It will take a miracle for Vix Lowthian to be elected as the Green Party’s second-ever MP on June 8. But if a miracle is going to happen, the Isle of Wight is where it might occur.
On paper, it might not look promising.
At the 2015 UK general election, the Conservatives held the Isle of Wight with 40.7% of the vote and a majority of 13,703. That should mean it is a safe Tory seat — especially as the tide is flowing in Prime Minister Theresa May’s direction.
But a chaotic series of events has made the seat look suddenly promising for the Greens:
- The sitting Conservative MP dropped out of the race in April after he told teenagers at a local school that he thought “homosexuality is ‘wrong’ and ‘dangerous to society’,” according to a girl who wrote a Facebook post about her meeting with him. The post went viral and Andrew Turner quit in embarrassment.
- None of the other candidates who stood in the last election are standing in this one.
- That has left Lowthion as the only candidate on this year’s ballot who was also on the 2015 ballot. She is, unexpectedly, the most famous candidate on the island.
- At the local elections earlier this month, the UKIP vote collapsed.
- The Greens did well in the local elections, gaining their first seat on the local council and polling up to 44% in one ward.
- The Liberal Democrats, who won the seat in 1997 only to lose it in 2001, do not appear to be seeing the rebound they had hoped for.
- In 2015, Lowthion polled 9,404 votes, ahead of Labour’s 8,984 and the Lib Dems’ 5,235. That makes her the preferred candidate for anti-Tory tactical voters.
- The Labour Party has for years run a distant third here, and some Labour supporters have called for their own party to stand down and give Lowthion a free run against the Conservatives (the party has officially rejected that idea).
- Islanders have wildly unpredictable voting habits. The switch from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives in 2001 was a swing of 13 points. UKIP’s vote went from under 2,500 to nearly 15,000 in the last cycle (those votes are now regarded as being up for grabs). And the Green Party’s vote ballooned from just 931 votes to nearly 10,000 in the same period.
A giant purple elephant in the room
“I’m the only person still standing from the 2015 election,” Lowthion told Business Insider. “I’ve spent three years effectively campaigning.”
“If you’re talking about a progressive alliance, this is the sort of place it would work really well,” she said. If you add up the Labour, Lib Dem and Green vote “you’re only a couple of thousand away from equalling the Conservative vote,” she says.
That’s why the Greens are enjoying a statistical sugar-rush on the island.
But there is a giant purple elephant in the room: the 15,000 UKIP voters from 2015. Most people are expecting the UKIP collapse to transfer directly to the Conservatives. The Green Party is pro-Europe and left-wing; UKIP is not. By rights, the two parties should not be sharing votes.
Surely, that will doom the Greens on the island?
“You could quite easily think, OK, they are Brexiteers and they’re going to vote Conservative but culturally that’s not what UKIP are,” Lowthion says. “When we’re on the street or knocking on doors quite a lot of people say it’s UKIP or the Greens, it’s the anti-establishment vote.”
“In terms of the politics we stand on yes, and on specific policies such as Europe, you’d say that as well. But culturally, people are disenfranchised from politics as it works and operates in London, there is big crossover.”
The party is hoping that its platform has some natural parallels with island life. Localism and self-sufficiency feature in both. The Isle of Wight is home to the Vestas wind turbine company and the Perpetuus Tidal Energy Centre (PTEC). And tourism gives the island a vested interest against pollution.
Lowthion is a former Liberal Democrat voter who came to the party in 2014 after studying geology and energy systems at the Open University, and concluding that the most important issues facing society are energy and climate change.
“Islanders tend to vote tactically, they tend to look at who’s the strongest”
Most of the Green Party’s national focus has been on Green European Parliament Member Molly Scott Cato’s attempt to take Bristol West, where the party received 17,227 votes in 2015, and came second to Labour’s Thangam Debbonaire, on 22,900. Cato is thus only a mere 5,673 votes away from joining Caroline Lucas, the Greens’ first MP, in Westminster. Most people think she is the Green candidate who is most likely to be the party’s second MP.
But Lowthion believes the Isle of Wight is a much more “open” contest than Bristol. “In Bristol, Molly is fighting a Labour Remainer who is largely progressive. Here in the island we lost our MP two weeks ago because he thinks gay people are wrong and dangerous to society, and he had to step down … it’s a much more open field.”
Bristol pits two Remain candidates against each other, giving left-wing voters a difficult choice, but in the IOW contest Lowthion is the leading anti-Brexit candidate. “Thirty-one thousand people voted to Remain in the referendum [last year], but the Conservative candidate won two years ago with only 28,000 votes. So there is a lot of potential there,” Lowthion says. “Islanders tend to vote tactically, they tend to look at who’s the strongest.”
Of course, the odds remain heavily against her. The Conservatives swept the local elections and now dominate the local council. Although the Green candidates did OK, they ran second in many wards. The party was, overall, many thousands of votes away from challenging the Tories.
The expectations are low, but Lowthion doesn’t seem bothered. “We keep surpassing expectations because we don’t fit into the mould. We can show the potential for the rural party vote, particularly in the South West, parts of Britain where it’s not just Remain-voting university towns that can go Green. That’s why this seat is very important for the national party.”
More from Jim Edwards:
- 11% of people intend to vote tactically in the general election [EXCLUSIVE POLL]
- All over Europe, people have suddenly stopped buying cars
- How to vote tactically in the June 8 general election, by constituency
- This child being abused in a cobalt mine is why Apple is trying to fix the mining business
- Goldman Sachs: iPhone 8 will cost $US1,000 (AAPL)
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