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.
THE BELL PRINCIPLES
• 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.