Up on a back country summit in Garff, beside the blackberry brambles and the gorse that lines the lane, by the woollen weather vanes caught in the fences and of course with the ever gladdening sight of an islander’s sea, a narrative of land, faith and politics is told through monuments both modern and Neolithic. A 4000 year old cairn, a Quaker’s headstone and two sculpted ravens stand not only as symbols of heritage, but as sentinels of the peace that has long presided over Ballafayle.
It is testament to how Manx pride has always been fastened with a gratitude of home when the pedestrian of today find themselves imbued with the same sense of inheritance the Pagans of yore, William Callow and the late Sir Charles Kerruish will have felt looking out from that very view. And for all the wedge shaped mounds of earth, the slate and bronze, it is when we read from the timeless song sheet of T.E. Brown, now engraved into a plaque at the paddock off Quaker Road, we realise what has endured the ages and prevailed as national sentiment. It is ‘where God keeps for me’ he says:
A little island in the sea
A body for my needs, that so
I may not unclothed go,
A vital instrument whereby
I still may commune with the sky
Attuned to the swells and falls
Of nature’s holy intervals
But in a moment I shall sit
Sphered in the very heart of it.
And I shall be the living heart,
And I shall live in every part.†
Brown wrote to his sweetheart imploring her to come and visit like any true nationalist wanting to share what he treasures most. It is a letter that champions a son’s harmonised relationship with his Island home. And as we begin to recognise the kudos that comes with the designation of our Biosphere status, notions of harmony and sustainability is something we’re going to be hearing a lot more of.
As providence might have it, that in the same week as we mark 2 years since UNESCO inducting us into their network, is the same week the Isle of Man Green Party is hosting it’s relaunch meeting.
The Island’s accreditation as a Biosphere Reserve has entitled us to be celebrated alongside some of planet Earth’s most sacred and fabled. From Yellowstone National Park and Florida’s Everglades to the Black Forest of Germany, Patagonia, Hawaii to even Mount Olympus, but Isle of Man Green Party Leader Andrew Newton will not accept complacency.
“It shouldn’t be something that is put on the mantelpiece.” He vows in earnest. “It’s something that should be actively adopted and conformed to.”
Newton cites the talk of extracting hydrocarbons from the seabed out at Maughold as reason to be wary. In fear of regression he asks rhetorically “Is this something that is the antithesis of the biosphere? Should we be concerned about this and railing against any possibility of it happening?”
UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere programme has identified the Island as one of its reserves and has therefore made it our onus to safeguard our ecosystems whilst placing a particular emphasis on appropriate means of economic development with regard to the environment.
Surely a Manx Green Party would be consistent with the values set out by the Biosphere?
“It ties in very well with what is a key term for of the Green Party, in sustainability. We’ll be looking at how the Island can be developed to further attain conformity with the accolade and in terms of generating discourse around the Biosphere, we will be lauding it and recognising it. It might be that we have a narrative that is contrary to the Government, but that’s healthy.”
For any Green Party, a platform like the Biosphere to shout from is a blessing and with Tuesday’s relaunch meeting, perhaps this is finally a moment of serendipity for Newton. After what has been a frustrating past year and a half, he admits he hasn’t been able to advance the Manx Greens as much as he would like.
“A criticism of the Green Party is offering so much, yet being incapable of realising it as of so far.” A relaunch in Newton’s words would be a ‘humble and authentic step’ to what has perhaps been a false start for the Manx Greens.
Looking to the end of the year, Newton has his hopes set on a better functioning party whose running is no longer haphazard and is comprised of the modest target of 100 members.
“But the key objective should be substance” he says, “not just an arbitrary target” whereby tangible outcomes for the party should be adjudicators for policy and the creation of a manifesto.
In spite of being over stretched and reticent to pledge to the green ticket for 2016’s election, Newton has divested himself of a lot of commitments to concentrate on structuring the Green Party. As he sometimes stumbles with enthusiasm to get to his words, you can only admire the zeal of Newton who in the early days was holding Party meetings in his living room.
This is someone who has gone on to put in the groundwork having made contacts with the British Green parties and networked with the wider international community of greens by attending the Global Greens conference in Liverpool. Fondly, he recounts being around parliamentarians of Sweden, Luxembourg, New Zealand and Germany and feeling the positivity of being connected within a global body striving for the same objects and ideals.
Newton’s wealth of progressive and exciting policy imply nothing but focus on the Green’s prospective role as an agitator for change in Manx politics. Internally and with regard to the relaunch, Newton’s vision for the party is the creation of an executive committee that is focused on engagement. He maintains that such roles are not high pressure positions, but are simply an opportunity for keen and energetic people to assist with the efficiency of the party.
As the party operates in this interim before 2021’s general election, community involvement, education and stimulating the discussion on green issues will be the sole agenda.
Newton has already been vocal about the Island’s plastic waste, citing Blue Planet’s invaluable role in raising awareness to help keep scrutiny on the problem. He also wrote an article entitled Meat is Heat recognising the need to both address the climate and health implications as we over consume animal products and under eat fruit and vegetables.
Local engagement aside, the objective of the Greens with a view toward 2021 is to identify and mentor ‘competent candidates’ for all 12 constituencies. Newton has alluded to the necessity of a 3 year vetting process to prepare potential entrants for political office which has been coined the ‘Green Party MHK Masterclass’. A party run programme that will expose potential candidates to a range of MHK presentations and public speaking and engagement classes, in preparation for prospective incumbency at Keys.
Despite its infancy, the Isle of Man Green Party cause is bolstered simply by name.
“The identity is there and it certainly takes the burden from the party. But although it’s asset, the Green label can also be a challenge given the preconceived ideas of the greens.” Naturally though, Newton is insistent on retaining the integrity of the green image, one that takes the ideals set out by the Global greens constitution and employs a definition that is tailored to the Isle of Man.
The General Election of 2016 saw a turnout of just 43%, where roughly 31,000 of the Manx electorate cast their vote at the ballot.
In the census of the same year, it was revealed that approximately 13,500 of the Island’s residents were between the ages of 16-29, a figure that represents nearly half of the election’s voters.
Supposing you can mobilise just a portion of this core millennial vote, then surely the party in question is looking at a majority in Keys?
In terms of the British Green achievement, one can look no further than Caroline Lucas. Her success has been measured by not only her ability to hold her constituency of Brighton Pavilion over the last 3 elections, but how she has managed to go on and actually increase her share of the vote.
Brighton is renowned for being one of Britain’s most progressive cities. Along with an abundance of vegan and vegetarian eateries, it is widely considered the UK’s LGBT capital. Though one parallel a Green Party on the Isle of Man can take heart in perhaps is not Brighton’s pluralism, but by how many make up its demographic.
It is reported that out of a constituency of 77,000 registered voters, there are 14,000 18-25 year olds. Couple that with notions of a progressive alliance instigated by Jeremy Corbyn and the standing aside of the Liberal Democrats and you’ve an impetus of spirited youth that not only strengthens the Green vote in 2017’s snap election, but were actually responsible for doubling Lucas’ lead.
So what sentiments can galvanise the Island’s young people into political engagement?
Is it Mog-mentum?
“The Tories offer nothing to young people in the UK.” He asserts that in the contexts of disruptive movements of Sanders and Corbyn that initiated for many young followers, a political awakening, the idea of a ‘young conservative’ seems not only absurd, but an oxymoron.
Identifying that perhaps the deficiency of young voter turnout isn’t based on people not wanting to get involved, it’s simply down to the fact that people aren’t here. How then, do you get the prospecting Manxman to stay at home to remain in touch with the island’s politics?
Newton alludes to The White Paper ‘Meeting Our Population Challenges’ a Government document released at the beginning of the month that highlights how many people leave the Island aged 18 – 21 and how few come back. He describes it as a “long term complex issue, that leads to a more conservative voting population.” Though he is keen to create a connection with the Greens to the Island’s grass roots.
“There’s a real opportunity for the Isle of Man Green Party to bring in 16 to 18 year olds as part of the solution to help us identify the problems we’ll have grapple with in the future.”
Since its formation in 2016, to which he owes the encouragement of a good friend from Friends of the Earth, Newton has been buoyed by conversations with younger advocates of an Isle of Man Green Party who will have had their eagerness cheeringly met in equal measure.
“Enthusiastic members of the electorate, typified yet not exclusively out of university or home after travelling are really keen to be part of this change process on the Isle of Man. Younger people are more receptive and happy to expose themselves to new ideas they’ve this more open minded view.
He cites diet, environment, culture and art as the dynamic interests that he believes are the ‘zeitgeists for the millennial generation.’ Climate change and renewable energy seems to be issues that young people are concerned with too, something he tellingly dubs ‘unfortunately or fortunately.’
“There is definitely an argument to say the young people on the Isle of Man more accommodating to ideas. Exposure to new environments and new ways of pluralism is only healthy for the Island’s future.”
† Excerpts from Epistola Ad Dakyns by T.E. Brown