On 23rd January the Independent Network held a workshop for Independent candidates and their agents in Birmingham. This was a standing room only event – absolutely packed to the doors throughout the day.
Richard Taylor (Independent MP Wyre Forest) and Martin Bell (ex Independent MP Tatton – the man in the white suit) both spoke at length of their own experiences of campaigning and of being an Independent MP. Plenty of laughter was interspersed with some serious points.
The key message was that Independents have an important and growing role in parliament and are growing in number too. There are now six Independents in Westminster:
• Richard Taylor
• Clare Short
• Dai Davies
• Robert Wareing
• Bob Spink
• Andrew Pelling
Broadly speaking they share similar voting habits, they are very active in representing their constituents, they take active roles in the house – including committees and are on good terms with colleagues. There is no suggestion of isolation, inactivity or lack of ambition. They have a role, they contribute and are valued.
The message was that even safe seats are vulnerable and that the electorate should know that it is politics that is broken, rather than society. Honest politics and genuine change are only available from Independents. The political class is the problem and therefore the target.
Sound bites bother me – a lot. Politics is too complicated, difficult and imprecise to be meaningfully handled with pithy phrases. The dumbing down of politics points to the true source of our problems – namely, politics itself and the way that the political elites strive to manipulate popular sentiment to their own advantage. The following paragraphs are heavily influenced by Colin Crouch and his book called Post-Democracy – a short but useful book that I can recommend.
Our adversarial system of politics is an unwholesome spectacle, even when functioning normally. It needs to be replaced with a system that requires and rewards constructive collaboration from all elected members. The two and half party system that we currently endure has become a contest to seize and retain power, for as long as possible, by a process of manipulative populism. That is, the politicians say what their closely managed focus groups tell them you want to hear. Your true opinions are far less valued and no proper consideration is given to the issues.
In my lifetime, our form of democracy has come to stress freedom for lobbying activities (in practice, by businesses) and a form of polity that avoids interfering with a capitalist economy. It has little interest in widespread citizen involvement or for organisations outside business.
While elections exist and can change governments, under this model, public electoral debate is a tightly controlled spectacle, managed by rival teams of professionals. These professionals are expert in the techniques of persuasion, and in considering a small range of issues which they select. The mass of citizens plays a passive, even apathetic part, responding only to signals given to them. Politics is really shaped by private interactions between the political class and elites that overwhelmingly represent business interests.
This process has gone so far, that we now find ourselves in a Post-Democratic era – one could offer the counter sound bite ‘broken politics’ but I will resist the temptation. Contributing to the resuscitation of our Democracy will be a key role for an Independent MP.
Bob Ainsworth may have let the cat out of the bag regarding the election date but if he has then it is one of the best signposted cats that I have encountered for a very long time.
It’s May 6th – until someone says otherwise.
All volunteers are welcome to join the current band. Planning is now well advanced for a campaign but new ideas are always welcome.
Do let us know if you would like me to come over for a chat anywhere in the constituency.