Some of you will have seen the letter in The Independent on Sunday alongside the associated headline article where Dr Clive Peedell and colleagues have said they’ll target Coalition MPs in the next general election. This is a short blogpost covering some of the issues.
Some of you may be familiar with the case of former MP Dr Richard Taylor who took the Wyre Forest seat from junior Labour minister David Lock in 2001 as an independent. Even more of you may be familiar with the high profile victory of Martin Bell over Neil Hamilton in 1997 - where Bell overturned the second largest Tory majority in the country to take the seat. In both cases, the Liberal Democrat candidate stood aside to let Taylor & Bell respectively have a free run. Labour also stood aside in 1997 too. (I imagine some within Labour ranks are regretting the fact that Bell said he’d only stand in Tatton for one term. In the 2001 election he stood elsewhere (and lost), leaving the seat open to one George Osborne.
What chance do Dr Peedell & co have?
There are a number of key factors that history tells us could be key. These include:
- The willingness of Labour (& other) candidates to stand aside &/or campaign for an independent
- The profile of the healthcare professional’s standing within the local community
- The ability of the above to withstand the inevitable political attacks (both above & below the belt) that will inevitably arise
- The strength of, & the profile of incumbent Coalition MPs
- The strength of feeling locally about the NHS – for example will it be stronger in areas with larger hospitals or a local hospital that is also valued by local people as an essential service
Martin Bell was a very rare example of a parachuted independent turning up late and ‘seizing’ the seat. (Actually, the electorate gave it to him via their votes). This is one of the criticisms thrown at the far left – who always seem to change their name in the run up to each election. Socialist Alliance, Respect Unity Coalition, Left List & the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition are just a few of the ‘brand names’ I can think of over the past decade, despite the same people being involved.
Standing as an independent gives you the flexibility of not having to account to a party machine. The disadvantage is that you don’t have the support of an established party machine to fall back on should things get complicated. By this I mean that the larger parties will have a group of people who will be ‘the policy experts’ for their given field, and will produce briefing for party members. As I said in MPs and political parties, MPs cannot be experts in everything. What they rely on is someone with similar values to them but with expertise in the field to have done the detailed thinking to produce the briefing concerned for other politicians to run with.
What approach will Dr Peedell and co take? Will they be a loose federation of independents with a small number of core themes or will they try to organise themselves on party lines? (A similar approach was tried with the Jury Team coalition in 2010, but to little effect). He tweeted a couple of items about the possible impact of social media, including this one.
That’s not quite the case. The Conservatives in the 2010 election were much stronger on using social media than Labour were. Labour only started to catch up when the trade unions started putting some significant resources behind a number of social media projects. What he probably meant was that supporters may find it far easier to organise as a result of social media tools being available. But if that applies to their supporters, it applies to their opponents too.
The 2010 election threw up many anomalies which left the all-nighters analysing things on election night coughing on their biscuits. I don’t know how much of it can be attributed to social media & the internet or to other local factors. What we do know is that far more people will be using social media in the 2015 election. But do candidates risk “over-egging” social media at the expense of face-to-face canvassing as George Owers and Andy Bower (Labour and Tory politicians local to me) stated this morning.
What are the other challenges that Dr Peedell and co face? Comments as always in the field below please.