New wave of political 'independents' begins to emerge

By staff writers
August 18, 2009

As the main parties try to re-instate 'politics as usual' in the wake of the MPs' expenses scandal and growing dissatisfaction with the current system, a new wave of potential non-party candidates is emerging from the wings.

Former BBC news broadcaster and anti-sleaze MP, Martin Bell, and ex-Church of England envoy, Terry Waite, are among those reported to be considering fielding candidates at the next general election which is due in less than a year.

Mr Bell declared earlier this week that the idea would be to target MPs "named and shamed" in the Daily Telegraph over their expenses. But he emphasised that those he was talking to constituted a "below the radar" group and not a formal non-party network.

The Jury Team of independents stood in the recent European elections, with very limited success. Bell and Waite believe that a more focused, carefully planned and high profile effort is needed.

The think-tank Ekklesia has suggested that the growth of citizen-based, associational and non-party political initiatives is an important way of challenging the deficiencies of the current political and constitutional system.

Its detailed report on the prospects for change, published in June 2009, is entitled 'The State of Independents: Alternative Politics' -

Martin Bell was an independent Member of Parliament for Tatton for four years, after defeating the "cash for questions" Tory MP, Neil Hamilton, in 1997.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he was spurred into action by an article Mr Waite, a former Beirut hostage, had written in May calling for more independent MPs.

Writing for Ekklesia in June 2009, Terry Waite declared: "The question we, the British public need to ask and face is this: do we need political parties any more? By asking that question I am not suggesting that we do not. But if we face this question squarely, it will take us immediately to the root issue which concerns ideology. To define and shape a political ideology appropriate to a country such as ours, with its history of Parliamentary democracy and its changing status in the context of the world economy, is no mean task."

Bell says he has met two of the people who had contacted Waite after his interventions in the debate earlier this year, and felt "they would make really good MPs".

Of the discussion he is having among friends and allies he says: "It's very informal and it's below the radar, because as soon as you go above the radar you get your head blown off by political parties, but there are places, I think, where there are possibilities."

Mr Bell is advising campaigners in Salford, the constituency of the former communities secretary Hazel Blears, who quit the cabinet over claims she avoided paying £13,000 in capital gains tax.
The BBC reports Mr Bell as saying he would prefer them to find a local candidate to take on Ms Blears.

Bell has not ruled out standing somewhere at the next election, which must take place before June 2010.

"Questions about the current political and constitutional system and the need for alternative policies, perspectives and people will not go away," said Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.

"The opinion research we have conducted in association with ComRes and our detailed report on 'alternative politics' shows that the continuing wave of non-party figures interested in contesting elections (particularly in opposition to corruption within the present system) are part of a broader trend towards strengthening the civic base of political engagement."

He added: "Politics is not just about 'defending the party', narrow interests and the attempts on those with money and power to hold on to it. It is about much more than how we choose other people to manage our lives. The real question is, 'how can we use power in positive ways, develop a vision of justice and peace, empower ordinary people, value the planet and find ways of handling our differences which do not degenerate into violence, self-interest and despair?' We need people with practical aptitude who want to tackle those questions."

Also on Ekklesia:'Not tolerating politics as usual' -

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