Rallying call for 2011's independents

Independent Tom Bletsoe is the country's youngest councillor at just 18
Independent Tom Bletsoe is the country's youngest councillor at just 18

By Alex Stevenson

Independent candidates are hoping disillusionment with the coalition government and debate over electoral reform could boost their performance this May.

Over 300 candidates have already been endorsed for this year's local elections by the Independent Network (IN), a support organisation for individuals who want to enter politics outside the party political system.

With public frustrations at professional politicians still at a high level in the wake of the expenses scandal, IN director Brian Ahearne has predicted a strong showing this year.

"I think potentially that there may well be a consideration by many people that it didn't matter who they voted for, nothing would have changed because of the party political system," he said.

"People are not engaged with political parties and are not able to influence the policies of political parties until election time.

"We have wider access to exchange ideas, more educated than ever before, people are able to think for themselves."

Three recent council by-election wins by independent candidates - including 18-year-old Tom Bletsoe, the youngest councillor in the country - have boosted the hopes of independent campaigners.

Interview: Tom Bletsoe

A recruitment drive has been launched with job adverts placed on a number of prominent websites, while a new campaign manual has been produced for candidates standing for election on May 5th.

"It's hard but it's also a great experience for people to go out there and try," Mr Ahearne added. "They can raise their profile in their community and get involved."

Candidates wishing to be endorsed by the IN must sign up to the Bell Principles, inspired by former independent MP Martin Bell.

Applicants are requested to run for local government positions "to represent their communities and consciences [treating] political opponents with courtesy and respect whilst being free from the control of any political party, pressure group or whip".

Over 300,000 votes were cast for independent candidates in last year's general election, but there is now only one independent MP in the Commons.

"Politics is a long game and changing the political culture is going to take some time," Mr Ahearne said.

"There's a great deal of barriers at a national level which we need to overcome."

Among them is the £500 deposit charged in parliamentary elections, which is not required at local level.


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