This article is in response to the articles by Alan Piper, and in furtherance, to four articles (one and two) I penned on this very subject in the Independence Daily in 2018 and 2019. However, at that time, Brexit was in danger, and The Brexit Party was about to create history, so the concept of independents operating collectively as a campaigning mechanism but independent of political thought individually had to wait. It just wasn’t the right time.
Before expanding on what’s happened with other independent groups, I’ll update you with where I am, and perhaps where the idea is at the moment in my locality.
I, along with a long-term colleague, friend and staunch campaigner, are standing in the County Council elections as independents. We had originally chosen to stand for Reform UK, but the combination of Nigel Farage’s resignation as leader and the lack of organisation, ground troops and our feeling that national recognition for Reform UK was weak, we embarked upon a concept similar to my original ideas and the Alan Piper article. There wasn’t time to register the name as a political party for this election, but that is clearly advantageous for any local group to do.
Despite the oxymoron of a political party being independents, which is purely a result of electoral law, it is the way to go. If you want to use the ‘town name’ + independents, then the only way that can appear on the ballot paper is if that local organisation is registered as a political party. Without that, the only word that can appear on the ballot paper is ‘Independent’, which loses the connection of the locality and the advantages it brings.
It’s clear from former electoral successes by independents, and market surveys, that associating the name of the town with the ‘independent’ tag is electorally advantageous. People like the idea that it’s their own people, as it engenders a sense that the candidate is local, likely to be on their side, has a connection with where they live, and that connection can be greater than the connection with a faceless national political party.
The ballot paper is all-important. Where your name appears on it (top or bottom) affects results. In FPTP elections it’s in alphabetical order of the candidates, in national proportional elections it is in alphabetical order of the parties. People are influenced by that small piece of paper. For diehard party supporters it’s irrelevant, but for those who are disenchanted (very many) an acceptable alternative, particularly for local elections is an attractive offer.
Being politically involved people, we (the readers of the Daily and like-minded others) are also politically aware, but most people aren’t, and it’s those numbers that really count. Imagine that many of the voters (probably most of them) haven’t read your leaflet, have no idea who you are, or what you stand for, but are annoyed with politicians and political parties in general. The ballot paper can make all the difference. For some, anyone but them is good enough, others, though, might need the additional reassurance that ‘town name’ + independents can bring.
In an election where, typically, only 30% of registered electors bother to vote, the outcomes aren’t as critical as a perceived national election for the government. Not being them, is the greatest electoral advantage for independents, despite it also being the shallowest. Adding the local connection significantly improves the likelihood of them ticking your name when they have the ballot paper in front of their eyes.
So how best to structure this concept?
Before detailing that, it is important to recognise that new political parties will not create the electoral changes needed. We have witnessed two grand attempts to do this, firstly with the SDP, a long and distant memory for most of us, and UKIP.
Both of these political entities had huge profiles leading them. The gang of four were all Labour cabinet members. David Owen, Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams and Bill Rogers. UKIP had the charismatically huge profile of Nigel Farage, arguably the most successful politician of the decade, yet neither of these political parties could break the mould. It would require a huge stretch of one’s credible thinking to imagine that any celebrity or minor political figure could succeed where these political giants had not. Yet change is so desperately needed.
My view is that the national approach will not work, so the alternative is a local one.
To maximise the locality advantage the political-party name has to be the campaigning unit. However, there is no reason why many local independent groups and their respective political parties could not be part of an overarching organisation. One which would organise and fund activities to encourage and train people who hadn’t, hitherto, thought of standing for office. Such an organisation could support many locally established parties as well as giving a degree of authenticity and confidence in candidates by endorsing them. Critically, that organisation must be non-profit and structured without the concept of ownership (Limited by Guarantee), because it will be managing the money.
The best and most connective local unit would be at constituency level or smaller. County is better than national, but not as good as town. Divisions or wards are likely to be even more effective, but the advantage of the collective organisation is that these groups of independents can be any size.
Maybe, in time, we’ll gradually extend the influence of independents in local government. The effect of this will enhance the probability of an independent being elected to parliament. Remember that we have no national elections in the UK, only 650 local ones. Perhaps a good quality candidate with the right support, endorsement and funding can win a constituency, perhaps many, and it will be from these small beginnings that national change can be brought about.
Candidates of political parties must be members of that political party, and even the party of government, at constituency level, have pitiful membership numbers. This narrows the field considerably for candidate selection. Independents, on the other hand, can be selected from a population of around 70,000 electors in a constituency, so the chances of recruiting first-class candidates is much higher.
For now, though, we wait and see how the next election pans out. This is a long-term strategy, and perhaps the only way to enable national political change short of revolution.
The overarching legal entity we’ve created is Political Independents Ltd, A company limited by guarantee and on a not-for-profit basis. This would be the vehicle for political parties of independents to work within. Our current campaigning website is tonbridgeindependents.org, yet donations and expenditure are under the auspices of the company.
These local elections are a litmus test. Our real objective is to spend the next two years encouraging independent candidates to step forward. We hope to have a good quality candidate in every one of the 54 wards in 2023, in our constituency. This pattern is being repeated elsewhere, The Democratic Network is another organisation with a similar idea. From these variations in approach, we could have a better chance of finding one that works well.
We desperately need change, and this patient and ground up approach might just be the way to do it.