Bob Seely

In defence of the Isle of Wight’s suitability for tracking and tracing

In defence of the Isle of Wight’s suitability for tracking and tracing
Isle of Wight Cliffs, Picture credit: Getty
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A reply by the Isle of Wight's MP to Freddy Gray’s: Is the Isle of Wight really the best place to launch a tracing app?

Dear Freddy,

You have written disparagingly about the Isle of Wight, its tech and a little bit about its identity. You said the internet was 'rubbish' and that we live in the 1980s.

I would like to challenge that.

The internet really does work here. I am aware there’s black hole of sorts in Seaview, where you sometimes stay. However, that is atypical of the Island. I have had Sky’s Adam Boulton, no less, congratulate me on the quality of my connection and I live six fields from the sea, behind a down, in the remote southwest of the Island known as ‘the Back of the Wight’. I regularly manage to do live broadcasts from my garden and my dining room.

The Island was one of the first places in rural Britain to have a broadband roll-out programme, thanks in part to having our own broadband firm. Soon, five out of six homes will have fibre-to-the-premises and many of us will have broadband on par with Singapore.

My Conservative Association chairman is incensed by your remarks. He writes:

As someone who normally spends 2-3 days every week on the mainland working, I can confirm that both the broadband and 4G on the Isle of Wight is far better than in most parts of the country that I visit.

The same chairman also tracks his bike rides across the Island with an app. The mapping app works flawlessly, and thanks to our roads PFI we have the smoothest in Britain, which helps our reputation as a cycling mecca.

I am offended at your lazy accusation that we are stuck in the 80s. The only 1980s throwback here is the Jack Up the 80s Festival, one of the many festivals we have (or did prior to Covid-19). We have festivals and carnivals most weekends in summer, of which the Isle of Wight Festival is the largest.

What confuses some outsiders is that the Island is radical and conservative at the same time. We have been so from the late 18th/early 19th century when the Island’s countryside was the former and the towns the latter.

The slow-moving and pastoral was celebrated by poets and painters, led by Turner and Tennyson. Our coastline was the most celebrated in England. The innovative was represented by, amongst others, the Freshwater set of thinkers, as well as radical politicians such as my ancestors, who so appalled Queen Victoria that she refused to talk to them. Later, they were joined by scientists who pioneered communications, planes and rockets – the Island today builds many of those elegant, curved wingtips on modern aircraft. Our rural pubs sit alongside Artificial Intelligence firms and a significant composite and green tech hub.

So yes, the conservative Isle of Wight was the home of Queen Victoria, but it was also the last major venue Jimi Hendrix played, and it’s the place that gave the world wireless comms and the hovercraft.

In some things, we are happily old-fashioned. Many of us chat to each other in shops, we know our neighbours and our driving manners are from a previous era – perhaps because we only have one mile of dual carriageway, built by mistake in the 1960s. Life is slower; generally, we take time to enjoy things. Most people don’t consider this a problem.

Unlike unfriendlier parts of the UK, we tolerantly welcome our Down From Londons (DFLs), but just as the UK teaches immigrants about UK history and identity, perhaps we need an education programme for our DFLs. This summer I may – only partially tongue in cheek – suggest as much, to better inform them about the brilliant yet understated, pastoral yet radical, inventive yet conservative, Isle of Wight. So often in our nation’s past it has showed a path in art and science for others to follow, while its kind-hearted, welcoming and inventive folk now work with the boffins to help shape our nation’s exodus from the wretched Covid-19. We could host the first lesson in The Old Fort, near you Freddy, when it is allowed to reopen.

I am proud to represent such a unique place and people and, that we are again leading the way, in our own way. Your comments, Freddy, are ill-placed and, considering you enjoy our warmth and friendliness for good chunks of the year, a little disloyal.

Bob Seely is the Conservative Member of Parliament for the Isle of Wight