Pros and Cons of Independents

At East Herts People our aim is to strengthen the fabric of local democracy through getting people involved with local politics. We believe that one of the best ways of doing this is to stir up debate around key local issues. Since we aim to promote Independent Councillors at the local level, we feel it is essential that a level of interest and debate exists around the issue of why we should elect people who do not represent the national parties. Independents currently make up 5.9% of all councillors in the UK, and are a part of the political landscape that can't be ignored.

Of course we cannot claim to be wholly impartial when it comes to discussing the pros and cons of Independents, but we would at least like to get the ball rolling by forwarding some common arguments for and against.

For

"Since Independent candidates don't have ties to a traditional party group, they are more flexible in the way that they are able to act for the benefit of their local constituency."

Put simply, we can't always expect the policies and interests of national party groups to be the same as those of the local community. It may be the case that councillors feel they can't make a decision that they think is right because it would mean going against the majority in their party. Independents have more room to act pragmatically, taking the issues as and when they come, and responding to each with the freedom to act upon personal conviction. Of course, this doesn't mean that they'll always act in the interests of the community by default, but it does mean they can't have their hands tied by a disapproving party group. 

Against

"You only find out about an Independent's real beliefs after they are elected, since they purposefully distance themselves from any core principle or ideology."

It is true that Independents often have to play down or ignore ideology during election campaigns; after all, this goes hand in hand with distancing yourself from the national parties. But it is not to say that Independents are somehow 'above' or 'free from' politics, not least because it would be impossible for an individual to decry any sense of principle and values. Politically, Independents can be whatever they choose to be; the important thing is that they don't need to follow the party majority or policies passed down from Westminster. You could argue that a good councillor is one who is tuned-in to local needs and concerns, regardless of what their personal political stripes may be.

For

"Independents can give people a credible alternative to the traditional parties.  A wider choice will help fight voter apathy."

Having Independents run for council is a good way of giving people wider choice when it comes to casting their vote. This can be especially useful where people feel they are disengaged from the political process, and that local government has become stagnant. At East Herts District Council, 42 out of 50 councillors belong to the same party, which arguably limits the actual scope for representation. For people who feel that national politics has little to do with their local community, Independents may provide a genuinely 'local' alternative that stands for relevant local issues. Of course, nobody is pretending that Independents are the solution to low turnout and apathy, but they can provide a viable alternative where people feel the parties have become out of touch.

Against

"Independent politicians are all about personal ego."

Since Independents don't have a party brand or image to associate with, it is likely that they will have to rely solely on individual persona to provide the 'face' to their campaign. One of the benefits of running as a party councillor is that you are likely to be associated with your colleagues, some of whom may have a loyal support base within the community already. Independents do not have the luxury of such associations, and will have to build up support by promoting themselves - which in itself could be interpreted as egocentric. On the other hand, you could argue that this simply reflects the recent trend in modern British politics whereby the individual is of utmost importance - cue 'the age of the political personality'. Just ask Messrs. Blair and Cameron about that!

For

"Independents are a great way of getting people who are more interested in single-issue politics out to vote."

There is no denying the modern trend that has seen individual membership of the national parties shrink in favour of cause-based pressure groups. In a sense, Independent councillors reflect this trend as they typically run on a limited election manifesto, containing only a selection of local issues. It is therefore possible to argue that Independents can help encourage people interested in single-issue politics to get involved in elections. Alternately, it may just be the case that Independent politicians prove to be an unappealing substitute to pressure groups, but they are at least providing a viable alternative to the traditional party hierarchy.

Against

"Independents claim that they will act in the interests of the local community, but is this not just promising everything to everyone?"

Nobody can realistically expect to please everyone when running for council, especially when our communities are so diverse and varied. However, the danger for Independents is in spreading themselves too thin, making too little impact on everyone all at once. An Independent candidate needs to be very selective about which issues they focus on, and this in itself means that some people will disagree with their aims. Nonetheless, the influence of Independents in the political system is expanding, with 1,143 currently in UK local government. As more Independent councillors get elected, the more they will be able act together to resolve local issues.

Do you think Independent Councillors would be a good thing for local government in East Herts? Send your views to info@ehpeople.org

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