Is the time right for independent candidates and small parties?
This election may well be the right time for independent candidates and the smaller parties such as UKIP, the greens and the BNP. Britain has traditionally had very few independent candidates elected as MPs and there has been no result for the small parties except for the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales. However things seem to be changing for the Liberal democrats so might they not change for the independents too by riding the same wave of protest against ‘traditional parties’. "If not now when?”
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Less party allegiance
Thirty years ago most votes were cast along party lines any you voted for the same party that your parents had voted for, and often their parents before them. Essentially this was the towns and countryside voting conservative vs the cities voting labour. This made election politics static and squeezed out any possibility of independent candidates making any progress in elections. This has now completely changed and there are many more people who would consider voting for other parties or even change their vote from an established pattern. There may now be as may undecided’s and people who are uncommitted in their vote than those who are loyal to all the main parties together. This means that these floating voters can be easily persuaded to follow a new idea and then change their preference again equally quickly; as has so far happened with Nick Clegg.[[David Hencke, Beware the volatile voter, guardian.co.uk, 9/10/07, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/oct/09/bewarethevolatilevoter%5D%5D
For independent candidates and the small parties this has a potentially major effect. Whereas they used to have no hope now if they can win over these floating voters then they can potentially win. This means that there does not need to be an individual issue that angers the electorate in order to be able to gain enough votes to win.
This point only argues the case that voting for independent candidates is more likely. Something which I doubt many will disagree with. However, whether or not the time is right for that now is debateable. We need a strong Government and voting for these independent candidates will not help the country form a majority Government. This will lead to a hung party or a coalition, both of which will cause the making of legislation a slower process. In our time, right now, we are in economic crisis and our foreign policy needs to be tidied up – we need action. Voting for independent MPs will only cause inaction and indecisive bickering. This is not the right time!
Public anger against all established parties
Due to the expenses scandal there has been even more disillusionment and even anger with the established political parties than usual. Martin Bell argues the sudden surge in support for the Lib Dems, is a symptom of a "sickness in the body politic" "If all was well with the two party system then we wouldn't be seeing these extraordinary events."[[Brian Wheeler, Martin Bell launches Independent Network campaign, BBC news, 21/4/10, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/election_2010/8634664.stm%5D%5D Nick Clegg’s party has bounced in the wake of the first election debate where Clegg managed to convince some that the Liberal Democrats represent much more change than either the Conservatives or Labour.
Essentially independents and the smaller parties are in a position to do similar to what Cameron is claiming but obviously not persuading us that he is the representation of: change. If the voters believe that the liberal democrats are outsiders and are giving them the benefit of the doubt by switching to them then the electorate should be even more willing to believe independents who really are from outside the establishment.
Once again, arguing that smaller parties and independent candidates are more likely to prosper but not saying much about whether this is right or not. Surely what can be said here is that people will end up voting not for the independent parties no because of any good policies they draft up but out of spite. Surely this is not how we should use our vote! Who knows what kind of maniacs will end up in Parliament? Perhaps the anger people feel for established parties will jade their view of who to vote for and will vote out of red mist instead of informed opinions. This is not right.
No longer single issue
Most independents who have been successful have won on the basis of a single issue that resonates in that particular constituency. There was Dr Richard Taylor, in Wyre Forest, who was elected as part of a campaign to save his local hospital, Dai Davies, in Blaenau Gwent, who was voted in as he had been labour and the constituency objected to having a list of possible candidates imposed on them by party HQ. And then there was Martin Bell who stood against Neil Hamilton who was infamous for sleaze at the end of the last Conservative government under John Major. At the same time the single issue parties have not managed to win any seats. That these candidates and parties are single issue are now changing. The smaller parties in particular are trying to demonstrate that a vote for them means more than voting on one issue. They are bringing their parties into the bigger debates. For example the Green’s manifesto emphasised the need for green growth and how leading the way in green industries could help bring us out of recession.[[ http://www.greenparty.org.uk/policies.html%5D%5D
I fail to see how the two Green Party objectives cited show that the Green Party is no longer only dealing with one single issue. They still are. Only now they are placing that single issue into the centre of everything else! A green economy is a stable economy. Green growth is good growth. What about when it comes to taxes? Even the greenest of people will see their cost of living rise as taxes are mounted onto petrol and other non-environmentally friendly products. What about when it comes to the NHS? Are we going to make all the wards activate often green principles despite the costs? It is for this reason that such parties should act as pressure groups, not political parties in their own right.
The system is stacked against them.
Because the system is first past the post if any independents or candidates for the small parties are to get in to parliament they need to get more than any of the established parties in their constituency. This means that they need to normally get at least about 25% of the vote in order to stand a chance. This is quite a high bar for getting in compared to the much lower bar of around 5% for small parties that there usually is in proportional representation systems. For small parties as with the Liberal Democrats they have always had a problem that their support is small and spread out, if it was concentrated together in a few constituencies then they would be able to gain seats. However with a couple of percentage points share of the electorate across the whole country they are never likely to win an individual seat.
With this view we will never see our democratic system change. This is the defeatist argument that things will never change and so you may as well vote for the status quo. If people actually voted for the independent candidates and smaller parties then they would get through. But people will only vote for them if they believe they have half a chance of winning, otherwise it seems as if the vote is wasted. But this is the circularity of the argument; if people do not vote for them first then other people will not follow. If people voted for them this election and they gained a decent percentage of the vote more people would be likely to vote for them next time round. Given that we are facing a hung Parliament, given that there is no clear majority, surely now is the right time to start supporting more independent parties and small parties.
No support network
Labour, the Liberal Democrats and especially the Conservatives spend large amounts of money on their campaigning especially in more marginal areas. They also have the benefit of national press attention. Independents do not have central office recruiting campaign interns and do not have permanent networks or youth wings that once an election comes around can pound the pavements and hand out leaflets. Independent need to do everything themselves: hire staff, create a support network, create their own publicising materials, get in the press etc. This is all much more difficult without an organised party machine.
Lack of recognition or too much?
Independents in particular can suffer from a lack of recognition, many people know what the different parties are and have some idea what they stand for but do not know who their MP is or who the opposition candidates are for their constituency.[[Joe Wade, Should everyone be allowed to vote?, 20/4/10, http://uk.news.yahoo.com/elections/dont-panic-post/post/dont_panic/14/should-everyone-be-allowed-to-vote/%5D%5D This makes it much more difficult for anyone to stand as an independent as the voters in their constituency are not likely to know who they are or find the time to look up their policies. This leaves the field open to people who already have name recognition through being a celebrity or being in the media. However such recognition may equally be a problem as everyone is entitled to ask ‘is this person likely to be a good MP for me’ and many such candidates that are based upon recognition from somewhere else are likely to face questions about their suitability.
Where the independents suffer from a lack of recognition the small parties suffer from being essentially a protest vote or being seen as being a single issue party. The Greens are seen as being only a protest against degrading the environment, they are pretty much the liberal left wing protest vote while the UKIP are seen as being only about Europe so do well in the EU elections but not elsewhere. The BNP is seen to be almost only about immigration and only appeals to the white working classes. None of these parties has been able to reach out and create a wider appeal that is needed to win seats.
What do you think?