The ‘Not A Political Party’ Party?

April 1, 2010

A comment from Mike on my previous post “Altogether rather grubby” discussed the idea of forming a party for independents that offers some form of cohesion and organisation, without needing the members to sign up to set policies and actions.

I’ll let Mike explain his idea.

On the need for a ‘party’:

“On becoming an MP one joins a club. It’s not the Labour club, or the Tory club, but the WESTMINSTER club, and the pressures (and attractions!) on new members to play by the rules and follow the code of (mis)conduct must be enormous. And those same rules and that same code will still be there after the election. Twelve independents are not going to change that, like-minded or not, especially if they remain independent of one another. Much as I might wish her to be elected and hope she could be right, I can’t really share [Esther] Rantzen’s optimism.”

On the structure:

“But ‘party’ can also simply mean “a group of persons working together”. If that group was not necessarily united in opinion about state and its affairs, it would be an ‘apolitical’ party. It would be politically neutral. So what would hold it together? Well, clearly not the cement of political creed or party dogma. But it would have to share some aims, objectives or beliefs.

As a party, it would have no party policies, no party line, no alliance with any other party, and definitely no party whips. It would provide an umbrella for those people who share a common approach and set of behaviours towards public service and political issues, but leave them free to follow their constituents’ and their own beliefs and ideals.”

I’d be really interested to see what you all think – would an ‘alliance’ of independent MPs be a good idea, or even workable?

But I’ll offer my view it as well.

Quite simply, I think this is EXACTLY what is needed. My original view when I set up this blog was to eventually form an alliance or a network or some form of organised group to support independent candidates and ultimately MPs. I intentionally avoided the word party and I still think that this is wrong choice of word – however I agree with the sentiment.

Campaigning for and winning a seat in Parliament can be a very expensive and labour intensive. That is why most people with any ambition to be an MP join a political party as it is the parties that can provide the finances and organisation needed.

However, to be selected to stand for election you need to be a ‘good’ party member, so you become part of the party machine and most of the independent spirit is knocked out of you – or they choose people for whom it wasn’t there in the first place. So we get more people elected that are just part of the same club – no matter which party they represent.

My view is that in a democracy that is based on local constituencies, then we should choose an MP that represents that local constituency – not one that represents the party that funded their election campaign. In fact, we speak with disdain of politicians [especially US politicians] that once elected provide pay-back to the people that funded their campaign. In our party system many MPs do exactly that – at the expense of their local constituents.

So I think we need to create a system, group, collection, faction, troupe [Ed – okay, put the thesaurus down now] – whatever we want to call it that can help candidates get elected, but leave them free to work for their local constituency.

The Independent Network seems to want to offer some of that, but probably for reasons of resources (time and money) sets its ambitions too low.

But I do agree that we should create ‘The ‘Not A Political Party’ Party’. Obviously it won’t happen in time for this election, but it is something I believe strongly in – so watch this space!


And the winner of the Chancellors debate is …

March 30, 2010

… George Osborne.

I know that that view will jar with most people on Twitter and those that voted in the polls last night – the Channel Four poll that closed at 9pm exactly, just as the debate finished, had Cable on 36% and Darling and Osborne on 32% each. While the Guardian poll (that closes at midday on Tuesday), currently has Cable leading with 47.8%, Darling second on 27.2% and Osborne third on 25%.

Now, I’m not going to give you a detailed breakdown on the debate itself – you can read a great BBC summary here, or visit the Channel Four microsite, or even read Rory Cellan-Jones’s summary of how it played on social media – but I will give you a quick summary of my perceptions of it.

Firstly, I enjoyed it. I liked the seriousness of the debate and thought that the format worked well. And arguably it was Channel Four and the presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy who won overall.

I’m not sure it told us a lot though.

Vince Cable came across as honest, dependable and very much a safe pair of hands through the current crisis. Part of the reason he can do so is that he is arguably the least likely to get the job after the election (despite the valiant efforts of the invincecable team); but also partly because he genuinely seems to get it.

Alistair Darling came across as relatively confident if a little dull. He didn’t say much in terms of actually policies, but then he was never really likely to – if he didn’t say much during his election speech then he wasn’t going to say much here. I think that his reputation is likely to come away relatively unscathed from all of this – not just the debate, but the whole recession and likely election defeat for Labour (he can blame Gordon Brown for both). He seemed to have the air of someone who is confident he will fight another day.

George Osborne was expected by most observers to fare the worst – he was considered by most to be the most economic lightweight of the three. And on that score – he won. He came across a bit smary at times – especially when it looked like he was trying to chat up a student that asked a question; and he seemed to dumb it down at times. But he also spoke to the audience. A couple of times when Darling was trying to beat him up on a point Osborne explained to the audience what the row was about – of course with a bit of extra spin.

Tweetminster recorded that sentiment for George Osborne dropped the least after the debate – a victory of sorts. (All three lost points – Osborne lost 1 point, Darling and Cable 3 points each).

I think a debate like this doesn’t make people actively decide to vote one way or another, but it helps them to justify that decision. In that sense, all three did well, but Osborne came out on top as he was the weakest link for his party before the debate.

Having said all that, this great post from The Media Blog sums it up nicely, especially the tweet from @DominicFarrell – “Those who will decide the #election were watching Coronation Street”

This debate was only a very small skirmish in the bigger war.


Ask the Chancellors – tonight

March 29, 2010

Tonight is Channel Four’s live debate with the leading contenders to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer after the election.

In the red corner we have Alistair Darling; in the blue corner we have George Osborne; and in the yellow corner is Vince Cable.

Should be interesting TV and possibly more exciting than the leaders’s debates, not least because the economy is arguably going to be the single most important issue of the election.

It will also be interesting to watch the debate through the back channels (ie Twitter, Facebook, the Channel Four blog etc) as people comment on their reactions to the live debate using social media. Not least of course, the team from InVinceCable will be doing their bit I’m sure.

Should be fun.


Will mums decide the election?

March 17, 2010

It would seem that the leaders of the major parties have decided that the core demographic for the next election will be mums. Or at least that’s what it looks like given that they are all so keen to be cosying up to mumsnet.

But is it as easy as all that?

Not according to a great post by Becky McMichael. It starts simply – “Dear politicians…..we, the “ordinary” mums are not a frontier to be conquered.”

Read it all here.


Are older MPs the answer?

March 9, 2010

I suppose in many ways it depends what the question is.

On Monday’s Jeremy Vine – the Radio 2 presenter asked whether MPs aged over 55 would be a good thing.

You can listen to the show (until March 15th) here – Jeremy_Vine_08_03_2010

My view is that, like with so many things, age itself doesn’t matter. However, age would appear to bring certain benefits that the electorate seems to be looking for – mainly more experience and less self-centredness.

We want politicians that will put us, their constituents, first. We should go before their party politics and definitely before themselves. We also want politicians that have had some life experience. Maybe they know what it is like to bring up a family when times are tough, or possibly they know what it is like to run a big organisation with many employees and market pressures. Both are important when it comes to helping to run the country. And both are more ‘real’ to us as voters than being the junior researcher for another MP before being selected to stand yourself for a constituency you’d never heard of before.

The fact is that most, but not all, of the independent candidates I’ve met and spoken to are … let’s be fair and say ‘experienced in life’. But age is not important – what’s important is whether they’ll do a good job and an honest heart, an understanding of what the voters actually want and some experience that will be useful in Westminster are all more important than how old they are.


Will social media decide the election?

February 25, 2010

Social media is the buzz phrase du jour. As a phrase it covers a wide variety of online tools that are used for sharing and commenting on information and entering into online ‘conversations’ and ‘communities’. The best known of these include Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Posterous and of course blogging tools like WordPress (that this blog is written on).

However, what is particularly interesting with regards to the election is that it wasn’t a mainstream activity when we last voted our MPs in. Over the last few years it that has grown dramatically and is no longer talked about just by geeks. Nowadays many, if not most people, use one form of social media or another.

One of the great advantages of it, at least according to supporters, is that it democratises access to debates and movements – if you have an internet connection you can join in. You can become a respected and influential commentator based on the quality of your comment and not the position you hold – and even if you don’t start the debate you can easily join in (by posting comments, tagging, ReTweeting etc). It is mainly through social media that we now have many more ‘citizen journalists’.

For politicians it allows them to ‘knock on doors’ electronically and can be a powerful and exciting tool if used correctly. Not all of them get it yet, but many do.

However, it also provides everyone with the opportunity to hold our elected representatives to account. Many people have blogged about the expenses scandal and I’m sure many more will blog about their views of the main parties, of candidates, of policies and of the behaviour of people on the campaign trail.

So given the power of social media to hand more power to the people – will it decide the next election?

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This post was inspired by this news and this post.


Do we need a new voting system?

February 23, 2010

I recently received a comment from a reader that proposes a new voting system to help remove the conflict between voting for an individual or a party.

I thought it made some really interesting points, so I have copied it in full and posted it here. I’d be interested to hear what people’s views are on this.

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Can I recommend a system of voting which would deliver PR, has the simplicity of FPTP, maintains the single member constituency, would make it much easier for Independent Candidates to get elected and doesn’t require a huge change from the existing voting system?

Direct Party and Representative Voting

Despite the recent vote in the House of Commons and consequential public debate, the chances of a move to Proportional Representation for Westminster elections are remote. Those in favour of PR cannot build a coalition. The different forms of PR vary in their ability to deliver PR, and are often complex and difficult to understand.
PR also challenges the simplicity of the single member constituency.

An underlying problem with the existing system is that the voter is faced with the dilemma of voting for the party or for the candidate. This works very heavily against independent candidates. These voting issues should be separated as follows.

To meet the demand for political renewal, we need

1 One vote for a party to form the government.

2 One vote for the Constituency MP. This could be by the FPTP system.

And all on one ballot paper – that is the only change we need in the public voting system.

A further change would be needed in Parliament where one MP one vote is ditched, and a fractional voting system introduced. The elected Government’s strength in Parliament would be determined by the first vote. In parliament each MP would exercise a fractional vote. If a party got 40% support in the ‘Government’ vote but 50% of the MPs, each of their MPs would have a vote value 0.8 Independents would have a vote value of one. Non government bills (Free Votes) could be determined by one vote per MP.

Swipe card voting should make it foolproof and simple.

The Government would then have very precise proportional support, not in MPs but in votes. Why should it have more or less?

This system, Direct Party and Representative Voting (DPR), would have the key advantages of a PR system and single member constituencies.

• No longer would people be disenfranchised. Every vote would count.
• It would be easy to vote, and easy to count, and the outcomes would be quick and easy to understand.
• There need no longer be a conflict between voting for an individual or a party. You could vote for your party but not necessarily for the particular local representative.
• Yes, it would be difficult for new parties to get started – but arguably less so than at present
• It would make it easier for exceptional individuals or independents to get elected.

This system would not satisfy the ‘Strong Government’ lobby – those who want the system to throw up a big majority for the ‘winning’ party regardless of their actual democratic support. But at least the battle lines and arguments would be simplified.

Not only would this system lead to more independent MPs, it would give all MPs a measure of independence since they will have been elected as individuals rather than just party representatives.

This system, DPR, would make it much easier for Independent Candidates to get elected, would deliver PR, has the simplicity of FPTP, maintains the single member constituency, and doesn’t require a huge change from the existing voting system.

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Very interesting. Do you agree?