UK Politics

No room at the inn for an independent thinker

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Is independent another word for invisible? One might assume so, standing as an Independent candidate in the General Election.

In an email near election day, the ‘journalist’ from the local paper admits that even though I would raise the calibre of debate, there was no room for me at their event. This, apparently, was because they would then have to invite other Independents and smaller parties, so it was only for the ‘main’ parties. 

I duly inform him it wasn’t his job to limit choice, that he lacked journalistic integrity, and a dedication to freedom of speech. 

A disappointing end to a campaign for a lacklustre election no one wanted, but as an Independent I must be optimistic to have bothered standing at all, and I remain optimistic about the future of politics.

Standing as an Independent candidate gives you a unique view of just how skewed politics has become. Witnessing the death throes of the two party FPTP system is like those horror movies where the baddie grabs onto the leg of the hero before finally expiring in a melodramatic death. Yet, there is often a happy ever after.

At other hustings, I was commended for providing a thoughtful, non-partisan voice of reason, amidst candidates reciting stale stump speeches. With party scripts to adhere to while they performed the same apology routines on behalf of their party leaders, the lack of individualism was tedious. Sometimes the debate would descend into party bashing. In actual fact, if it wasn’t for the occasional good questions and comments from the audiences, it could have been disheartening. 

Interestingly, Conservative voters or activists wished me luck, albeit condescendingly, but Labour activists, the party that sells itself on being for the people, were by far the nastiest. Their obsession was with asking why I was trying to ‘wreck the Labour vote’. Unfortunately, I hadn’t received the memo about democracy being abolished for a one-party state. 

With nothing but respect for my fellow candidates, I realise change must come in society. A mind shift, if you will.

Britain is crying out for a progressive centrist politics promoting the use of happiness economics, and no script is needed when telling the truth. In my one TV interview, the presenter seemed surprised I wasn’t an eccentric paper candidate, fame seeker, or far-right millionaire. ‘You are too principled to be in politics’ he said.  

I didn’t take it as the compliment it was intended because it says more about the toxic system that I want so much to re imagine. 

The Red and Blue candidates were often off their game because, while decent people, they were just picking up on the public disinterest and distrust in them. But don’t we need more than just decent mediocre people who toe the party line? Don’t we deserve intelligent people over who has the most data or who ships in the most students to annoy people on their doorsteps?

We need politicians with vision, not just politicians who manipulate and divide the public. Are we really running elections this archaic way only weeks from 2020?

If I had a pound every time I said something which was taken up by another candidate, or asked why I didn’t join their parties, I could have afforded to leaflet every day.  This is the consensus that I campaign for, but the invisibility of independents stunts dialogue.

Yet who is to blame for the political apathy and disgust with our political system? 

Is it the media and pollsters colluding every few years or whenever the government wants to shore up power with another expensive election?  The same media who fan the flames of aggressive adversarial politics.

Or is it the party politicians who fashioned a system built only for parties? These are the very people against any kind of reform, PR or otherwise, because it would jeopardise their self-interests.

What about the public? Citizens who play no role in active politics other than scrolling social media of like-minded people perpetuating miserabilism.  The same citizens who make no effort to find out who their candidates are or even know how to vote. The number of spoiled ballot papers is saddening, as are emails I received post-election 2017 extolling my manifesto, but who had only heard of me when they were in the polling booth.

It’s probably all three, but the buck has to stop somewhere. 

We as a society have to decide if it’s dirty theatrics we want from politics, or the duller approach which actually gets things done, and delivers infrastructure that works. Change is coming. We want it, we need it, we just have to embrace it.

Having worked in Parliament, the media, and the public sector, I am privileged to know life and politics in all its forms. A rarity itself in politics.  Yet for all the rhetoric on getting more women, younger people and a cross section of people into Parliament, they still have to be party apparatchiks. 

Diversity of opinion is needed. A roomful of Conservative women or BAME Labour is still unrepresentative. Politics today is about causes and issues, not parties. There are voices advocating a new way of doing things and people are hungry for a better option.

The Australians term of endearment for Brits as ‘whingeing poms’ may still ring true. If Britain had a system and country that was well run and respect worthy, it wouldn’t be nearly as much drama for the press to exaggerate or for the public to complain about. 

Whatever would the British talk about? After the state of the nation, there is only so much one can talk about the weather.

Charlotte Sabel is an Independent Parliamentary Candidate for Hove. 

Backbench is a non-partisan site. As a result, we do not endorse any specific political party, political position, or political candidate.

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