Why the Liberalisle is taking off on the Isle of Wight


Many in the UK who would drive down to Portsmouth will often think that going any further south would take you to France and the lands beyond. However, just off the coast there exists a place that for a long time has been off the Lib Dems’ map. An ancient Isle that once in the 1970s held one of  the only Liberal lights in the country, but now for over 15 years has been swallowed by a blue fog as thick as the ocean itself.  The once golden yellow beaches lie empty and cold.

Why would a Tory stronghold, with a social conservative view so strong you could mistake it for the back bench of the party itself, ever be the place of any Liberal rival? Yet could this be the beginning of a Liberal fight back.

Ever since I became the Vice-chair of the local party I wanted to try to be optimistic and passionate about the chance to make change. I wanted to try and show how we can inspire by directly questioning the norm. For some in and out of the party this may be seen as nonsense, it may be seen as crazy. Yet at one time so was the notion of the Liberals ever being in power.

We decided on the Island we would take a longer root to our fightback. We are a small collective that started pushing for something different, something that related to every lslander, and we started replacing the words can’t with can. We brought through the new policies – Stop the Fracking, Legalise Cannabis – things you wouldn’t  expect to get a vote in a social conservative area and yet we find the support is growing, people are following us.

We are leading locally on the InTogether campaign. It was a nice feeling, we stopped the politics of slander and pushed more for one that spoke to people. Whether it was talking to people in street or going to local groups. Listening and learning and just sometime reassuring people with out to much complication we could achieve important small changes.

We have gone from a forgotten spent force to a re-energised party. We lead the debates on the EU and Cannabis on the Island. I myself have made local news leading the debate on Legalisation of Cannabis trials in the UK, even winning a local radio poll on the idea by 77%.  We have been at the heart of the Island, handing out flyers that speak to Islanders.

I am very proud of the Isle of Wight team here: Bob Packham, Malcom Ross, Bob Blezzard and the rest of team all need a shout out. But finally people have begun to see that alternatives do not have to be radical and aggressive, but progressive and fair. When Liberal Youth members from Brighton and Egham came down and offered to help just to be part to help them train up and handing out leaflets. I started to see that what we are building here is more then just a local party, it’s individual, it’s personal, it’s how we as islanders want to live and it’s Liberal.

We won’t know the effects of our work until next local elections, but it was nice see that going back to grass roots even in areas which may seem unwinnable you can begin to make a huge difference. To me taking a longer route to make the right change is the key to the success of Liberal Democrats.

* Nicholas Belfitt studied politics and international relations and joined the Lib Dems in 2014. He blogs at Liberal Ramblings.

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  • As an ex politics student I am surprised you do not seem to understand what the term radical means ie getting to the root of the problem. It does not mean extreme. All liberals should be radical.

  • Steve Comer 9th May '16 - 8:30pm

    What is extreme about opposing fracking and supporting decriminalisation of cannabis – both policies based on logic and analysis of the facts.

  • Graham Evans 9th May '16 - 8:35pm

    Campaigning to legalise cannabis would be an excellent campaign issue for London Liberal Democrats, and help give us a distinct identity. We may not win over many social conservatives (whether on the left or the right) but there’s plenty of independent experts who would support our stance, and potentially millions of young people. Let’s face it, we’ve got little to lose and potentially much to gain.

  • Richard Underhill 9th May '16 - 8:44pm

    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
    Some problems need radical solutions, some do not.
    Some parts of the electoral systems need to change so that the outcomes reflect what the voters wanted.
    Typically in the UK we have modest progress.
    We did get rid of the poll tax, but the Tories designed the replacement.

  • I had a conversation recently with a former leading light in the BNP who, when I told him I was at Brighton Gay Pride last year, assured me that he had nothing against people expressing their particular sexuality. So if even the BNP are social liberals now then perhaps progress on the Island will be easier than you think! Seriously, though, the very best of luck to you: opposition to the seriously odd sitting Tory MP has been fragmented because of LibDem weakness, and if the party locally can be rebuilt, and hold together this time, then there is a huge opportunity to spring another surprise at the next election (the story being that no one at Liberal Party HQ knew who Stephen Ross was when he took the seat in February 1974).

  • Jonathan Brown 9th May '16 - 10:59pm

    Well done Nicholas, from just over the water in Chichester! Keep us updated on how it does!

  • ‘taking off’ not taking of, in the headline.

    agree that there is nothing to lose by being radical, and issues such as drugs could help people consider what liberalism means. social conservatives are lost to a liberal party surely – in fact, wouldn’t there be something wrong of they weren’t? (That said, an argument for cannabis reform could be made easily enough to soc cons.)

  • Ian Hurdley 10th May '16 - 7:40am

    Right now I live in Spain but we’re planning a move back to the UK, or to be more precise, the IOW. I look forward to getting in touch once we’re there.

  • Richard Underhill 10th May '16 - 8:58am

    Ian Sanderson (RM3) 10th May ’16 – 8:23am Yes.
    There was also a change in VAT and transitional arrangements.
    There was a big effect on the arrogance of Tory MPs.
    The Labour leadership acted to unify the Tory MPs by putting down a motion of No Confidence in the Commons, knowing it would be defeated.

  • Matt (Bristol) 10th May '16 - 12:24pm

    johnmc – your thesis that ‘social conservatives are lost to a liberal party’ would only stand a chance of being true if social conservatism was a monolithic identity where one was ‘conservative ‘ about everything all the time in exactly the same way.

    Life is not like that. There are people for eg who believe that abortion or gay marriage are morally wrong, but it is morally wrong for the state to deny others that moral choice. There are people who believe that to protect Britain’s cultural and gender diversity we need to consider restraining immigration. There are others who want to preserve a state church in England but actively welcome a significant increase in non-religious and minority-religious politicians and leaders and do not feel that is contradictory.

    For another thing – Increasing regulation of working hours and rents prices, or restricting second-home ownership for eg commends itself to some because it seem to offer a preservation of traditional local communities – this is a form of ‘social conservatism’, but is it illiberal if it is democratically chosen by a process of dialogue, from a diversity of options, without it being imposed from above?

    Wanting a liberal, diverse Britain involves permitting cultures of conservatism – which are themselves diverse – to continue as a legitimate option for many, in the contesxt of a democratic dialogue.

    What it does not involve is the imposition of cultures of conservatism on those who would not choose them and have not been consulted.

  • Simon Banks 10th May '16 - 5:11pm

    Not sure I’d illustrate the party “taking off” with a picture of people on the edge of a cliff, unless of course they’re Tories.

    Matt makes an interesting point. On the whole, the term “social conservatives” tends to be applied to people who want to make others obey traditional social rules and conform to traditional mores. This is certainly what it means for the US Republicans or the current Polish governing party. It’s quite right to stress that people or communities with traditional beliefs or ways of doing things may not want to force their views on others. For example, the Hassidic Jewish community of North London is very conservative internally but shows no inclination to even argue that others should be the same. A Liberal will merely check that membership of such a community is a free act. In practice it’s not that simple as anyone brought up in a community will find it difficult to leave and trying to reduce such social pressures will lead to illiberal measures, so Liberalism should ensure that there are no unnecessary constraints by the law on free choice and no pressure beyond social disapproval.

    All Liberals are conservative about something.

  • Matt (Bristol) 10th May '16 - 6:39pm

    Warming to my theme and returning to the original piece, I would be interested to hear if the Isle of Wight party sees mileage in the referendum in Cornwall on second-home-ownership restrictions — a democratic proposal, a radical proposal, and possibly an interesting counterpoint to the policies of ‘personal liberalism’ highlighted in the article that may not deter many people who are describeable as ‘socially conservative’ .

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