Monday, 30 November 2009

Guest Blog by Guy Aitchison of Power 2010

Perhaps the most striking features of politics today, is the gaping chasm that exists between the loyalties, hopes and fears of the public on the one side and what our sclerotic political system permits on the other.

For a long time, people in the UK have been switching off from formal politics. Voter turnout at the last two general elections in 2001 and 2005 was at a historic low of around 60%. One of the self-serving myths of the political class is that this disengagement stems from apathy or satisfaction with the status quo. This couldn't be further from the truth. Take any issue of concern – climate change, war and peace, poverty, civil liberties - and you'll find lots of fired up people out there. But their anger and compassion leads them to support campaigning charities and NGOs rather than get involved in party politics.

This is equally true of the local level - people care deeply that their local hospital is closing or that there's no jobs in their area, but they don't feel confident that the systems in place will be responsive to their concerns.

At the Power Inquiry, the largest ever investigation into people’s attitudes to British democracy concluded, people are withdrawing from formal politics out of a sense of powerlessness and a feeling that parties and politicians are all the same. That's why public outrage over expenses was always about more than simply duck houses, moats, dry rot, and other abuses, however petty or extravagant; it was symptomatic of a much deeper disconnect between the public and politicians that has been building for years.

If there's to be any hope of breaking through this morass it'll take citizens organising outside the formal structures of political power and calling for reforms that will open up our democracy to new voices and new ways of thinking.

POWER2010 the spiritual successor to the Power Inquiry, is one such initiative. The Independent Network is another. Both aim to challenge an insular and semi-corrupt political class that has grown arrogant and complacent after years of power and the privileges that come with it. POWER2010 is a grassroots campaign to renew and strengthen UK democracy from the bottom up. The campaign is unique in giving everyone the chance to have a say in how our democracy works for us.

The public is being asked to send in ideas for how to change politics before Tuesday November 30th. Is it open primaries? Fairer voting? A cleaner system of funding politics? More power to local communities? You decide:

The ideas with most support will become the POWER2010 Pledge and the focus for a national campaign at the next general election. Over 3,000 reforms have been submitted so far and it won't surprise you to learn that a lot of them are aimed at trying to get smaller parties and independents into Parliament. As Jim Thornton, Exec member of the Independent Network, wrote on the POWER2010 blog it's remarkable that while 98.5% of the British population refuse to belong to a political party, there are only seven Independent MPs.

The next election provides an opportunity for those who want a new politics to work together to break open the system and reverse the stranglehold the two big parties have over our democracy.

Find out more about Power 2010 by checking out their website and Facebook and Twitter page.

Monday, 16 November 2009

The Bell Principles

The Bell Principles, new guidelines for candidates and elected representatives, have been adopted by the Independent Network (IN). All candidates endorsed and supported by the Independent Network – whether for parliamentary, council or union elections – will be required to abide by the Principles.

Martin Bell, the former Independent MP and supporter of the Independent Network tabled an initial draft of his principles as guidelines for Independent candidates at the IN’s strategy meeting on 25th September 2009. Supporters were so impressed by the guidelines they unanimously agreed to adopt his principles with the understanding that they would be edited into a subsequent draft, approved by the IN’s executive committee, and would be a ‘living document’ thus under continuous review to offer the best possible guidance to political candidates and representatives.

The Executive met in October and adjusted and finalised The Principles. They are thought to be the first set of conduct guidelines published by a political organisation for its affiliated candidates and representatives. An important character of The Principles is that they are not a set of rules about what representatives should not do, but urge positive action to improve and promote democracy and service to their community.

MPs are currently obliged to follow the Seven Principles of Public Life produced by Lord Nolan in 1995, which include ‘openness’ and ‘honesty’. The Bell Principles go beyond Nolan’s principles and set the standard for today’s elected representatives. The influence of Sir Christopher Kelly's reform recommendations on The Principles is yet to be seen, but undoubtedly will inform subsequent drafts.

Naturally one of the most fundamental points of The Bell Principles is point 3, “Be free from the control of any political party, pressure group or whip”. A politician’s role is to represent their constituents and not to be a party puppet or faction fop. Independent candidates enrich the democratic system and are needed to erode the undue influence of political parties.

The Independent Network welcomes all comments and suggestions on the first published iteration of The Bell Principles published below.


We will

• abide wholeheartedly by the spirit and letter of the Seven Principles of Public Life set out by Lord Nolan in 1995: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership

• be guided by considered evidence, our real world experience and expertise, our constituencies and our consciences

• be free from the control of any political party, pressure group or whip

• be non-discriminatory, ethical and committed to pluralism.

• make decisions transparently and openly at every stage and level of the political process, enabling people to see how decisions are made and the evidence on which they are based

• listen, consulting our communities constantly and innovatively

• treat political opponents with courtesy and respect, challenging them when we believe they are wrong, and agreeing with them when we believe they are right

• resist abuses of power and patronage and promote democracy at every level

• work with other elected independents as a Group with a chosen spokesperson

• claim expenses, salaries and compensation openly so the public can judge the value for money of our activities.