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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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We must listen and we must rebuild

It will be a relief when it is Friday morning. After the 3 months of referendum campaigning, arguing and debating comes the important part – the voting. This process of the People of the United Kingdom deciding what kind of country we want to be is a crucial and we must not forget, an emotional one. At the heart of the leaflets and posters and television quarrelling are important statistics and expert opinion. But it is feelings and passions which are going to make the difference this week. It has never been more important than ever to get people out to vote – and figures and numbers are not as stirring as spirits and emotions.

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The Leave campaign have had much success with ‘Take Back Control’ and ‘Get Our Country Back’. These phrases alone are rallying cries for the disenfranchised, the disillusioned and the frustrated. Britain is going through a period of change and adjustment, after a global recession and politicians who do not appear to listen, and this referendum is giving a voice to this disenchantment.

But we have also witnessed a minority voice of hatred, of fascism and of violence. The brutal murder of Jo Cox MP has universally shocked and horrified the country – on both sides of the debate. We are appalled that such violence can happen on our streets, in broad daylight, and to a courageous and inspirational woman who was going about her business as a public servant. The last few days of quiet reflection on the campaigning front have been a welcome reminder of the importance of priorities, and the responsibility we all must have to conduct ourselves sensibly and sensitively in a period of high emotions and passionate debate.

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The Remain campaign have also had success with their ‘Stronger Together’ message. The challenges we face in the future – climate change, conflict, economic growth and tackling inequalities – are all better faced through co-operation and working together in a European Union which has real power and influence in the world. The EU is not perfect – it needs reform and it needs to represent the will of the People – but this does not mean it is bad for Britain.

On June 24th, the UK has a huge task ahead to heal the divisions which have appeared during these referendum arguments. Whatever the result – and we can agree that it is very close – we all want the best for our country, and we all want a strong and unified Britain. As Jo Cox declared in her maiden speech in Parliament last year “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” Bridges will have to be built between people who have spent 6 months asserting clearly opposing views – and that is not just between elected politicians. That is also between us – the millions of the people in the UK who have been gripped or put off by the debates in equal measure.

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The people of the United Kingdom are honest, outspoken and passionate about the communities in which we live. We need to harness this engagement and this willingness to encourage change, to be motivated and to make a difference.

If you have been enthused by your passions in this debate – if you have been moved by the spirit and commitment shown by Jo Cox – then please consider taking your motivations to the next level and get involved more in developing your local area, your parish, your town, your council. Because it is only through constructive debate and engagement that we are going to improve our country. And this EU Referendum has demonstrated that across the UK, there is no lack of desire for change.

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It’s not the EU that is undemocratic – it is Westminster

eu_01“I’m voting to Leave the EU because of our democracy, sovereignty for the UK and I want my country back.”

“If I dislike you enough – I can vote you out. I cannot have the same effect with the EU set up.”

It is understandable that many voters in this referendum on the EU are choosing not immigration, but sovereignty as their central issue. We are told that the EU now writes all our laws, limits our powers and is not accountable. We are told that the EU is run by unelected bureaucrats, ignoring the people and bossing us about. We are told that the EU is undemocratic, and that if we Vote Leave everything in the UK will be run by a fairly elected Parliament of politicians – who we can kick out when they fail us.

This is not the reality.

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Take the issue of “unelected bureaucrats who we cannot name, running the EU.” There are 28 commissioners in Brussels – 1 per member country. They set objectives and propose legislation, which then *must* be debated and voted on by the 751 elected MEPs in Parliament. If they are not happy, they send it back. The Commissioners are not dictators. They are supported by 23,000 workers in Brussels who run the departments and keep the EU ticking over. Contrast this with the UK and Westminster, where we have 2,000 unelected senior civil servants at Cabinet Office ‘advising’ our ministers. And over 480,000 civil servants across the UK working in Depts of Work and Pensions, Revenue and Customs and many more.

None of our civil servants are elected. They are all employees not of Parliament, but of The Crown. Not particularly democratic.

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Our MEPs are elected proportionately in the UK, and sit in loose political groups with likeminded members in Europe. Not one political group dominates – the European Parliament has reformist groups, conservatives, liberals, socialists, greens and the far right. There are 73 UK MEPs (nearly 10% of the total) representing 10 different parties. All of whom have collective influence in their political group.

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Contrast this with the UK Westminster Parliament, currently dominated by the Conservative government. In our First Past the Post electoral system, this party got only 11 million votes in the UK. 18 million people voted for any other party except them – and yet under this FPTP system, their votes do not matter. Conservatives won, run the country and the other 18 million of us have to wait until the next election before we can ‘kick them out’. Which will be unlikely, because the voting system is against that possibility happening. 11 million people got the Conservatives a majority of 332 seats in 2015. 4 million voted UKIP and got just *one* seat. This is why people across the country are angry. It’s not the EU which is undemocratic – it is our own Westminster Parliament. 

We have thousands of unelected bureaucrats running our country – not a couple of dozen commissioners working with elected MEPs. We have a government elected by a distinct minority of voters – nearly twice as many of us voted for somebody else!

The democratic deficit is not in Europe. It is here in the UK. The EU is being made out to be the bogeyman to blame for all our ills. It is actually our *own government* causing them. 

Please empower yourself with knowledge and facts. Share them with your friends. If you are choosing to VOTE LEAVE on the 23rd June, make sure it is for a decent reason. And if you really want to gain sovereignty and improve our democracy – join campaigns and parties across the country who want Proportional Representation for Westminster. This is the only way you will be sure to Kick out the Government – our current system completely disempowers you.

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Holiday fines, Isle of Wight and the way forward

Isle of Wight father Jon Platt hit the headlines this week, as the High Court ruled that he had no case to answer regarding fines against him after he took his daughter on holiday during term time.

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Regular school attendance is central to progress and leaving school with good results. When it comes to GCSEs, only 12% of pupils with 80% attendance or below get 5+ grades A*-C (including English and Maths) compared with 68% of those students with 95% attendance or above.

However, how we improve school attendance should not be as a result of draconian government intervention consisting of these fines given out for a myriad of circumstances, including family funerals, weddings and important experiences together when it is exceptionally difficult to do this during school holidays.

Parents want the best for their children – and that is a mix of excellent attendance at school, family time together and experiences away from home.

Rather than hitting parents with fines and causing a great deal of resentment between schools, councils and families, we must think of more imaginative and positive ways to ensure students are in school for the maximum time possible.

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Re-organising term dates on a county or regional basis would allow holidays to be spread across the year, demand at peak times to be reduced and the cost of holidays outside of term time to become less outrageous. Shortening the long 6 week holiday to 4 weeks and adding the extra fortnight earlier in the summer would also increase flexibility for families. Allowing headteachers greater discretion in the decision as to whether any holiday taken can be accepted, rather than straight to court fines, would also be a clearer way forward.

Instead, the Conservative government and Department for Education are now looking to change legislation to tightening up fines for all families who take any holiday at all during term time. They are not looking at the more positive solutions – instead they simply wish to increase fines.

I ask the DFE in the light of the High Court ruling to look at all alternatives to fines to ensure our pupils are in school, having fun, learning and working hard and making progress towards the bright citizens of the future. Time away from the classroom is a crucial aspect of achieving this – our children need to get away from the desks and out into the big wide world beyond.

 

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