A MEMBER of the Island Independents has crossed the floor to join the Isle of Wight Labour Party.

Former Independent group leader Cllr Julia Baker-Smith, who represents the Whippingham and Osborne ward on the Isle of Wight Council, had previously denied rumours she was switching sides.

When asked by the County Press last year if she was joining Labour, Cllr Baker-Smith said she was not, and attributed the rumours to her public support for Jeremy Corbyn's party during the general election.

She repeated that denial when she stepped down as the Independent leader in November, to focus on her ward work and her family, and said she remained 'very much a member' of the Independent group.

She told the CP today (Wednesday): "I have been thinking about the change for some time, however it has been a big decision that I wanted to give my full consideration."

A former member of the Occupy movement and community campaigner against plans for an asphalt plant on the banks of the Medina, Cllr Baker-Smith will now sit in County Hall as a Labour councillor.

She will be Labour's only councillor, after disagreements with the local leadership saw Cllr Geoff Brodie quit the party to sit as an Independent Labour member.

Cllr Baker-Smith said: "I have always been a supporter of progressive politics and opposed to the Conservative austerity measures that have so badly impacted Island services.

"I want to have the opportunity to make my voice heard in a party that stands for social justice and against Conservative austerity at a national level.

"The Whippingham and Osborne ward I represent has been badly hit by austerity and government policy, as we are now seeing with the threatened closure of the Isle of Wight Studio School.

"Osborne is one of the most deprived areas on the Island so it is the right thing to do to give local residents a voice in policy set beyond the Island. I will continue to work hard to represent the residents of Whippingham and Osborne and to assist them with local issues."

She thanked Independent group leader Clr Ian Stephens for his support and mentorship and said she would continue to work with the group, and other opposition councillors, to hold the Isle of Wight Council administration to account.

Welcoming Cllr Baker-Smith into the fold, Isle of Wight Labour Party chair Mark Chiverton said: "She is a hard working and popular councillor, and represents an area of the Island where there is significant support for Labour. We look forward to working with her to further the interests of her ward and of the Labour Party on the Island.

"On our Island, for too long in the past, effective and dedicated individuals like Julia have perhaps felt an open affiliation to the Labour Party might not help give them the opportunity to serve their communities. As a result, we've had years, perhaps decades, of progressively inclined individuals casting around for an alternative political home from which to oppose the Tories, whether that has been the old Lib Dems, the Independents, or the Greens.

"At the 2017 general election, Labour's largest vote for sixty years on the Island made it very clear the only serious opposition to the Conservative council delivering Conservative government cuts is the Labour Party.

"These are exciting times for Labour members and supporters on the Isle of Wight. We look forward to welcoming other individuals into the Labour family, and by strengthening and supporting each other we can mount a successful and effective challenge to the Conservative administration."