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A national policy framework for independent candidates?

Whigs and Tories - political merry-go-round
By Gilray (image via Wikipedia)
Wednesday's meeting in Totnes, organised by South Devon Watch to discuss strategies for political change, was inspiring and challenging in equal part. The inspiration came from so many committed people, all seeking to bring authentic democracy to a system widely seen as unaccountable, if not corrupt. The challenge is to find a way of beating the current system without repeating its manifest failings.

The meeting focused on independent candidates, both at local and national level. Among the speakers was Claire Wright, the independent Devon county councillor who came a good second in East Devon at the general election last year. Also present was Martyn Greene of the Free Parliament campaign, which is putting up serious money to support independent candidates at the next national election.

There can be little doubt that the tribal, adversarial party system typifies much that is wrong with our current politics. If independent candidates are to challenge the party stitch-up, however, they need to work together and show unity of purpose. The distinction between an organised group of independents, working together, and a new party, may not be easily observable to a electorate conditioned to the party system.

What comes first in politics, people or policies? If parliament were filled with independent members all operating under the Bell principles, it is likely that the quality of discourse and deliberation would be far higher than at present, but would effective policy, leadership and decision-making necessarily emerge?

One approach would be to elect government and parliament separately, the former on the basis of its policies, the latter on an independent, non-party basis. The current framework, however, doesn't work like that: when people go to the polls they suppose that they are voting for the government they want. Government means a combination of policy solutions and the people with the leadership qualities to put those policies into effect.

In response to this, independent-minded political reformers could work together to draw up a national policy framework in they key areas of the economy, health, education, etc., which independent candidates could use as part of their campaigning message. Instead of supporting a party, they would be advocating for a coherent set of policies, the essence of which they would undertake to support in parliament.

In the trade-off between independence and coherence, it makes no sense for every stand-alone candidate to have to reinvent the national policy wheel. A shared set of policies could give national traction, provide a clear story for the media and ensure that the electorate have a better idea of what they are getting.