New poll shows public thinks independent candidates can help reinvigorate democracy

New poll shows public thinks independent candidates can help reinvigorate democracy

LONDON, Saturday 23 May 2009

* 78 per cent say independents should stand where MPs have behaved ‘unethically’.
* 63 per cent believe British democracy would be strengthened if there were more independent MPs.
* 53 per cent say they would ‘seriously consider’ voting for an independent candidate at the next general election.

A new opinion survey shows that the public thinks independent candidates have a key role to play in answering what is being called the ‘South Croydon Question’ – how to bring accountability to MPs in constituencies which are normally considered ‘safe’ seats.

It follows analysis suggesting a significant correlation between MPs in safe seats and the scale of the expenses claims they make (1) - typified by the Croydon South constituency. (2)

The survey commissioned by the thinktank Ekklesia, and conducted by ComRes, suggests that 78 per cent of the public believe independents should stand where MPs have behaved ‘unethically’.

63 per cent of all people said that they thought democracy would be enriched if more independent MPs were elected to Parliament.

The findings suggest that people can be re-engaged politically by local alternatives to ‘machine politics’, following disillusionment over MPs expenses, if independents stood in constituencies like Croydon South at the next general election.

Previously, those outside the main party blocs have struggled under the first-past-the-post system, particularly in safe seats but 53 per cent said they would now ‘seriously consider’ voting for an independent candidate. The turnout for all candidates at the last general election was 61 per cent.

The survey indicates that people would support independent candidates standing not just where MPs had been considered to have broken the rules, but where MPs had been judged to have behaved unethically.

Commenting on the results, Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the thinktank Ekklesia, which commissioned the survey said: “There has been a lot of focus on ‘celebrity independents’ which has distracted from a deeper and more important issue typified by the situation in Croydon South.

“Across the country there are MPs in safe seats who will neither be deselected by their parties, nor face any signficant challenge by candidates from other parties, despite behaviour that their constituents consider unacceptable. But our poll indicates that there is a willingness among voters to meet the ‘South Croydon Question’ head on and back local independent candidates if they come forward from their communities to stand.

“We see the growth in independents as part of a wider process to break open the political system, challenge the monopoly of the big parties, encourage grassroots paraticipation, and move towards PR and other major reforms in the system.”

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Notes to Editors

(1) Charles Aurther’s analysis here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2009/may/20/mps-expenses-visua... suggests that there is a strong correlation between the expenses MPs claim and the ‘safety’ of their seats.

(2) Richard Ottaway is Member of Parliament for Croydon South. After losing his seat in Nottingham North he was elected to the ‘safe’ seat of Croydon South. He has claimed £138,000 over the last seven years under the Additional Costs Allowance which MPs use for second homes. His constituency is 12 miles from Westminster. His second home is 9 miles outside his constituency. Local people are outraged, but he has broken no Parliamentary rules, and would normally face no prospect of serious challenge.

(3) ComRes telephoned a nationally representative sample of 1010 GB adults between 20th and 21st May 2009. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full tables at www.comres.co.uk

(4) The full results are available on request from: office@ekklesia.co.uk

(5) Ekklesia’s work during the last few years has looked at how a less tribal and partisan system could encourage greater democratic participation, and in particular the role of independent Members of Parliament, including the 200 ‘independent’ cross-benchers in the House of Lords. This work is contained in two books: The Subversive Manifesto (BRF, 2005) and Faith and Politics After Christendom (Paternoster, 2006) both by Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley.

(6) Ekklesia will shortly publish a discussion paper on ‘Transforming Politics’, which looks at the wider changes needed to re-engage democracy.

(7) You can contact Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley, on 07771 598097 or office@ekklesia.co.uk

(8) The Jury Team is one initiative encouraging independent candidates to stand. Dylan Sharpe, Jury Team Press Office can be contacted on: 020 7183 80 20, press@juryteam.org