The Independent Network was launched on Wednesday 23rd March 2005 at Portcullis House, Westminster. The group was set up to provide support for independent candidates, as no other organisation existed to support them. Independent candidates do not have access to a large national party structure with its human and financial resources. The Independent Network was formed to attend to this inequality and continues to encourage the electorate to acknowledge the success and influence that independents are having in local government and can have in Parliament.
The Need to Promote Independents
The Independent Network saw, and continues to see, a need to promote independents as a viable and accountable alternative to party politics. In 2005 an Ipsos MORI Poll showed that two thirds of the public want to have a say in how the public is run, and over 77% of people interviewed said they were interested in both National and Local issues.
At the time of its creation membership of UK political parties has fallen by over 50 per cent, according to Mair and Biezen, Party Membership In Twenty European Democracies, 1980–2000. While the vast majority of the electorate remains interested in national and local issues, over three quarters of people in the UK feel that they do not have a say in how the country is run.
In 2009 an opinion survey commissioned by the Think Tank Ekklesia and conducted by ComRes, suggests that 78% of the public believe that independent candidates should stand for election where MPs have behaved unethically. 63% of all people also said that they thought democracy would be enriched if more independent MPs were elected to Parliament, a sentiment the Independent Network shares.
Evolution of Principles
Initially all those affiliated with the Independent Network agreed to adhere to Nolan Committee's recommendations on Standards in Public Life, namely selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. In addition, affiliates must commit to engage with the electorate and represent constituents' interests in public office.
These values have since evolved and in 2009, the Independent Network and former independent MP Martin bell formulated a new set of principles. They became known as The Bell Principles, and are thought to be the first set of conduct guidelines created by a political organisation for its affiliated candidates and representatives.
For 2010 the Independent Network organised an informative talk about the UK Parliament for independent PPCs. The event with was run by Parliamentary Outreach, an organisation dedicated to expanding the public’s knowledge of Parliament. On this particular occasion, PPCs were trained in the parliamentary process, so that if they are elected they can be more effective than if they didn’t have the training.
The Independent Network has also organised a workshop for independent candidates in Birmingham on the 23rd January 2010. The event was to support PPCs and help them understand the electoral process and regulations, but also to provide a support base and advice. The event was attended by Esther Rantzen, Martin Bell, Lynn Faulds Wood and Dr Richard Taylor MP.
Dr. Richard Taylor MP said back in March 2005; “Independents have the huge privilege of not being bound by a party whip and thus can speak and vote for the Government or with the Opposition depending upon their own and their constituents' opinions on each issue.”
Dr. Richard Taylor MP continues; “The Independent Network was formed to give voters confidence in Independents. Independent candidates are an alternative to party politics, and deliver a greater degree of representation for all.”
And we couldn’t agree more.