Why stand as an independent?

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I intend to stand in the 2015 general election. I may stand as an independent, or I may form my own party to stand under. But either way, I will effectively be standing as an independent.

Independents rarely get elected and you may think that standing is a waste of my time, and indeed money, since there is a £500 deposit, which I will only see again if I get 5% of the vote.

However, while I may be a somewhat outside bet, I am not solely standing to get elected, although obviously that is the ultimate goal. I want to encourage more people to stand as independents, and we need a culture shift to achieve this. This will only happen if people go out there and stand, and don’t wait for others to do it. This could even mean you. There was no independent candidate standing in the Braintree constituency (where I live) in the 2010 general election.

At the moment we have a system that is dominated by the major parties, and it is very hard for anyone else to get a look in, even though people you speak to often seem to hate all the main parties. Essentially, the parties are arbitrary brands that just happened to be the organisations that got there first, and now have too much power and influence to oust. They are no different from shop chains in that respect.

We need a system that encourages independents to stand and that gives parties – as entities above and beyond the elected members of the parties – less influence. But with hardly any independents in Parliament, what are the chances of this ever happening?

If more people start to stand as independent candidates, and more people start to vote for who they really want to be elected, rather than whichever of the two or three candidates they think might have a chance of getting in, then it would at least be a start, and politicians might start to take notice.

But is this not just encouraging people to waste their votes? No. By voting for who you really want to get in rather than your preferred option of the two most realistic candidates, you help increase their profile for future elections. They may not get in this time but you increase their future chances. By only ever voting for one of two candidates (or possibly three in some areas if you’re really lucky), the main parties will always remain entrenched, regardless of what anyone actually thinks of them. By refusing to vote tactically, you would be voting for the future, not just the present. Admittedly, achieving success on this level would be very difficult with the voting system we have. But I would argue that we shouldn’t be defeated by any of this, and that if you are, you could equally argue that you might as well not bother to vote at all. I’m not arguing that you shouldn’t vote, but this is the road you could end up going down if you say that your vote will have no influence, regardless of how likely the candidate you vote for is to get elected.

Isn’t standing as an independent self-defeating? If I manage to achieve any level of success, it will take votes away from the party or parties that have policies most similar to mine, and therefore increase the chances of someone I disagree with most getting in.

This is clearly a problem. But primarily, as with wasted votes, it is a problem with our voting system. A voting system that actively encourages people to simply vote for their favourite of the top two candidates in the polls, ignoring their real favourite, is clearly a flawed system. In 2011, we had the opportunity to oust the First Past the Post (FPTP) system in favour of the Alternative Vote (AV) system. Unfortunately FPTP won the referendum and remains as the system that we use. I intend to post at length in the future about voting systems, but I will briefly discuss it here too.

The AV system would have meant that if your favourite candidate was an outsider, you could still rank them first on your ballot paper and not waste your vote. If they are eliminated early, then your vote is transferred to your next preference, so you can still participate effectively in the election.

There have been suggestions that UKIP candidates could form a pact with Conservative candidates in some constituencies, where they would agree not to stand against them, as the two parties have similar policies in some areas, and our voting system works against similar candidates.

AV solves this particular problem. If several voters rank the same two candidates first and second but are split between which they put first and second, then when one of these candidates is eliminated in a round of voting, all these voters would now be voting together for the same candidate in the next round. Not that it would bother me too much if UKIP managed to cause the Conservatives to lose an election.

The AV system is not perfect, however, and there are other systems that I think are better. But we had a straight choice between AV and FPTP and, to me, AV is far superior. A couple of good videos on the subject are this and this.

We may have lost the AV referendum, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up on voting reform altogether. Currently, we have a system that seems to pull in different directions, where people simultaneously vote for an individual and also for a party. Are you supposed to vote for the candidate who you think is the best in your constituency, or the one that represents the party machine that you prefer at a national level? There’s no clear answer to this, and people are left to their own devices to make their way through a confusing and bizarre system.

I don’t think we should be electing brands into Parliament, but should be electing individuals. Obviously many candidates are going to have similar policy ideas, and that’s where the idea of parties comes from. However, while I have no objection to the formation of parties for people with similar ideas to come together, I think that party brands have far too much influence, and in a future blog post I will argue the case for parties having no official status within Parliament.

But for now, the bottom line is that for me democracy means democratically elected individuals, not brands, and that independent candidates should stand a chance under any reasonable system. We need to start somewhere, and from my standpoint, I intend to start by standing in the 2015 UK general election.

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