There were a whole range of discussions at the Conference, and this is a possible way forward:
1. A Party? There was no majority for the formation of a Party.
a. The advantages of being a Party put forward were (a) name and emblem on Ballot Paper (b) media focus and (c) raise national awareness.
b. There was however support for (a) an umbrella organisation (b) a professional body upholding standards (c) a resource centre for candidates and (d) a point of contact for the media.
2. At present we have:
a. a Company (Independent Network Campaign Ltd) Reg No 07096039, a registered Third Party with the Electoral Commission. Brian Ahearne owns the shares and is the sole director. [Jim Thornton has now been appointed a Director]
b. We have a Council of Reference, to which we could add some more names.
c. We have an Executive of three, of which only one (Jim Thornton) is currently active. The three members were nominated from the floor at a meeting before the last General Election, so they were ‘elected’ by those who attended the meeting (including Martin Bell and Esther Rantzen) who were interested in standing for Parliament.
d. The Executive does not have a Chair, there is no ‘Leader’ of IN.
3. Secretaries: We could call those who have positions in IN as ‘Secretaries’ – people who serve and support, not people who lead and instruct. Is there a better name? [Agreed we go with ‘Co-ordinator’]
a. So we now need to find Area Coordinators who would work on a voluntary basis as (a) a point of contact for potential election candidates (b) a point of contact for local or even national media and (c) be part of a consultative group on practical issues. I probably already have about ten volunteers, and I would propose to write to key people personally and ask them to volunteer, or suggest one of their colleagues. These would be Leaders of Independent Groups on Councils,
b. I suggest that we call the group of Area Co-ordinators the Forum.
c. I am willing for the next year to be National Co-ordinator and recruit and co-ordinate, and aim by next conference to have say 30 Area Co-ordinators to cover the country.
d. As the number of Area Co-ordinators grows (or even now) we could appoint four Regional Co-ordinators (for say England, Wales, Scotland and N Ireland) to assist in recruiting and consulting.
4. Affiliates: There was support for the idea of ‘Affiliates’, local groups of Independents, who would pay a subscription.
a. It was agreed that individuals could also be ‘Affiliates’ and pay a subscription.
b. At some stage the Affiliates would vote on the future direction of IN.
c. It was agreed that those who have at some time been elected as Independents have a right to try and control the image of ‘Independents’.
d. An Independent is somebody who does not take a Party whip. Therefore a key question for any local Party affiliating is whether they insist on whipping their elected councillors. If they do, they cannot affiliate.
5. Endorsement: I note:
a. If elected Independents and those who support the concept of Independents in government (but do not want to stand for election) put money into IN, then it is not unreasonable for IN (a) to have an endorsement process for election candidates (b) to stop people claiming falsely to be IN candidates and (c) to cancel the affiliation of those who cease to be Independents or bring the reputation of Independents into disrepute.
b. Endorsement of local election candidates should be the responsibility of locally elected Independents, co-ordinated by the Area Co-ordinator. Only if there is disagreement or an issue of principle should an individual candidate be brought to the attention of the Forum.
6. Resources: it was agreed that the following resources could be provided by IN:
a. Election Support: this would include an updated version of Elections on a Shoestring, ideas for leaflet design, rosettes
b. Media Coverage: national media promotion of the advantages of electing Independents, responding to questions from the media, providing people to interview or speakers for events.
c. Training: training courses for public speaking, door knocking, handling local media, use of social media to attract votes.
d. Web site: highlighting issues that affect Independents, listing Area Co-ordinators and contact details, ideas for recruiting election teams.
e. Legal Advice: we should investigate how we can provide free legal advice to Affiliates, perhaps through solicitors or counsel willing to do some pro bono work.
f. Brochure: we need a simple brochure, perhaps ‘What can IN do for me?’ for (a) candidates (b) elected Councillors (c) and supporters. It should list the Council of Reference, the Bell Principles and the Area Co-ordinators.
g. Strapline: I quite like the People not Party, Principles not Politics suggested by East Cheshire. [Others are not so sure]
h. Ward Times: there is a facility through the Ward Times website for any Ward to set up a website for community communication.
i. Trademark: we could register our emblem as a Trademark. This could be a white rosette with some purple (?) lettering in the centre on a white background and a small IN logo.
7. Funding: this is where we need a Working Party to come up with ideas and implement them:
a. How much do we need? We need to have a part-time volunteer or paid Intern/staff member, and we need to decide where we base an office.
b. Database: we already have the beginnings of a useful database, by combining what I have and what Darren has. This can be enlarged, perhaps using paid interns or part-timers. [This is now well advanced, compiled in Access, listing every Post Code (first three/four characters), Councils (not Town/Parish yet), Candidates, Supporters, and we are adding in all the Councillors we can identify from the Internet. From this we can link Post Codes to Area Co-ordinators and therefore to people in the Area.]
c. Business Plan: we need to have a vision of where we could be in five years time, but it needs to be realistic and we have to go at a sustainable pace.
d. Sources of income:
i. Affiliate Party Subscription: how many might there be? Is £25 a suitable initial annual sub?
ii. Individual Subscription: again, how many might join? Is £10 a suitable initial annual subscription?
iii. Angels: do we try and find people who would give say £250 pa but who would be named on the website, and we set this as a maximum annual donation?
iv. Crowdfunding: great idea, but do we try it now or use the London Elections as a launch when we have put some of these ideas in place?
e. Accounting: I will talk to Brian Ahearne about running all the accounting on QuickBooks, so we have all the data in one place. [Now agreed]. I can email reports to anybody either as Excel or .pdfs at any time. We need to have transparency, and I have no problem with a monthly Statement of Financial Affairs on the website, but this might be a hostage to fortune so we might restrict it to Area SCo-ordinators only.
f. I suggest the Working Party should be few in number, perhaps no more than five, and we communicate by email but may have to meet a couple of times to hammer out issues where there are differences of opinion.
8. Annual Conference: should we have a conference at Party Conference time, or to coincide with the LGA conference as suggested? This should be the time we report on progress over the past year, and make or confirm appointments as Co-ordinators and so forth.
9. Governance: I think this will have to be worked out in practice, and perhaps proposals be put to the Conference in Autumn 2014. We could send out proposals to all the Affiliates and ask them to vote on them before the Conference.
10. Identity: there was some unease about the use of the word ‘brand’, but:
a. what everybody seemed to want was that (a) Independents have a higher profile (b) the media gives Independents a fair share of coverage and comment and (c) there should be a way on the Ballot Paper to identify ‘good’ Independents from ‘bad’ Independents.
b. Once we have our act together and are beginning to gain credibility it may be that we have to start a campaign to get the Electoral Commission to allow something on the Ballot Paper to identify an IN Independent.
c. We have no policies, and this is a real problem when the media ask for, say, Independent policy on Europe. Do we give them two names: one Independent who is pro-Europe and one who is against?
d. However, if we could agree to have a campaign to change the rules on Ballot Papers, then could we also have a campaign to level the playing field at elections for Independents and small parties? In terms of obligations to put up manifestoes in Polling Stations, supplying voters manifestoes with Postal Voting forms, putting all the manifestos on a Local Authority website and so forth. The issue of multi-Member Wards is an issue for small parties.
e. A campaign for a level playing field is one campaign, but the more important one is to get more people and more young people to vote. We need ideas on this, and perhaps research on whether the idea of an Independent appeals to young people. This brings us back to: ‘But how do I know what the Independent stands for?’
11. Finally, Back to Branding: I suggest:
a. I think IN is being asked to (a) establish a ‘place’ where enquirers, potential election candidates and the media can go to find out about Independents and (b) to start to build a picture in the public perception that Independents are a great alternative to Party Politics.
b. I propose that I be allowed to (a) recruit a team of five people to work through these ideas, (b) recruit Area Co-ordinators, (c) recruit Affiliates, and (d) organise a National Conference in Autumn 2014 where the actions during the year can be reviewed and (e) bring to Conference a realistic Business Plan for IN for the next five years.
20 November 2013
Revised 6 December 2013 & 6 January 2014