There is often support for the notion that all local councillors should be ‘independent’ and free from association with the major national parties. It’s a cute idea, but it’s flawed.
There are some great independent councillors but also some very poor ones, exactly the same as those with blue, red or orange rosettes contain a mix of passionate, engaged and effective representatives sat on the same benches as the clueless and the careless. Aligning yourself to a particular party does not automatically make you better or worse.
For me, the party affiliations are broad statements about where you stand on personal freedoms and choice versus state control for the (hoped for) greater good, and about from who and by what mechanisms you collect the taxes needed to pay for public spending. That’s a one sentence summary of infinitely complex economic arguments, but it’s a start point for the “party vs independent” discussion.
In my time as an elected Councillor, I have had the opportunity to mix with colleagues from other authorities (not just unitary authorities like mine, but also districts and counties) from all over the country and across the spectrum of political control. What is abundantly clear from those discussions and friendships formed is that there is a real variety of behaviours and working practises across different councils. If the notion of “orders from on high” were true, that diversity simply wouldn’t exist.
Declaring a party allegiance is, as referred to above, a very broad statement – a start point for explaining what you stand for but by no means the detailed description. For some people, that broad start point is all they want to know, they vote for you (or insist they never will) but don’t want to engage in more detailed discussion. For other people, they get to know a bit more about you through public events or because you knock on their door, and that determines their voting preferences.
All of which is to say, if the local independent candidate impresses you then that’s great, they deserve your support. There are some great ones out there. However, voting ‘independent’ as a supposed point of principle is blinkered and no different to the automatic vote for any particular party that you think you are rebelling against. For as much as there are good independents, there are also bad ones – voter beware.
It is no secret that there is a party whip in Parliament and, with up to 650 votes up for grabs on any issue, there is a reason for that. However, my experience at a local level has been that this sort of whipping just doesn’t exist. It may do elsewhere, but not in Central Bedfordshire.
Have colleagues explained to me why they think a particular result on a vote is important? Of course, it would be perverse if they did not. Have they ever then followed that up with an instruction about how I cast my vote, or threats as to the consequences if I break rank? Absolutely not. See also Cllr’s Dodwell’s thoughts here – no one gives Amanda instructions, nor does she seek to dish out the orders to anyone else. I’m with Amanda in principle (but we each make our own decisions on specifics!).
Vote or don’t vote, it’s your choice (but seriously, why abstain unless you really don’t care what happens around you, and why have you read this far through a political blog post?). If you live in my ward, then I hope you can be persuaded to vote for me. Whatever your position, please remember that the badges we wear are just the start point, not the full story and, if you really think that a protest at local elections “sends a message to Westminster” then you are over-estimating how much significance Mrs May, Mr Corbyn or their advisors will attach to results before the spinning starts.
Your local election vote will determine your local council, and implicitly what happens in your home village or town, for the next four years irrespective of Brexit or Parliament; use your vote wisely.