Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Isle of Wight's fears over mainland MP threat

Needles, Isle of Wight
Image caption Residents say the island has different needs to those of the mainland

For an island off the south coast of England the thought of being represented by an MP on the mainland has moved residents to stand up and fight.

Known for their friendly rivalry across the Solent, the Isle of Wight is always quick to point out its independence as a separate county from the "North Island".

But under new plans it could be split, with some of it becoming part of a constituency or constituencies in Hampshire.

Electoral reform plans suggest creating constituencies of 75,000 voters, but with the island's current 110,000 voters it would mean the extra 35,000 being merged with the mainland.

The idea has also caused controversy in the South West where a new constituency crosses the Cornwall-Devon border.

'No snobbery'

Portsmouth and Southampton would appear to the favourites to take in part of the Isle of the Wight if the plans go ahead.

But is it just island pride causing islanders to put up such a fight?

Not according to Ian Ward, 60, from the OneWight campaign.

Image caption A number of options could be considered in splitting the island

He was born in Sandown, moved to London at nine and travelled the world with the Army before returning to the island in 2001.

"I moved to the mainland so know the differences and the island has a much closer community.

"To take that and add it on to the mainland, it wouldn't work.

"It is not about rivalry or snobbery, there are major differences, the pace of life is slower than big cities, the economy is different, the lifestyle is different."

The practicality of having an MP based on the mainland is also a major concern.

"The MP will not be able to represent us properly", says Shorewell resident Malcolm Blunn.

"I don't know whether he or she would even like a bit of the island as part of their constituency.

"It would cause a lot of headaches."

Cut MPs

Portsmouth Conservative city councillor Jim Fleming also worries how one MP can be split between two places.

"They would have to hold two surgeries a week, one on the mainland and one on the island, have two offices, it would be costly and very difficult.

"I don't think the people in Portsmouth would mind either way but you can see why the island wants to stay with one MP."

The campaigners claim to have the majority of islanders on their side and are pinning their hopes on proving the island is too "unique" to be split.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who proposed the bill, has said Orkney and Shetland and the Western Isles are exempt from any mergers due to their locations.

But the Isle of Wight, with its regular ferry services to Southampton and Portsmouth, is seen as being in a position to cope with a mainland MP.

"The economy over here has a focus on tourism, the public sector is a major employer, these things are specific to this place and would be hard to merge in with somewhere completely different," said OneWight's Mr Ward.

"We are unique, the people are unique. We are fighting and hope we can be exempt."

The government believes the reforms will cut the number of MPs by 50, to 600 and save up to £12m a year in salaries, pensions and allowances.

A petition with 16,000 names has now gone to Parliament calling for a rethink for the Isle of Wight.

The Boundary Commission has until 2013 to make recommendations.

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