Election 2024 bannerESPECIALLY in local and regional government across the UK, independent candidates (in reality, some more independent than others) were a strong feature of the landscape for many years. That trend has diminished as the capacity of party machineries, especially in the digital era, has grown. But in this 2024 General Election, we have seen the interesting re-emergence of some high profile and well-resourced independent candidates.

This article is being written on the days of poll, but I will include an update at the end for those reading it after the results have been declared.)

All eyes will definitely be on former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, now expelled from the party after the stasis around the accusations against him (which he fiercely rejects) made by Labour’s resurgent right-wing. Corbyn is standing as an independent in Islington North, which he has represented since 1983, and across which he enjoys a huge body of personal support and loyalty. However, he needs to take around half the Labour vote there to win. It is a tough ask with virtually no time to prepare, but if he emerges victorious, it will be a huge rallying point for an otherwise demoralised left.

Meanwhile, in Camden, London, veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle and former ANC MP Andrew Feinstein is standing against Labour leader Keir Starmer in Holborn and St Pancras. He is unlikely to win, but he is nevertheless a political lightning conductor for dissent from the authoritarian and rightward direction to which Starmer has conformed the party. Feinstein’s major issue has been Labour’s supine backing of Israel in its relentless and merciless assault on Gaza, which many now regard as open genocide. But he has also taken on the party over rent controls, homelessness in the capital, NHS privatisation, the two-child benefit cap, and many other issues.

Another independent candidate hoping to be winning tonight (though again, against great odds) is economist Dr Faiza Shaheen in Chingford (the former seat of rabid Thatcherite Norman Tebbitt), where she wants to defeat high profile Conservative candidate Iain Duncan Smith – whose cruel ministerial policies on welfare have angered and frightened sick and disabled people in equal measure.

Shaheen is incredibly able and equipped, both intellectually and in media terms, and has received high profile backing for her campaign. It is Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat votes that she needs in order to succeed. Her unexpected independent candidacy occurred when she was dropped without notice by the Labour Party, based on old and innocuous social media posts where (among other ‘crimes’) she had said positive things about Green ideas. She has also accused the party of overt racism and discrimination.

All three of these profiled independents signal deep dissatisfaction with the narrow and controlled nature of Labour politics since Starmer’s ascendancy, in which dozens of trade union and left-leaning candidates have been removed and members (including many Jewish, ones, and Holocaust survivors or their relatives) have been excluded over allegations of anti-semitism related to support for Palestine.

Equally, however, they are standing against a sclerotic two-party duopoly at Westminster, and a FPTP voting system which suppresses diversity and healthy debate across the political spectrum, and which thereby encourages ever more corporate control of politics by financial elites and special business interests.

Back in 2009, Ekklesia published an analysis paper entitled ‘The State of independents: alternative politics’, which highlighted many of these issues on the horizon some 15 years ago, advocating the necessity and desirability of developing a peaceful guerrilla-style response to broken and failing politics. We introduced that at the time in the following way:

Since 2002, Ekklesia has been arguing that a key element of political and democratic renewal in Britain hinges on the encouragement of independent, citizen-based and associational politics as a counter-weight to the hegemony of top-down party elites, and as a challenge to a parliamentary and voting system badly in need of reform. This paper examines these ideas in theory and in practice. It offers Q&A responses to the criticisms that have been made about non-party candidates and ‘alternative politics’ in the context of the scandal over MPs’ expenses and calls for change. The paper situates ‘the rise of independents’ in a wider context of ‘politics as the people’s work’.

This story is far from over, because the underlying crisis of democracy – against the backdrop of the live legacy of austerity, impending climate catastrophe, and inequality mortgaged on a massive over concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a very few – will not go away. This is so because neither of the two dominant parties (who will receive the lowest ever share of the vote this time, but still dominate) is willing to countenance political reform that threatens their disproportionate control of Westminster.

This is a very dangerous situation, especially when combined with the insidious rise of the populist far-right as public disaffection from politics grows. Labour has promised ‘stability’ in government. That essentially means maintaining a broken political and economic order with some ameliorative features. This is not the change which Britain and its nations and regions need.

Switching from Tweedle Dum to Tweedle Dee parties provides neither genuine nor sufficient difference to warrant the ‘change’ slogan. Which is why positive, progressive, internationalist politics from below is needed to challenge the system and its incumbents, with a message of real hope, renewal and possibility (and, yes, change) in a darkening world.

Quite a number of the independent candidates at this General Election are indeed opening up a vision of an alternative, often because they have been excluded or ignored by a polluted ‘mainstream’. Whatever the specific constituency results tonight and tomorrow, this is still something that deserves serious consideration by those who recognise that a fractured core cannot hold. It is the margins that offer hope – but also threat from authoritarian forces, if real change for the many rather than the few (and the planet) does not come.


UPDATE on Friday 5 July

Well, the results are in and as expected Keir Starmer’s Labour has won a sizeable majority. In terms of independents, there were indeed some notable shocks. Former leader and left standard-bearer Jeremy Corbyn’s win over Labour in Islington North (based on six weeks’ campaigning with no initial data) is extraordinary. In Holborn and St Pancras, Keir Starmer won decisively – but Andrew Feinstein finished second and halved his majority from 2019, showing the scale of dissent within and around the Labour Party over Gaza and other issues. Faiza Shaheen did not makes it in Chingford, but, impressively, took a huge chunk of the vote. Four independents beating Labour, including shadow cabinet minister Jonathan Ashworth, was a mini-earthquake on the new government’s flank.

An informal alliance of four new Green MPs (a massive achievement), nine SNP (a major defeat, but still a stubborn presence), four Plaid Cymru (up two) and six independents – a record number at a General Election – could cause some waves. As will the fact that Labour dropped 20% in areas with a significant Muslim population. It will be interesting to see what emerges from the interstices of a landslide which defies democracy by giving an overwhelming majority to a party with a minority of votes once again. The system remains fundamentally flawed.


(c) Simon Barrow is director of Ekklesia, and an author and commentator. He is working on a post-election book focussing on the politics of hope and the challenge to Labour with Gerry Hassan, Professor of Social Change at Glasgow Caledonian University.