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.