Monday, 1 November 2010

Sanitea - a most civilized affair

It was 12.40pm and the first of our guests had just arrived. We were downstairs in a luxurious function room - leather chairs, massive polished mirrors and a sense that this room had not changed since the days when its guests had been rich tea-merchants and their custom. We were at the Horniman at Hays - a pub on the sight of one of the most important tea merchant warehouses.

We offered a cup of tea to the early-arrivals and asked where they had travelled from. All three had woken at 5am that morning to reach Hays Galleria, London Bridge, by 1pm. They had come from Carmarthenshire in West Wales!

Their excitement was contagious and soon many more independent councillors, candidates, supporters and Americans who wanted to support Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity but were on the wrong side of the Atlantic were sat together talking politics and sipping tea.

Brian Ahearne, Chair of the Independent Network, made the case for independently minded politics in the UK and explained the work of the Independent Network thus far, before Tamsin Omond, its new network coordinator,spoke about the Council of Reference and our new focus on the Local Elections 2011.

We could not get enough of the tea (generously provided by Teapigs) or the room (generously provided by Horniman at Hays) and so conversation flowed past the 3pm advertised end of the event. At 4pm eight guests still had room for more cucumber sandwiches and cups of tea, before helping us to clear up and clear out to the pub upstairs...

It was an interesting event and we hope it will be the first of many more tea-party meetings for independents committed to the Bell Principles up and down the UK.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Time for SANITEA?

If you're clued up with our Twitter and Facebook then you won't have missed news of 'Sanitea'.

Tomorrow over 60,000 people are expected to descend on Washington DC. They will be part of Jon Stewart's (of The Daily Show fame)'Rally to Restore Sanity'. The rally is a response to the grass-roots organising and rallies of the US tea-party (or independents') movement. It's about trying to open up a space, in US politics, for collaboration and dialogue, reasonable argument and sane discussion.

In the UK we, at the Independent Network, have been keeping an eye on the development of the US tea-party movement. We're a little worried that the tea-parties taking place across the Atlantic aren't keeping with the tradition of a tea-party: to have a civilized chat over a sanely sipped cuppa. We're also worried about their use of the name 'independents'. In our opinion the true measure of an independent is whether their policies grows from the firm foundations of the Bell Principles. These principles are all about a non-discriminatory, pluralistic and responsive politics. Currently the independent or tea-party movement in the States shows little commitment to such a set of principles.

So. We got thinking. We wondered whether we might hold our own Rally4Sanity in support of Jon Stewart's venture. But the more we thought about it, the more obvious it seemed that all things 'tea-party' belong to a very long British tradition. Instead of holding a rally we decided that the best way to reclaim the tea-party and the cause of an independently-minded politics was to hold a tea-party. And not just one tea-party, but three - across the regions and in London.

The setting for our London tea-party is Hays Galleria - the first and largest wharf for ships bringing tea into London (est. 1856) - in the Horniman pub. The Horniman was the name of the most prolific tea-merchant.

We will meet. We will drink tea. We will chomp on cucumber sandwiches. We will have political discussion and an opportunity to establish what independent politics is all about. Then we will look at our watches and decide, calmly, that it's time to go home.

Join us between 1pm - 3pm tomorrow because independent politics can be returned to Sanitea.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Gearing up to the Local Elections 2011

Welcome Independents and those independently minded.

We've been a little quiet since the General Elections 2011, consulting local politicians and supporters of independent politics on where they would like to see us focus over the next 18 months.

The overwhelming response has been in support of a local election focus. As some of you may know our next elections are May 2011 when the majority of local authorities will hold elections. Independents already enjoy an impressive presence in local government, as independent councillors are often best suited to working passionately in the interests of those who voted for them - the people they represent. Unlike party politicians, independent candidates will not bow to a party whip nor forget their constituents in their ambition to climb a party ladder. Instead they are usually local people who stand on local issues of real importance to their local communities. Many would say that this kind of 'politician' or 'community leader' is best suited for local politics, and can be far more effective than a party politician.

Over the next few months we will work tirelessly to support the brave community leaders who choose to stand for reelection or election to local government. As well as endorsing candidates and independent groups who have signed up to The Bell Principals; we will collate best practise resources for local election campaigning as well as organising events to raise the profile of independents nationally.

But to do all of this we need your help, your passion and your input. Get in touch if you are planning to stand as an independent; if you are part of an independent group or if you are planning to form an independent group. If you don't want to stand yourself but could offer your time or experience to local election candidates then please let us know. If you can't give your time then please consider donating to allow us to continue the work that we do.

More very soon and in the meantime we look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Gerrymandering Parliament

The power of political parties has consistently compromised clear recommendations from Royal Commissions on political reform. Tactical ignorance of commissioned research has seemingly become a means to the main parties’ ends, resulting in the abandonment of reforms fundamental to political progress.

After Labour’s 1997 landslide victory in the general election, The Independent Commission on the Voting System, popularly known as the Jenkins Commission, was set up. Employed to investigate alternatives to the ‘first past the post’ electoral system still being used today, the Commission offered the Alternative top-up vote system as a satisfactory substitute.

Otherwise known as AV+, the voting system was suggested for four central reasons: to maintain a geographical link between MP and constituency, to fulfill the need for stable government, to satisfy the desire for broad proportionality and to give an extension of voter choice.

Based on a two vote system, AV+ was designed to make tactical voting unnecessary, create a fairness that means no wasted votes and to end the distorted representation of the electorate that ‘first past the post’ offers. The professional opinion of the Committee was that ‘the majority of MPs (80 to 85%) would continue to be elected on an individual constituency basis which would significantly reduce the disproportionality and the geographic divisiveness which are inherent in FPTP.’ The parties fully ignored the commission in favour of their own interests and no action has yet been taken on the committee’s findings.

Although the Labour government issued a statement saying that the report “makes a well-argued and powerful case for the system it recommends,” the referendum on the electoral system never came and the Alternative Vote Plus has for now, been abandoned in favour of systems that promote political party dominance. Shunned and dismissed, the chair of the Independent Commission on the Voting System, Roy Jenkins’ disillusions grew and before his death he dismissed Blair as a “second-class mind.”

Another reform central to Labour’s 1997 General Election manifesto that has been confined to the Parliamentary archives is the reform of the House of Lords. The establishment of a Royal Commission of both Houses of Parliament to allow for debate and consideration in developing plans for the reform of the House of Lords was announced in 1998. The Commission would undertake research and present recommendations. The reform bill was shelved in 2004.

The House of Lord’s Joint Committee’s January 2000 report (otherwise known as The Wakeham Commission Recommendations) proposed that a reformed House of Lords would have 550 members, of which 65, 87 or 195 would be elected. The report’s conclusion on new members was that an independent appointments commission of eight people should choose new members. Five qualities were identified as desirable for the makeup of a reformed second chamber – legitimacy, representativeness, no domination by any one party, independence and expertise.

The Committee also recommended that the House of Lords should include people who are not politicians and who are likely to be experts in a particular field. These people would attend on a part-time basis and provide independent, alternative insight to issues. Subsequently, philosophical, moral, and expert opinions would be introduced into debates, enabling more informed debate.

In November 2001, the Labour government launched a white paper stating that it ‘strongly endorsed’ the Royal Commission’s views. However, it listed its own proposals, leaving the highly researched paper somewhat dismissed.

May 2004 saw the Labour Government drop plans to reform the House of Lords. Jack Cunningham, chairman of the Joint Committee on Lords Reform said it had been “clear for some time that things were going wrong.” He added that “there was a “lot of party politicking going on.” Still an implement of party political warfare, the debate on House of Lords reform consistently ignores the considered evidence and hard work of the original Royal Commission.

The current debates about political reform precipitated by the hung parliament look set to ignore the expert advice of the Royal Commissions still. As the Lib Dems seek a promise for electoral reform in return for an alliance, the Conservatives have offered the ‘Alternative Vote’ system. This lacks the highly researched and democratic advantages of the AV+ system and clearly illustrates a dangerous corruption of the political system for their own means.

It has become clear that the strength given to the main political parties is overriding detailed research conducted by leading experts. It is essential for a democratic system that party powers are weakened so that recommendations from inquiries into such issues as House of Lords and electoral reform are considered appropriately.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Proud Independents turn cynical media

After the dust settled from the press launch, the Independent Network can be proud of putting independent candidates in the national spotlight.

There was a significant presence of national media at the launch in April with the Press Association and BBC on hand with camera crews as well as most quality national newspapers like the Times, Independent, Telegraph, Guardian, Daily Mail, and the Financial Times. BBC World Service were also present to interview to various independents as well as Martin Bell OBE and Brian Ahearne from the Independent Network.

Political websites like and epolitix also attended to cover the event showing a shift towards better representation of independent candidates. This was further emphasized by the presence of thee of the major national political sketch writers including Ann Treneman, Brian Wheeler, Simon Hoggart and Simon Carr.

The Telegraph drew attention to the challenge to high profile MPs disgraced in the expenses scandal with the Daily Mail, Metro, and Reuters highlighting the increasing chance of independents causing an upset on May 6th.

The spiky sketch writers did their best to be satirical; the BBC’s Brian Wheeler, Simon Hoggart for the Guardian and Treneman for the Times all picking up on Bell’s metaphor of the Independent Network being a “contraption” and not a political machine. While the BBC used the comment as a humorous starting block before explaining the no policy system of the Independent Network and emphasizing that all candidates share an “earnest sense of public duty”, Hoggart took a personal swipe at the organizers of the Independent Network without offering any real comment into the state of British politics and what the independent candidates stood for.

Independent Network candidate Gordon Kennedy said he had to read Simon Hoggart’s piece twice in disbelief because the picture painted was nothing like the actual event that he attended. “The group of Independent Network candidates could hardly fit in the room comfortably given the number of attending media types. It is true that the Independent Network had no huge budget to supply a flunky to wait on Mr. Hoggart. I am sure if he attended a big political party event there would be more deference and PR smooze, however on this occasion he had to content himself with being just another writer.”

The venue for the launch was the Frontline Club, a favourite of war correspondents and hotbed of independent journalism. The seats filled up so quickly that many reporters found that there was standing room only.

“I was there to support the Independent Network,” continued Kennedy. “I admire their aims and was ambivalent about the journalists as I have to place my trust in the voters of Dagenham and Rainham rather than the editorial policy of national newspapers and whom they decide to support or attack.”

Treneman for the Times seemed to find the launch amusing enough as she likened it to “political speed-dating” but managed to portray the candidates’ enthusiasm for their campaign with a half a page dedicated to the launch.

Matthew West at seemed to be at an entirely different event where “journalists didn’t appear to care”. However his pessimistic sketch was counteracted by Sam Dale’s informative piece on the same site which emphasized the message that independents had an opportunity like no other on 6 May.

Apart from some inaccurate reporting, which included the number of candidates ranging from 40 to 49 depending on which report you read, the launch received a good amount of coverage emphasizing the growing demand for an alternative to party politicians. Most articles, in print and online, recognised the limited resources available to independents and portrayed the launch as a refreshing alternative to the PR and spin events hosted by the political parties.

The press also gave good publicity to many of the endorsed candidates including Sarah Flannery of Tatton and John Swallows of Peterborough who received a substantial amount of mentions. Gordon Kennedy also got his interview aired on BBC World Service and Alice Sakura Dartnell’s picture by the Press Association appeared in the Metro and the Times which is bound to enhance their campaigns.

Bell proudly said at the launch, “There is not a professional politician on this platform!” Indeed, the platform showed probably one of the most diverse set of views in any political organisation. Issues and policies they may disagree or agree on but the unanimous sentiment on the stage of the Frontline Club was that independent candidates are the only alternative to party politics.

The independent candidates were given a fair voice and a space in many political papers, websites and radio stations showing the media are accepting that independents are becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Friday, 16 April 2010

The TV Debates

The TV debates have made the media complicit in the greatest change to the UK's constitution - turning the UK's constituency, parliamentary electoral system into the largest electoral college in the world. This semi-codifies the UK's elected dictatorship. That suits party politicians down to the ground, of course, as it maintains the status quo, and will encourage the next government to believe they have an even stronger mandate to force through whatever measures their party machine will roll over and comply with.

The electorate are being confused into believing that their vote is for a leader, when in fact on May 6th they will be voting for a constituency MP.

The expenses scandal and all previous parliamentary conduct scandals in the UK have demonstrated the importance of assessing the character of individual constituency candidates - one of the reasons all applicants for endorsement by the Independent Network are assessed against The Bell Principles. If the electorate continue to be encouraged to vote on the basis of the media performance of a party leader, the colour of their ties, their corporate brand, the dumming down of politics in the UK will be complete.

The task has become even harder for independents, who must remind voters that they're voting for a constituency MP. Gaining share of the media's attention has become even more difficult. National media will always be a challenge, but the even sharper focus on the three main parties in the UK during this election means that candidates must look to local media. Call radio phone-ins, try to work constructively with local media - offer them good content and comment, campaign positively about your candidacy and reasons to vote for an independent, offer a different perspective. Make sure they know that independents are the only true alternative to party politics, no matter what the smaller political parties say.

Local hustings are also taking their steer from the national media's concentration on the three main parties, so organise a hustings of all the candidates excluded from local hustings. Invite the media to attend, maybe encourage a local radio presenter, Justice of the Peace or other impartial person to moderate the session. If the media won't show, record the session yourselves and place it on the internet so that you can distribute it and give the local electorate an opportunity to hear from all contenders in the election.

Televised debates in the UK are nothing new. Parliament has been televised for years and the electorate has seen the pitiful performance of the main parties and their leaders for some time. The TV debates of the 2010 General Election are simply symptomatic of the public's despair at the conduct of MPs - the Punch and Judy, yah-boo politics that show the UK's MPs behaving like a bunch of school children in a playground, teasing, bullying and caring more about gaining cheap shots than constructive discussion of the UK's problems and opportunities.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The Commons and Constituency Clash

It’s impossible to be in two places at once. Yet, to be an effective MP, you have to try to do both. For every MP there is a constant struggle between time spent at Parliament and time spent in the constituency.

Markedly, independent MPs loyalties often lie with their constituency, however, without voting in Parliament their constituents cannot be represented. As Dr Richard Taylor previously said in a conference of independents in January, ‘the ability to vote is a real privilege’.

In 2006 The Hansard Society found that MPs generally spent equal amounts on parliamentary and constituency work. When Parliament is in session, MPs usually spend most of their time there which accounts for around 165 days a year. In Parliament they raise issues affecting their constituents, attend debates and vote on proposed bills. Many MPs are members of Select Committees, which look at a wide variety of issues in detail. Examples of Select Committees include the Members’ Allowance Committee and the Energy and Climate Change Committee. If an MP has a special forte, for instance medicine, it then makes sense for them to sit on a Select Committee, such as the independent MP Dr Richard Taylor who sits on the Health Committee.

All Party Groups are growing in influence in Parliament and are very popular with both MPs and Lords. They are informal cross-party groups that have no official status within Parliament and are run for and by Members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Unfortunately an All Party Group must include at least five members of the Government party and five from the opposition parties. However, all party groups provide an opportunity for cross-party and independents to discuss a range of issues including animal welfare, sport, science, industry and the environment.

Therefore it is essential that an MP spends time in Parliament, technology also now allows MPs to undertake constituency work whilst in London. There are many innovative ways to keep in touch, such as Facebook, Twitter, email and blogs. Many MPs are using these tools - look at the huge list of MPs on Tweetminster. These approaches fall in line with the Bell Principles, which avow that MPs should consult their communities regularly and innovatively (The Bell Principles are thought to be the first set of conduct guidelines created by a political organisation for its affiliated candidates and representatives).

The vast majority of MPs hold weekly surgeries in their constituency, which allows constituents to discuss their concerns and problems with their MP. Constituency office staff have a key role to play and can make sure the community is aware that there is someone available for them, even if the MP is not there all of the time. Constituency staff main role is to do casework for constituents and help them with a variety of problems. Common topics of casework include immigration applications, council housing, dog fouling and student funding. Thousands of people contact their MP every year and it is the job of constituency staff to respond to enquiries.

It could be argued that there are four main parts to an MP’s job: taking part in debates at Westminster; working in Committees; dealing with problems and issues for constituents; and visiting and keeping in touch with local people and organisations. Without going into Westminster, the interests of the local people in the constituency can’t be represented at a national level. On the other hand, if an MP spends all their time in Westminster then local people will not be able to share their insights and concerns.

The nature of a good MP is one who divides their time appropriately between Parliament and their constituency and makes use of all the tools available to enable them to undertake a heroic job on behalf of the constituents and be in two places at once.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Independents a Safer Bet in a Hung Parliament

Bookmaker William Hill is giving odds of 5/4 for there to be the first hung parliament in over three decades. As David Cameron’s lead continues to shrink, statistics show that it is possible that neither of the main two parties will secure a majority in the upcoming General Election.

Recent polls from Ipsos MORI put the Conservative lead at a meagre five points with just 37% of the national vote. Political analysts assert that the Tories will now need to pull off the biggest percentage swing since the Second World War to be confident of avoiding a hung parliament.

These extraordinary circumstances are the result of the national mood being swayed more by Labour’s unpopularity than any tangible surge of enthusiasm for the Conservatives, and this apparent lack of enthusiasm could well mean that more of the electorate will hang their hopes on independent candidates.

Many independents, particularly those endorsed by the Independent Network (IN), are campaigning ethically, listening to the interests of their communities, and are free from control of any political party. If there is a hung parliament, voting independently could well prove to have been the smart move for voters.

There has been much speculation on how the Liberal democrats would act in a hung parliament, with Nick Clegg being dubbed the ‘Kingmaker’. What hasn’t been given much attention is the potential influence independent MPs could command.

In an article for The New Statesman, Roy Hattersley asserts that “forming a viable government could well require negotiations with Esther Rantzen, Martin Bell and Terry Waite as well as Nick Clegg.” This would place an extraordinary responsibility in the hands of independent MPs whose loyalties lie, first and foremost, with their constituency. There are currently two directly elected independents in the House of Commons and, with 20 high quality candidates endorsed by the IN to date with more to come, there could well be more independent MPs in Parliament after the next election.

Jonathan Salt, endorsed IN PPC for Huntingdon, has put some thought to such an eventuality. He says: “If we ended up with a hung parliament after an election and I have won Huntingdon, I would not ally myself with any party. I would vote for the Government if I felt that my vote were right for my constituents.”

Compare this response to that of Nick Clegg, who, according to the New Statesman, “announced recently that he would give his support to whichever party ‘wins’.” It’s easy to see how voters could become disillusioned with party politics and that some would rather bet on a candidate that will serve their interests first. Clegg is using arithmetic, whereas IN endorsed independent candidates adhering to the Bell Principles are using considered evidence, experience, conscience, and the needs of their constituents to guide their choices.

Being involved in a hung parliament is a huge responsibility, the actions of any one MP have the potential greatly influence the way our country is run. Although some party politicians may profess independence, their voting is too often dictated by their party line. In a hung parliament, the party whips will need to be even more fervent, so party politicians will have little choice but to do as their leader says.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Sick of the Drama

As the Observers revelations broke about Prime Minister Brown's worst kept secret of his violent streak broke and the unleashing of the "forces of hell" upon Chancellor Darling; we ask the question, why are we governed by a bunch of bullies? When are our elected representatives going to be in the papers for doing some positive?

Brown's temper really isn't the problem and it's really unlikely that he would've unleashed the, so called, forces of hell on our dear Darling. He has denied absolutely any accusation of his bullying. The real crisis is the continuous scandals surrounding Parliament and the complete disillusionment of the public with politics.

The Tories and the LibDems can laugh at this current mishap which has engulfed number 10 and reap the benefits of our beleaguered political system. They have even been as brazen to ask for an inquiry into the working practices at number 10. The original story which promoted the current bullying allegation emerged in September 2008 in the Times. This was typical Westminster stuff, say the wrong thing and suffer the consequences. The problem is that nobody seems to criticising these practices? Darling got it right back in 2008 and predicted the worst recession since 1929, yet he was to suffer because he didn't toe the Party line.

In the last year we have had scandal after scandal from our elected representatives. From the email scandal surrounding Damian McBride last year to the revelations that one of the Tory’s wealthiest donors doesn’t pay UK tax. There is something seriously wrong with our current political system and we deserve better public representatives.

Last September, the former independent MP Martin Bell presented the Bell Principles to supporters of the IN and they were unanimously adopted. The Bell Principles are a code of conduct for elected representatives that include key values for politicians such as transparency and treating opponents with respect. We would have a very different Parliament if all MPs signed up to these principles.

Some people criticise independents for not having any real policies, but many of the independents we’ve been talking to have been debating current issues and have come up with some unique and innovative ideas. Independent politicians are arguably ahead of their party candidates, they don’t have to simply toe the party line and therefore need to debate issues and consult the public.

The next general election provides a unique opportunity for independents to get elected. Independent MPs will still attract controversy, but maybe they could move politics back into debating policy, rather than nonstop scandals.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

What's The Alternative?

MPs have voted in favour of a referendum which will give the public the chance to choose which voting system will be used in elections of the future. A big problem is that we will only get this referendum if the Labour Party wins the next election, as the Conservatives will likely strike it off the agenda.

The Labour Party wants to introduce Alternative Voting (AV) a system of preference voting. If no one achieves a majority of votes, the candidate with the fewest is eliminated and their 2nd preference votes are redistributed at full value to the remaining candidates. This is repeated until one candidate obtains a majority of votes. Resulting in a single winner, this wouldn’t change the make-up of Parliament at all and would achieve very little in terms of electoral reform, though it could provide some interesting results.

This could technically mean that some candidates could win seats simply by being the 2nd preference (provided they have enough 1st preference votes to ensure they are not eliminated instantly). This could be a crucial step from changing the perception that any other vote than a party vote is a ‘wasted vote.’

What AV means for independents is a sort of mixture of good and bad. Technically it should make independent candidates more electable as people will be more confident of either placing an independent as their 1st or 2nd preference without the fear of wasting their vote. Although some independents may not receive enough 1st preference votes and will be eliminated, therefore the benefit of having them as your 2nd choice is negated.

The Liberal Democrats were in staunch favour of Single Transferrable Vote (STV), an addition to the referendum which failed to receive the support of Parliament. STV is the predecessor to AV and a system which aims to provide a more proportionally representative result. Like AV it is a preferential voting system: although in this system candidates do not have to reach a majority, only achieve percentage of votes which is calculated by a formula called ‘Droop Quota.’

STV reduces the dominance of Parties in the electoral process and results in a more accurate account of what the electorate want. STV provides proportionality by transferring votes to minimise waste, and therefore minimises the number of unrepresented or disenfranchised voters. Although, this system is quite radical for the UK, it could be a giant leap in the right direction in creating a Parliament more representative of the electorate.

STV was rejected on the grounds that if the MP to constituency link was broken, our political system will be forever damaged, it was too radical. It was rejected because it was too expensive and too complex.

Independents would benefit a lot from STV as it would effectively destroy the 1 MP - 1 Constituency and open Parliament up to be far more reflective of what the public demands.

The Conservatives want to stick with First Past the Post (FPTP), an electoral system which we currently use in the UK. Currently a candidate can become elected if he receives the majority votes, even if that totals at 20% of the vote. This creates a system in which some constituencies have overwhelmingly not voted for their current MP, but because of the voting distribution they are stuck with them. FPTP arguably creates more wasted votes than any other system. It’s unlikely the Conservatives will want to change anything, as it seems very possible FPTP will win them a reasonable majority in Parliament.

A big problem for FPTP is that it excludes some from voting, as in affect their vote will be a wasted vote. FPTP often ensures than non-political party or minor party votes are ‘wasted’ as traditional parties hold a grip on constituencies across the country. It also makes for a very unrepresentative MP, in many cases MPs are elected on less that 50% of their constituent’s votes and this is a major issue as some simply feel disenfranchised. This results in ‘tactical voting’, exclusion of the electorate and prevention of independents or minor parties being made credible choices.

Some criticisms of AV and STV are that they cost far too much and that the systems can be too complex for humans to calculate effectively on polling day, leading to the over-reliant use of computers.
In Pierce County, Washington, USA, election officials outlined costs of $3,291,340 to implement AV in 2008. This included costs for new software and equipment, voter education, testing and additional ballot printing and postage costs. Staff also had to be paid for the extra time they spent checking the ballots and scanning them into the computers.

So we have a potential referendum in October 2011 to change the electoral system to AV or remain with FPTP. AV should prove more effective for independent candidates but ultimately this choice is with the voter. MPs have given you the choice of a bias system or a slightly less biased system… enjoy.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Drowning in your manifesto?

Independent candidates can sometimes find it difficult to produce a comprehensive manifesto on national and international issues. To help you get started we have put together the following suggestions.

Use the Network

The IN, as the name suggests, is a network for independents that aims to pool resources to enable candidates to succeed. Candidates can use the network to communicate and use the expertise of other independents and supporters. For instance, if you are struggling on education and healthcare, you can contact candidates who are doctors or teachers to improve your understanding of these areas.


Whilst New Labour proclaimed, ‘education, education, education’, a statement for independents could be ‘research, research, research’. It’s important that you’re up to date on current political debates and have a good knowledge base on national policy. Think tanks provide excellent research on a wide range of subjects from economics to immigration. They are arguably influential in politics, as many party policies originate from research carried out by them. Examples of popular think tanks include ippr, Demos, Fabian Society and Hansard Society.


It’s useful to check out the demographics of your constituency. This can help you to target your voters, for instance you may want to attract a certain group, such as students. Good websites for demographics include UK Polling Report and National Statistics Online.


One of the strengths of being an independent candidate is that you don’t have to sign up to a rigid manifesto - you can freely listen and consult your constituents. Essentially you want to redirect their needs and requests in an effective and clear way in your manifesto. To be successful you will need to get in touch with people of all ages and backgrounds, this will enable you to have a balanced view. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to have a proper conversation with every electorate, so online methods are great. A good website is Survey Monkey which enables users to create online surveys for free.

Social Media

A good way to get in touch with younger people is by using popular social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. It is a great way to connect with a wide range of people that you may not meet in traditional public political events. Barack Obama used Facebook and Twitter in the 2008 US presidential election to his advantage in order to connect with his audience. Social Oomph is a great website that enables users to manage social media and is an essential tool for candidates.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

If you have policies that are similar or the same as political parties, avoid the pitfalls of completely changing your manifestos just to be different; there’s no point reinventing the wheel. But it can be an advantage to research opposing candidates’ manifestos if asked to draw upon why your policies are better than theirs; it is always good to know what you are up against.


Finally, if you’re supporter of a charity or pressure group, you may want to include some of their policies in your manifesto. For instance Save the Children is asking Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs) to consent (if elected) to take direct action to end child poverty. If you’re not currently involved with a charity, but passionate about a certain issue, you may want to contact an organisation that supports your views. For instance if you’re passionate about electoral reform, you may want to get in touch with Power 2010 and sign up to their pledge for PPCs.

If you think we’ve missed any key points please leave your comments below or send an email to:

Friday, 15 January 2010

Nobody Likes a Moaner

David Cameron spoke about positive campaigning back in December and we couldn’t agree more. Positive campaigning is the ideal route for candidates to talk about what they can do for you rather than getting bogged down in a political slandering match.

Some candidates in previous elections have spent far too much time on negative campaigning. The ‘we are better than them’ approach just isn’t productive. A country gripped by recession and two wars deserves better. We need to know why we should vote for a candidate, rather than simply what’s wrong with everyone else.

There are many benefits to positive campaigning. Candidates can clearly outline what they hope to achieve and why they’re the best candidate. It’s important that candidates sell themselves and shout out their achievements. If you went to an interview and defamed the other applicants, would you expect to find yourself hired?

The next General Election provides a unique opportunity for Independents to set themselves aside from the traditional party election campaigns and offer their constituents something new and fresh – a credible alternative. Dr Richard Taylor is the perfect example of this approach. He defeated a Government Minister in 2001 in Wyre Forest on a string of issues including the rejection of proposals to downgrade the local Kidderminster Hospital being the primary one. If you wish to be elected you must have a well thought out manifesto that can include local issues, but must also include national issues – you’re standing for the UK Parliament, not the local Council.

There are also legal ramifications for slander. If you doggedly pursue a negative campaigning approach, it would be wise to note that many have got themselves into serious legal trouble regarding defamation of character among other types of slander. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy wrote a good piece for The Guardian’s Comment is Free regarding slander of those in the public eye. Although this piece is aimed journalists, it is important to know that any accusations made must be fully researched with empirical evidence.

Whilst the Conservatives and Labour parade the notion of positive campaigning they are not adverse to the occasional spat and reputation bashing. The public are tired of the adversarial politics that is neither productive nor proactive. Independent candidates on the other hand offer something different.

It is time for a change, and I doubt Cameron and the Conservatives can keep to their new found principle. In the words of the opposition leader “let's make it a good clean fight.”

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The General Election should morally coincide with the Local Elections

The case for the General Election to be held on May 6th to coincide with the Local Elections is a strong one. This country, deep in recession, cannot afford two separate elections. It would be an absolute waste of tax payers’ money and an unnecessary expense for the economy. If the elections were on two separate dates it will be obvious electioneering by the Government, by attempting to influence the votes by the timing of the General Election.

The last General Election cost £80m to organise, although there are thousands of extra costs which could increase that figure. As of March 2009 the deficit stands at 55% of our whole Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The Government will put extra strain on our fragile economy by having two separate election dates. EU Regulations enforced by the Maastricht Treaty consider a country to be in debt when they reach a deficit at 60% of their GDP, at which point the EU council could decide to enforce sanctions on the UK.

The situation is dire, and needs to be addressed now. We cannot risk sanctions and we cannot jeopardise the future of this country. The primary concern for any Government should be the reduction of the deficit not election success. Therefore having the General and Local elections on the same day would be the perfect measure of cutting costs on an essentially expensive operation.

It is a well known fact in previous elections that Governments have all abused their ability to manipulate the public and the timing of the General Election to suit their needs. It is common practice for all political parties to coerce the electorate; we shouldn’t have to stand for this, and we should be free of conscience to make our own vote, we should be independent.

The Labour Government seems to only be concerned with election success rather than reducing the deficit. Ian Dunt of in his commentary hit the nail on the head of Gordon Brown, “Now, he puts off the date as long as possible, in a vain search for political fortune”. The Prime Minister should be running the country instead of searching for a miracle to keep his political tenure. It seems that the Government is far more concerned with election success than running the country.

This farce surrounding the dates of the 2010 election can be easily resolved. Have them on the same day, it saves money and makes things simpler for everyone; after all we are paying for it.