As May 6 elections for a new council draw closer, one Ventnor resident is seeking to help voters decide which box they should place their cross in on May 7, but Conservative candidates are under orders not to take part.
Stephen Cockett, concerned about the erosion of trust in government at all levels, has set up IsleVote21. The group is arranging 39 separate on-line hustings, one for each council seat, to give Islanders the opportunity to see and hear from candidates asking for their vote next month.
With public meetings still banned and many candidates uncomfortable about knocking on Islanders’ doors due to Covid, Stephen, assisted by six volunteer hosts, is holding virtual hustings for residents to find out more about the candidates and what they stand for. The meetings will be politically neutral, with each candidate invited to introduce themselves, then answer questions on a range of topics. Most recordings will be available for viewing on the IsleVote21 YouTube channel by Monday (April 18), although a few have had to be rescheduled and will not be available until later.
Stephen said: “Now more than ever we need focused and committed councillors who can steer the Island to a bright recovery from the Covid crisis. We are hoping for high levels of participation, after all this is an exercise in trust building, and putting a more human face on our representatives in the hope that the public and council can work in a more understanding manner. Furthermore, lets not forget that this is nearest thing to an interview for a guaranteed four year job providing oversight for the spending of £1.5 billion and services that affect more than one hundred and forty thousand people on a daily basis”
Nick Stuart, for the Liberal Democrats, said: “Islevote21 is an excellent initiative to let the public see and hear candidates. Anything which helps voters realise the importance of democratic challenge, and replacement of tired, incompetent administrations, is worthwhile. As a candidate I look forward to the challenge.”
Jonathan Bacon, from Our Island, confirmed that all their candidates would be taking part and Robert Jones, for Island Labour, said it was down to individual candidates to decide, but expected most to participate.
Although the initiative was welcomed by other political parties, candidates for the Conservatives currently running County Hall are apparently under orders not to take part in the hustings. Council leader Dave Stewart indicated that Conservative candidates would not be involved and said he was referring to the Isle of Wight Conservative Association, led by former council leader David Pugh, also agent for all Conservative candidates.
Mr Stewart declined to give a reason why Conservative candidates were not taking the opportunity to debate issues with their opponents.