Sunday, 19 February 2012

Political Independence

There was one of those interesting coincidences on "Sunday Supplement" this morning. There was a trail of Peter Hain's attack, at the Welsh Labour spring conference, on Independent councillors as closet Tories. Later in the programme there was a discussion of the career of S.O.Davies, possibly Wales' most famous Independent MP of the mid-twentieth century.

Davies was of course an Independent Socialist, and his independence was not of his own volition. He had been deselected by the Labour Party before the 1970 election but retained Merthyr anyway. Even before this, he had lost the party whip in the Commons many times. Wikipedia lists three of the occasions - apparently there were five expulsions in all, a world record for a parliamentary representative - but gives reasons for only two. It is a pity that this morning's discussion was dominated by Davies's idealisation of Soviet communism. (He had visited Russia in 1917 and was clearly impressed by the early aspirations of the revolutionaries. Sadly, he was not disabused in the 1930s as Muggeridge was.) S.O.Davies should be remembered positively for his work for his constituents. He also warned about the Aberfan spoil tip. If more of the Labour Party had stood out against the government line the disaster may have been prevented. After it occurred, he fought consistently for compensation.

There is an established pattern of deselection by the Labour Party followed by retaining a seat on the basis of personal reputation among Independent councillors round here. If this fact is acknowledged at all by the top table in Cardiff this weekend, they will no doubt accuse the Independents concerned of disloyalty, to which the latter would no doubt retort: what about the party's loyalty to us?

I believe that the "closet Tory" gibe is also inaccurate. There certainly was a time when the Conservative brand was distinctly politically toxic. It was noticeable that Conservative councillors, even in the shires, were calling themselves Independent as a result of the backlash against Thatcherism. However, that ceased to be a burden in the latter days of Blair and virtually disappeared under Gordon Brown. Conservatives are ready to identify themselves as such again - except those who have stuck with UKIP - and are still winning the occasional council by-election.

There is another cause of antagonism to party labels and that is the disaffection with party politics generally, in the wake of the expenses scandal* and, I have to admit it, English and Scottish Liberal Democrat MPs in the coalition breaking their promise to the NUS to vote against an increase in tuition fees. Those people whose prime motivation is to contribute to their local county or community council are increasingly put off by the occasionally vicious party political campaigning and infighting. I believe that most would be comfortable in the Liberal Democrats, with our core beliefs in local decision-making and in fairness, but it is their choice to stay outside the party battle. I certainly would not accuse them of deception.

*It is annoying that the exposure of the misuse of MPs' expenses is increasingly being cited by the gutter press as a justification for phone hacking, suborning public officials and other illegal acts. In fact, it was good hard-working journalism, using the Freedom of Information Act, by Heather Brooke which broke the story. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well spotted Frank.

Funny enough, there's a group of Independents on Bridgend Council, the large minority of them is made up of Ex-Labour party members...

Following the selection process for the forthcoming elections, I understand that there may be a few more Ex-Labour Independents standing for Council in May 2012.