Prior to last years Police and Crime Commissioner elections on the 15th November, there was very little evidence of a widespread appetite by electors for Independent candidates. The PCC election was a touchstone for me personally, having always been willing to vote for candidates from one of the established parties, usually but not exclusively Labour. The decision to provide a directly elected governance structure for our Police forces first came to light from the dying Labour Government. In opposition both the Conservatives and Lib Dems also explored ideas, and after the coalition came to power, the two parties resolved a compromise between their two blueprints. It was made clear by all three parties initially that they wanted the new PCCs to come from a non-party political background. In time there was a U turn by all parties and in the end candidates from the three major parties plus a number of smaller ones including Greens and UKIP participated. The decision to take part led to some resignations from both the Conservatives and Lib Dems to my knowledge. In some cases this principled decision led to the loss of serving Councillors who were playing an important role for these parties.
The final result a year ago led to a substantial number of Independent PCCs being elected, and apart from the Labour and Conservative PCCs, the other parties all failed to secure a single win. It is impossible to read across from this election to other contests, but what is certain is that the Independent candidates won 29% of the positions, Labour won 32% and the Conservatives won 39%. Imagine if the broadcasters had paid some attention to this when allocating seats on Question Time or Any Questions over the last year. There would have been much less Nigel Farage and a bit more profile to people such as Martin Surl who have proven themselves able to overturn the significant advantages that all of the political parties possessed in these elections. The same story would be true if the allocation of seats at local elections was to be reflected in the decisions by broadcasters. After UKIPs overwhelming success during last Mays election, Nigel Farage and his colleagues claimed that the political structures were changing. What they were less open about was that their mammoth electoral result with 127 seats across the nation, mostly in pockets of heightened activity, was still overshadowed by the number of Independent Councillors. Their 147 Councillors are spread much more evenly across the nation.
Of course if Independent Councillors and Police and Crime Commissioners are to be taken seriously, they need to be clearly distinguishable from their party based colleagues. One of the places where this is not happening is the ‘trade union’ of Councillors, the Local Government Association (LGA). As the photograph above shows, taken at the recent UKIP conference, the deputy leader of the Independent Group of the LGA is a chap called Peter Reeves, who is a UKIP Councillor. Peter like his colleagues at UKIP is a member of the Independent group of the LGA as are Green, SNP, BNP and Plaid Cymru Councillors. As someone who stood as an Independent candidate at the PCC elections, I know there is a fundamental difference between someone who is a member of a small party and someone who believes that our political system needs Councillors, MPs, PCCs and even MEPs who represent their electors without any organisational compromise. It is clear that the Political Parties provide a great deal of value and identity to their members. However this strength is matched by a counterbalance which is the need on occasions to dance to a tune set by the party members. This in effect means that 1% of the electorate (those who are members of political parties) have a disproportionate level of influence on the majority of our political structures. I believe this is not sustainable and that the PCC elections pointed towards an appetite for change. I understand that 12 Independent PCCs and 147 Independent Councillors do not make a Summer, but think it is time that organisations such as the LGA begin to clarify the difference between Independents and those who political parties are not yet as large as the so called major parties. One of the valuable functions of political parties is to ensure that the candidates in elections are reputable and have been accepted as suitable by an organisation that has the resources to carry out checks and balances. The Independent Network is able to do this on behalf of those who are not members of political parties. Perhaps our broadcasters could contact this network for future panel members of their political discussions?