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An Independent Councillor will serve you better

After a year we would all rather forget, we find ourselves amidst another election, this time for the positions on Essex County Council (while it still exists, but that's the subject of a future post). You can view a list of all of the candidates standing in this year's election on the Essex County Council website.

The Westminster Parties have all put up candidates...

Source: "A trio of nodding dogs", photo by David Patrick.

The "nodding dogs" as a friend of mine calls them. Grown men and women, who despite being elected to serve local residents, just do whatever they are told by their Party. You might think that it has always been this way, but it hasn't. Party Politics, is still a relatively new addition to our ancient and evolving democracy. I hope to convince you now that it is a corruption of our ancient institution that does not serve you well, particularly at a local level, and that actually you would be better served by an Independent.

Party Politics and the mirage of modern Democracy

The whole point of a "representative democracy", is that you elect and send representatives to Parliament or to one of our Councils, to represent your interests and serve you. They are YOUR representative after all, and they are supposed to listen to nobody else. Your MP cannot help and should not be influenced by a person in any other constituency but the one they were elected to. The same goes for your Councillors. You and the other local residents in that area, lend them your power on the condition that they represent your interests and make decisions on your behalf.

Yet somehow third Parties who don't even live in your area were allowed to set up nationwide organisations to effectively take ownership of and control your representatives, to get them saying and doing what they want instead of what you want. This is the secret coup of the 20th Century, by which your power was taken away from you and given to the elite groups controlling the political direction of the Westminster Parties and who write the Manifestos you have no realistic prospect of shaping.

Gradually these Parties came to dominate Westminster and they were able to use your power to enact "reforms" which rigged the system in their favour, constructing a mirage which resembles democracy, but where you have almost no power to enact change in a specific area. All you can do is vote Red, Blue or for another colour if there is someone standing for that Party in your area. The Party which secures a majority of seats at election, will then win any vote in the chamber by instructing it's members to vote with the Party, rendering democratic debate pointless and disabling democratic decision making. In this setup the individual talents and local expertise of the elected members are not exploited, and the majority of members are used instead as "voting monkeys" or "nodding dogs".

In Parliament, the Westminster Parties have been able to claim some democratic legitimacy for this practice known as "whipping" by outlining their plans in a Manifesto. But does a policy based on a few words in a few hundred page Manifesto really have the same democratic legitimacy as one developed as a result of all democratically elected MPs debating the subject throughly and ensuring the policy is informed by their constituents experiences? Of course not. It is a very poor substitute, which makes Parliament unrepresentative of the people in policy areas beyond the winning Party's front page manifesto commitments.

The state of local democracy

The situation is even worse in our Councils, where the practice of whipping may be even more pervasive. Yet unlike Westminster, where at least there was a manifesto to claim some sort of democratic legitimacy for it... how many of you have ever even seen a local manifesto? Almost nobody, as they are pretty obscure documents if they exist at all. So there is almost no democratic legitimacy for whipping at this level, yet it goes on regardless, whilst the democratic debate and decision making has been disabled as previously discussed. This leads to incredibly bad decision making in our Councils and makes them unresponsive to residents.

There is an anecdote I like to tell to illustrate this problem. It was something I witnessed at a Chelmsford City Council meeting, one of the first I went to, when I was sitting in the gallery alongside someone I'm pleased to say is now an Independent member of the City Council. The Conservatives were controlling the Council at this time, and the Liberal Democrats were in opposition. They were "debating" the budget which had been put forward by the Conservatives; and by "debating" I mean the leader of the Conservatives said something, the leader of the Lib Dems said something, and that was pretty much it. The Liberal Democrats had tabled a motion with an amendment, actually a list of amendments in one motion, some of which were fairly sensible I thought. They needn't have bothered though, as when it came to the vote only the Liberal Democrats put their hands up, along with one Conservative Councillor, who was promptly elbowed by his mate, and then put his hand down and had to apologise for "getting confused". When it came to the vote for the Conservatives budget, a room full of bruised Conservative Councillors all put their hands up.

Its a funny story, but it highlights the pitiful state of local democracy. This is the path that Party Politics has led us down and I think you deserve better.

Independents put your interests first

Sometimes the best progress is made, not by marching onward down the wrong path, but by retracing your steps to get back on the right one. The right path in democracy, is inarguably for your representatives to represent you, not a Party. To do this we need to get back to electing PEOPLE not PARTIES! Whatever they say on their leaflets, Party Councillors will (with rare exceptions) do what their Party tells them. Just look at how they vote in Council meetings, for the local plan and so on. Independents on the other hand have no other boss but you! Only an Independent Councillor has the freedom needed to always put your interests first, remember that.

Imagine your Council controlled by Independents, how much more responsive would it be to the wishes of residents? They imagined it in Uttlesford and it happened. They imagined it in Maldon and it happened. At a local level it is still possible!

But Independents don't even need to control the Council to make things better. Every additional Independent on the Council improves the quality of local democracy, because unlike the other Party Councillors, you know their vote is representing the wishes of local residents. A small group of Independents will grow. If the split between parties is close, a relatively small group of Independents can become the democratic element in the Council which pushes decisions one way or the other, according to the wishes of residents. When the group is large enough it will force the Council to debate policies, which considerably improves the quality of local democracy and makes the Council better represent the wishes of residents instead of the wishes of some Political Party's head office.

Essex Independence

My vision, and our Party's vision, is to see every Council in Essex controlled by Independents, to MAKE THEM LISTEN to residents. We set this Party up last year to help overcome the odds which have been stacked against Independents. Including by offering them a "brand" which will gradually become recognisable across this County, to stand them on the same footing as a candidate for one of the main Parties. Including by offering them support with everything a candidate needs, including funding once we attract enough donors. We want to provide all the support of a Party, whilst preserving and protecting the independence of an Independent proper. This is written into our Constitution, with covenants which protect the independence of elected representatives who are members of our Party, and by allowing us to offer support to full Independents who are not members. You can read more about all this and find out how to get involved on our website.

Essex County Council Election 2021

It's early days for our Party, but time waits for no man, and the election is upon us. We are not ready to stand our own candidates at this election, but we can still encourage you to vote for Independents. You can view a list of all of the candidates standing in this year's election on the Essex County Council website. By my count there are 46 Independent candidates at this election, competing for Essex's 75 Council seats. Not bad.

There are Independent candidates standing in the following divisions:

Abbey, Basildon Westley Heights, Braintree Town, Brentwood Hutton, Brightlingsea, Buckhurst Hill and Loughton South, Canvey Island East, Canvey Island West, Clacton East, Clacton North, Clacton West, Dunmow, Frinton and Walton, Great Baddow, Hadleigh, Halstead, Harlow West, Heybridge and Tollesbury, Laindon Park and Fryerns, Loughton Central, Maldon, Ongar and Rural, Rochford North, Rochford West, Saffron Walden, South Benfleet, South Woodham Ferrers, Southminster, Springfield, Stansted, Stock, Tendring Rural East, Thaxted, Three Fields with Great Notley, Thundersley, Wickford Crouch, Witham Northern.

These are brilliant people standing up for their local community. It is so much harder standing as an Independent than as a Party candidate, as you have to do everything yourself, and build your own support from scratch rather than rely on a Party vote. The fact that they are able to do all of this alone, is testament to the passion that drives them, and that will benefit your community if you put your faith in them. Independents are the underdogs and they deserve your support.

There are currently 7 Independents on Essex County Council. A good result at this election would be to double that number. Currently the Conservatives have a large majority, with over 50 Councillors out of 75. If after this election the Conservatives have 35 seats, other Parties have 25 seats, and Independents 15 seats, for instance, then the Council will be forced to debate policies and local democracy will improve considerably.

With plans for the restructuring of Councils across Essex expected to be developed during this next Council term, the presence of Independents on the Council will be vital to ensure that the new structure puts the interests of Essex residents ahead of the interests of The Conservative Party. Keep your eyes peeled for a future article about this.

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