, there was growing discontent and a scapegoat was conveniently attributed in the guise of the European Union.

The Brexit vote has triumphed, and it is only a matter of time before the UK officially leaves the EU. So it is now vital that we heal divisions and put our anger and disappointment forward in a constructive manner. We need to stand up for migrants, for the communities of workers in the UK who have chosen to make here their home. The free movement of people has enriched, not empoverished, people’s lives in Britain.


We must also work together with young people, trade unions and environmental groups to defend our rights and security, safeguard our NHS from privatisation and enhance our environmental protections.

And we still need to rebuild our failing political party system. People’s views have not been represented effectively for decades – no one has listened hard enough. The Brexit vote was a vote against Westminster, against elitism and against complacency. Whole communities have been alienated from the political process – and rose up against it to vote in their millions. We need to fix our democracy in the UK – starting with electoral reform in the House of Commons. If you perceive that the EU is undemocratic, Westminster is even less accountable and less prone to reflect the UK as a whole. We need democratic reform. And we need it urgently.


It is almost 2 years to the day that I tool the first step, actually joined a political party, and funnelled all my passions and ideas and beliefs constructively. With other committed citizens with similar values, I have hopefully started to make a difference. The Brexit vote is a significant set back, but we in the Green Party remain united and with a strong belief that actually *doing* politics makes a difference. Please, stand up with us. You can join here.

We have to ensure that good comes from the anger, the sadness, the disappointment. The mess. We must listen, and we must take our country forwards, not back.


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