Independent versus Party Political Councils

Being an Independent candidate does not mean that one has not political views. Nor does it mean that one does not support a political party in general terms. Almost everyone has some political views, and tends towards supporting a particular political party on national issues. Independent councillors generally believe, though, that national concerns very often do not translate well to the local scene.

Councillors quickly get to know the political leanings of their Independent colleagues. I believe that my voting record shows that I rarely vote on party lines. The fact that I had support from at least one of the present LibDem Group at West Devon Council for my becoming vice-chairman of the Policy & Resources Committee suggests that I try hard to take a balanced view of most issues. I know that there are as many Independent LibDems (ie paid-up party members) as there are Independent Conservatives.
I have no problem with this. The voting record of the LibDem Independents is as varied as my own in relation to "party line" issues. Accordingly, I respect their right to sit as Independent members and do not accuse them of being "closet" or "secret" party politial councillors.

Here are a few contrasts between political party candidates and independent ones:

Party Candidate(s)Independent Candidate(s)
There is a team of party workers to do the legwork: leafletting, canvassing, telephoning, driving voters to the polls, etc. The candidate does all his own legwork, with help from family and friends.
There will never be more party candidates than there are seats. The Party Machine sees to it. Independents often cut ones another's electoral throats. It is accordingly much more difficult for an Independent to get elected than it is for a party candidate.
Parties often swamp "target" seats with workers from outside the area. Independents cannot do this.
Some political parties pay their candidates' expenses. Independents pay all their own expenses.
Parties often put up "paper" candidates. An Independent is always there because (s)he wants to serve.
Parties will use national issues to gain support in local elections. Independents have nothing to gain by focussing on national party popularity.

Here are some contrasts between political party councillors and independents:

Party Councillor(s)Independent Councillor(s)
Is expected to vote the Party Line on all issues.
(This may not be a nationally-decided line, but there will be a local party line on almost all issues.)
Is free to make up his/her own mind about issues and vote accordingly.
Use "substitution" to keep up numbers on committees, when they do not attend. This means that decisions can be made by a small subset of the party group. Independents can only use substitution if they form political groups. Even then independent groups rarely use substitution, hardly ever agree a "group line" and have no disciplinary means to enforce one.
Monopolise committee chairmanships. In a politically-controlled council, the majority party fills all the committee chairs and vice-chairs with its own people. Very often, they also pay substantial Responsibility Allowances to these post-holders (to be fair, West Devon Council pays very small allowances). Have little chance of chairing anything important, even if they are the best for the job..
Often support schemes for which they can claim credit and create photo opportunities, rather than paying attention to the mundane chores like public lavatories garbage collection and street sweeping that really matter to most people. Are more concerned with supporting schemes that deliver best value for money.
Use council seats as props for their party's national standing. Party gains and losses in local elections will be much trumpeted and explained away respectively as evidence of public sentiment on the national scene. Have no interest in this.

Some of you will not agree with me. That's fine by me: you don't have to vote for me. I have tried, in the limited space available through election leaflets, to reveal the way I think about local issues. I am also using the medium of the Internet to expand on this for the benefit of any who are interested. I believe in accountability, which is why I put my election literature from 1995 on the Net so that you can judge my record against it.

I am not against political parties being represented on local councils. I just don't think they ought to control them. When West Devon Council was firmly Independent, it had a good mix of political parties, including Green, and appointed its committee chairmen on a merit and ability. As soon as it became party-dominated (by the LibDems), they appointed their own place-holders to be chairmen and vice-chairmen of all the Standing Committees.

At West Devon, we do not pay big allowances, partly because the present LibDem group is split on the issue, and the Independents are against paying councillors substantially. Some councils pay Responsibility Allowances of the order of 20,000 a year to their Leaders. You either approve of this, or you don't. There are valid arguments on both sides. I don't think councillors should be highly paid, because, whilst I would not mind paying a councillor (say) 20,000 a year if (s)he had a track-record of such earnings, I should object to doing so for a paper candidate who had been returned unopposed in an uncontested ward. Believe me, it can happen.

Paper Candidates

A "paper" candidate is a party member who is persuaded to let his (or her) name go forward purely so that the party is on the ballot paper. (S)he has no expectation of being elected, and will usually do little work. Most often, (s)he does not want to be a councillor. The reason for this curious behaviour is purely party political: it keeps the other parties busy, preventing them from targeting contested seats.
Sometimes, paper candidates are unexpectedly elected. They then become:

Paper Councillors

This is where the electorate really gets the rough end of the stick. A paper councillor is usually too busy, uninterested or sometimes unsuitable to be a councillor. (S)he serves the party's purpose by keeping anyone else out of the seat. (S)he does not even have to attend committees, where most of the real decisions are made: by a process called "substitution", the Party Boss can get another member of the same party to take up the place on the committee to secure the required votes.

Published as an Internet document by R W Mathew, Willowby, Down Road, Tavistock, Devon