The rise of the independent candidate

2010 may be a year that sees an unprecedented number of independent candidates elected. With voters disenchanted by mainstream political parties, and with trust in politicians at an all time low in the wake of the expenses scandal, there has never been a better time for independent candidates.

Independent candidates are uniquely placed to engage with those who feel alienated and voiceless within a system monopolized by two-party rule.

Current estimations predict that in May’s election there will be around 300 independent candidates, compared to 166 in the 2005 election. The reason for this surge? Independent candidates are aware that that they can offer an attractive option to an electorate distrustful of mainstream political parties. Simon Mann, an independent candidate for Norfolk North, says he provides an alternative to party politics, and wishes to “represent those people who feel very disillusioned at the moment.”

With over 2000 independent Councillors in England and Wales, it is clear that at a grassroots level independent politicians are popular with voters. Independent politicians are often motivated to join politics because of commitment to a particular local issue – Richard Taylor, for example, won Wyre Forest in 2001 on the platform of reducing cuts at a local hospital. There is always the danger of being thought of as a one-issue politician and not being taken seriously. However, commitment to grassroots politics may well be more alluring than ever before to voters who feel that local interests are not adequately represented by party politicians.

The expenses scandal,without doubt plays into the hands of independents. Esther Ranzen, who is running as an independent for Luton South, is basing her campaign on a platform of reform and repairing trust in politics. She is standing for the former seat of Labour MP Margaret Moran, who was shamed by the expenses revelations, and says that she can provide a much needed change for an electorate who feel “badly let down”.

Martin Bell – who in 1997 became the first independent candidate to win a seat in the Commons since 1951 – also believes that independents will be favoured in constituencies where incumbent MPs fell foul of the expenses scandal. He suggests that May’s election will see an increase in the number of independent candidates elected. “This is an extremely hopeful time for independents” says Bell.

There are currently only two independent MPs, and certainly no drastic changes in the number of elected independents can be expected (Bell predicts six as a realistic figure). However, the very fact of there being an expected increase encouragingly suggests an electorate tired of the status quo, who wants to invigorate and change the political scene.

On the internet there is a growing number of websites such as www.independentnetwork.org.uk, designed for the promotion of independent candidates. What these websites have in common is the belief that independents have the potential to provide the political field with much-needed change. Independent candidates are often hopeful of reforming and modernizing the political field. Joe Hall, an independent candidate for Luton South, thinks that technology can be used effectively to bring politics to constituents, and says he is “the most active candidate on Facebook in [his] constituency”.

Taking this marriage of technology and politics to an extreme is Denny de la Haye, an independent standing in Hackney South and Shoreditch on a platform of what his website describes as “direct digital democracy”. Rather than having his own policies, his aim is to restore power to his constituents by allowing them to use computers or mobile phones to tell him how to vote on bills. Although de la Haye’s idea may appear bizarre for some, an influx of new ideas such as this may help woo younger voters and, assure voters that their voices are being heard.

Perhaps more than ever before, independents have the opportunity to wield influence and help make changes to the political field. Dai Davies, independent for Blaenau Gwent, is optimistic for the future role of independents. “If we had 10 independents, in a hung parliament or in a house where the government had a small majority, that would be a very powerful force.”

With the possibility of hung parliament, media attention has centred on the potential of the Liberal Democrats as ‘kingmakers’. However, in this eventuality, independent MPs would also have unprecedented influence.

Notwithstanding independent candidates such as Mad Capt’n Tom and Magus Lynius Shadee – the self-styled ‘King of All Witches’ – independent candidates are emerging as a credible, even preferable, alternative to candidates fielded by mainstream political parties. At the height of the expenses scandal last May, a poll commissioned by Ekklesia found that 53 per cent of the public said they would “seriously consider” voting for an independent candidate. A year on, it remains to be seen whether the electorate are still as open to voting independent. Certainly, independent candidates offer an opportunity to reform and revitalize politics, and for voters tired of the established parties, this may yet be a tempting offer.

4 comments

  1. If there were a serious independent candidate with clear-cut policies and a definite aim to represent the constituency, I could see them doing well. More often than not, however, they are not as reliable or experienced as other candidates. Richard Jackson, York Outer’s only independent (now withdrawn), is just a taxi driver who thinks that MPs are abusing the system. But he has no relevant experience and is virtually unknown to the people.

    On the other hand, the well-funded and experienced independent candidates such as Galloway (or at least for the purposes of this point) are not going to be able to dedicate much time to their constituency and even more than main parties will be controlled by sponsors. Independent councillors are a much safer bet – but it’d take someone known and good to make me vote independent for MP.

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  2. You raise an interesting point about sponsors influencing independents. Whether this would be comparable to the influence of party whips I don’t know.
    Certainly one of the dangers of independents in this election is that they may have entered without any definite policies, just hoping to ride the wave of anger against party politicians. But then again it is the independents with political experience and credentials – such as Khizar Iqbal who has been in politics for 11 years – who will always be more likely to be elected than candidates like Richard Jackson.

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  3. If the Independent is endorsed by the Independent Network then you can be sure he or she has policies and will be a truly Independent MP who will support the constituency. In Hexham there is Steven Ford – see his website, http://www.stevenford.co.uk, and you will see what he will do for Hexham.

    If you are away from your constituency on May 6th, I hope you have organised your postal vote or nominated a proxy to vote for you. If not then you must ask to go home for the day. The Under 30s need to have a voice and the only way to do that is to get involved.

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  4. My own platform offers a fairly solid guarantee against influence by lobbyists and sponsors, as my decisions are being made right out in the open, and not by me alone. Anyone wanting to sway my vote would have to sway my constituents’ votes – a completely different kind of lobbying and persuasion, and one it would be much harder to do behind closed doors.

    All of the independent candidates I’ve spoken with over the last month have fairly explicit commitments to openness and transparency of decision-making written into the heart of their manifestos, and a great many of us are also very strong on accountability – requiring MPs to explain their decisions, allowing MPs to be recalled by their constituents if they do a poor job, and so on. These are the things which, to independents, seem like the most basic and obvious features of being an honest and representative MP – ask yourself if you can say the same for your local party representative.

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