“Top secret” shenanigans at the Isle of Wight Council

By Carole Dennett May 1, 2024

The Isle of Wight Council might be the setting for the latest best-selling thriller, “The Secretive Shuffle”!

In moves more reminiscent of Mr Bean than James Bond, it seems our esteemed council could be on the verge of a Tory takeover.

But shh, it’s all hush-hush. Political anoraks may be interested in the council’s naval-gazing obsession with moving from a leader and cabinet to a committee system, but it’s not at the top of the agenda for most Islanders worried about the cost of living, dreadful school results or potholed roads. However, some of our ever-opportunistic councillors have spied a chance to snatch power.

In shadowy corners of County Hall clandestine chinwags have been taking place. But your IW Observer, always on the pulse, has unearthed the Conservative and Empowering Islanders (EI) groups’ cunning scheme. They want to run the council by voting themselves into every influential role available—including council leader, deputy leader, chairman, vice-chairman and leaders of the five new committees.

When we approached the genious minds behind the scheme, Cllr Clare Mosdell, the Tory Group’s fearless leader, offered a masterclass in keeping schtum. Meanwhile, Cllr Chris Jarman, head honcho of the EI Group, a self-proclaimed champion of ‘transparency and openness’, displayed his more secretive side. Clocking in at 987 words, his emails were a masterpiece of evasion. He skilfully danced around the topic, while angrily decrying our report in Friday’s paper as not “balanced” and “pure speculation” – he didn’t say it wasn’t true though!

Deeply hurt by such painful accusations, over the weekend we sought clarity in the murky waters of council politics and asked both leaders to make their intentions “absolutely clear”. Cllr Mosdell continued her vow of silence, but Cllr Jarman leapt back into the fray, admitting to “multiple cross-group discussions” on lots of things, including positions and nominees. However, curiously, every other non-Conservative or EI group on the council had not heard his siren calls to power. A plea for clarity from the 20 members of the Tory and EI secret society met with an echoing silence.

The plot sickens (sorry, thickens) as tonight’s council meeting looms. On the agenda? A vote to move to a new committee-style system either in a fortnight’s time or next year. If they choose to implement it next year all the best-laid Machiavellian plans of Cllrs Jarman and Mosdell may fall apart, as Clare has told her band of merry men (and two women) that she doesn’t want to be a councillor after next May. She’s probably back to counting the ‘sleeps’ until she can spend more time in her well-appointed and spacious stable.

We can now disclose their grand plan includes Cllr Jarman as the man pulling the strings and in control of council finances, and Cllr Mosdell as the supposed leader of our fair Isle – although she would be merely a delightful and ornamental figurehead – as Cllr Jarman would hold all the power. Doubtless there would be an attractive financial allowance for the leader though. We asked once again about their scheme, but Cllr Jarman seems to have followed Cllr Mosdell into holy orders. Now neither is talking!

So it all depends on those pesky councillors – and whether they vote to move to a committee system on May 15, even though the risk assessment says it is likely to lead to potential “conflict, longer deliberations and slower decision-making processes”. Any experienced watcher of IW Council meetings would ask ‘Is that even possible?’.

If democracy plays its part (with the uneasy Tory and EI alliance holding 20 of the possible 39 votes), their plans will unfold without a hitch. Yet, the intrigue lies not in their political manoeuvres but in their unwavering commitment to secrecy. It’s not that they’re breaking any rules; they’re just exceedingly tight-lipped about their blatent power play. But if they run the council as well as they’ve handled their supposedly “top secret” negotiations, we’re all in for a turbulent time.

This has clear echoes of last August’s covert operation for council domination by Cllr Jarman and then Tory leader, Cllr Suzie Ellis – who was simultaneously talking to the LibDems about jumping ship. That dastardly plot was foiled only by the timely resignation of council leader at the time, Cllr Lora Peacey-Wilcox, ahead of a no-confidence coup.

Ladies and gentlemen, stay tuned. The Isle of Wight’s political scene promises more twists and turns than a bestselling spy novel, with our councillors in the starring roles of agents of secrecy. It does, though, mark a curious chapter in the IW Council’s drive for transparency and accountability.

Will our secretive councillors find their plans foiled again, or will they succeed in their quest for the council’s shiny throne? Only time will tell, but rest assured – it’s set to be an amusing ride.