An open response to Labour Home

I am standing as the Independent candidate in elections to choose the first Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex – check out my website for more information. The elections will take place on 15th November and all people who are usually eligible to vote in elections anywhere in Sussex, will be able to vote to elect me or one of the other (as yet unidentified) candidates. None of the political parties have declared a candidate but Paul Richards is the only known hopeful for the Labour party. Paul has written in the Labourlist blog on the Rise of the Independents, which I find very flattering as I was presumably one of his inspirations. 

He has three main arguments against the role of Independents, the first of which is specific to the elections on 15th November and the others which are more general in nature. He admits that  this puts him at odds with 85% of the public nationally (and 86% locally) who believe that Independent candidates are best for this role.

1) The range of candidates who the Government hoped would come forward after their strong invitation to Independents.

Rather oddly Paul asks where are the business leaders (check out Richard Hibbs in North Wales), charity workers (well that would be me Paul!), former Police Officers (try Mick Thwaites in Esssex) and people from other areas of public life (what about Simon Weston in South Wales). Of course these are merely 4 out of 41 areas, but as yet none of the major political parties have formally declared in any of the 41 areas so we four Independents are ahead of the game!

2) The value of political parties for ‘aggregating disparate views’ of the individuals involved.

This is a strange argument in the case of the Police and Crime Commissioners. They will be working alone irrespective of any party allegiance or not. The difference here between an Independent and a Party Politician is that the Independent will be looking only to the wider constituency for their electoral mandate, whereas the party politician will be looking first to the party which won it for them, and then to the electorate. In the case of Councilors in a Local Authority or MPs in the Commons, the role of the political parties offers much more relevance, as it is inevitable that people will gather with others of a similar point of view. It is much less likely that a caucus of Police Commissioners would ever be relevant or necessary, apart from opposing the direction of travel from Whitehall, and here party allegiances will cloud, not clear the judgment.

3) A lack of professionalism.

It is surprising that Paul has settled on the word amateur in his blog and used it in a pejorative sense in the year when the Olympics are being celebrated in the UK. Our ‘amateur’ sportspeople do not lack in professionalism. Paul suggests that few amateurs would be able to be leaders of a Council. Now I have the greatest of respect for the Council Leaders in Sussex and most of the 74 from the South East that I met during my 6 years in SEERA. However they pride themselves on the fact that they are in the sense of being connected to the people, amateurs rather than the professionals who grace our Parliament or who are the civil servants they employ. This is the same situation as magistrates in our Courts. The expectation is that our MPs are full-time salaried people and that our Councilors are still usually seen as part-time representatives who have other roles and who receive an allowance for their time. In any event as the Police and Crime Commissioners will be filling new roles it is hard to imagine how anyone could be professionally trained for the post in the way that surgeons, car mechanics or chefs are (these are the examples Paul uses in his blog).

4) Any other Business

Paul then finishes with a few comments, two of which bear a response:

‘Surely the act of seeking office, constructing a manifesto, canvassing for support, and going after votes in an election make anyone doing it a politician. The only difference is that we don’t know much about their values and views, whereas you can usually guess from a party candidate.’ This is at the root of why our party politics is so depressing. No one is suggesting Independents are not political, simply that we don’t follow a party line in exclusion to our best judgment and the words in our manifesto. The parties end up settling on decisions based on a national appeal or at best a regional appeal to their core vote. That means that local needs can be overlooked as the party tries to retain credibility on wider issues. A Labour or Conservative selected Police Commissioner would inevitably respond differently to the needs of the Metropolitan Police if Boris was Mayor compared to if Ken was the Mayor. The same would be the case in the context of national policing if the Home Secretary is Theresa May or Yvette Cooper. Rather than making assumptions about our values and views as Paul thinks is the case with political parties, the voters get the unexpurgated truth based on our personal credibility. I for one would prefer no one made assumptions about me!

‘Independents elected to councils as ‘rate payers’ or ‘residents’ association’ usually line up with one party or another. So we shouldn’t be too surprised, or too disappointed, if politicians are attracted to a political position.’ Political positions are of course arrived at by a matter of discourse and reflection. There is nothing uniquely Labour about valuing the welfare state, any more than anything uniquely Conservative about respecting the needs and rights of an individual. It is inevitable that Independents in a collective decision-making context will strike up common cause with party groupings from time to time. The alternative is that they would forever be arguing for a position that no one else supports and therefore never change anything. It is true that in some settings failed or rejected party members have seen ‘Independence’ as a way forward (and shame on these individuals!). Just as no party ‘owns’ the welfare state or individual responsibility, so too no candidate owns the word Independent. However The Independent Network is attempting to change that and perhaps in time those charlatans who are party political in everything other than name will be exposed!

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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4 Responses to An open response to Labour Home

  1. Linda Jack says:

    Interesting piece Ian! As you know, my main concern about independents is that most have to be pretty wealthy themselves to be able to stand. Even standing for a party with party support can cost an individual quite a lot. I think the idea of having more independents standing is not a bad thing – but the idea that we could “do” politics without a party structure is a non starter. I personally don’t think we have a wide enough range of parties, something that PR would encourage, but nevertheless, we have a wide enough range of values reflected in the parties we do have for people to be able to find a place they find reasonably comfortable. I don’t think anyone in a party will ever agree with every jot and tittle of policy, but that’s OK because they can just work from within to try and change it!

    Anyway, I wish you all the best with your campaign – have you got any Lib Dem support or are they going to put up their own candidate?

    • ianchisnall says:

      Hi Linda

      I am delighted to read the comment from you, in part because if anyone person ever set my mind off in the direction of political activism it is you. I understand what you mean about finances. The launch alone has cost for the printing of T Shirts, hire of venues etc and so even at this very superficial level is beyond the reach of many people. However if the campaign fails one of the reasons will be financial. I am grateful that I have support from individuals to help fund the deposit that is now well over the 20% mark. Still a long way to go but already past the level that would be needed if this was an MPs seat.

      I am not sure that I agree we need more parties per se, but certainly many more contexts where ideas and theories can be debated and agreed upon. We also need to reduce the height of the silo walls from the parties so that the whipping etc becomes an exception and not the rule. I am heartily fed up with hearing how dissent which is sometimes destructive but often could lead to creative solutions is crushed by the party, not to benefit society but to feed the power seekers.

      I am proud to say I have had support for my campaign from people from all parties, but the Lib Dems have been particularly generous. The Brighton & Hove party is definitely not putting up a candidate and I hope this will be the case across Sussex. I am also hoping that the Greens will not fight this election. That would leave a straight three way fight between me, the Conservative candidate and Paul Richards.

      Are you coming to visit Brighton for the Lib Dem Conference?

  2. Linda Jack says:

    I agree with you re crushing dissent! I am getting a lot of flak at the mo because we have started a new group, Liberal Left, which is challenging the direction of the party. Challenge is always important for any party, or any idea. It’s healthy.

    I am actually in Hassocks next weekend, staying with Chrissie, but yes I will also be down for conference.

    • ianchisnall says:

      I will be around next weekend and it would be lovely to see you. I will also be keen to take advantage of the Conference, particularly if people such as Susan Kramer are willing to repeat comments that she made on Question Time!

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