How the Independent Group can help change politics in Wales

Chuka Umunna speaking at the launch of the Independent Group. Picture by the Independent Group

Tomas Stanger

I’m sure we’re all aware by now that there’s a new political grouping in town, The Independent Group.

And I’m sure we’ve all seen the hysteria from their former political parties shouting that these ‘traitors’ be ‘crushed’, demanding pointless (and undemocratic) by-elections and accusing them of all sorts of nonsense because of a lack of understanding on how the political system works in favour of a tribal party mentality.

It is because we need to do with this tribal thinking that I welcome the ethos behind the Independent Group.

During the Council Elections of 2017, I had the pleasure of running for Newport’s Stow Hill ward alongside the newly formed Newport Independents Party.

We were fresh and idealistic, with a left-wing viewpoint and a belief that our responsibilities lied with our communities rather than political parties.

Although the Newport Independents have now moved in a very different direction, I still support that view.

The same hysteria and nonsense demonstrated by (mostly) Labour and Conservatives towards this new Independent Group is the same hysteria and nonsense shown towards us in 2017 so, for me, this is nothing new and not very surprising.

Relief

The main advantage of a new political group is that voters will have a greater choice when election time finally comes.

Many people are disenfranchised with all the political choices on offer at Westminster. In particular, those of us who want representation on the centre-left seem to be completely disenfranchised.

I also expect that the Independent Group, like all smaller political parties, will support a move from First Past the Post to Proportional Representation at Westminster elections.

First Past the Post has proven to be an undemocratic system that has no use beyond preserving a Tory/Labour deadlock at Westminster. Which is a problem when both parties are coming apart at the seams as they are at the moment.

But the greatest appeal of independents is that rather than answering to masters at Westminster, who seem more interested in putting their parties’ (or their own) interests above the best interests of the country, they care only about the concerns of those people they represent.

The lack of a party whip means that a politician is free to vote with their conscience and allows for more transparency in their decision-making.

The decision as to whether to build the M4 motorway relief road would be a good example of this. Labour’s AMs in Newport are mostly keeping schtum on the matter knowing that the decision will be made by the Labour executive in Cardiff, who themselves have to do as they’re told by a Labour opposition in Westminster.

Ultimately, therefore, the fate of the M4 relief road may be decided not by people who live and work in Newport but by someone in London calculating the pros and cons according to their party’s electoral fortunes at a General Election.

Genie

It’s not just Labour and Conservatives who’ve failed the people of Wales. It’s also Plaid Cymru, Greens, Lib Dems, and UKIP.

For these parties, the party is everything, winning power for the party comes first and foremost, and the belief is that somehow a change of party will bring about a utopia even though their ideas and ways of doing politics are largely identical.

One of the main reasons why things won’t change under political parties is due to the fact that there are too many politicians in them.

I didn’t run for Council because I wanted to, I ran for Council because I wanted a better Newport for everyone. Sadly this isn’t a belief shared by most, who see winning a constituency as just a first rung in a political career that will hopefully elevate them to better things.

Wales deserves better, and it needs change for the better. Sadly, I’m unconvinced any political party offers that change, regardless of online soundbites promising voters the world if they vote for Tweedledee rather than Tweedledum.

If the people of Wales are going to get the Wales we need, then we have to elect politicians who put the individual needs of Welsh communities first and tackle their unique problems.

We should welcome the Independent Group or something similar over political parties whose ways of operating are stuck in the outdated politics of the last century.

The Independent Group are still fresh and their momentum may peter out but they offer us something that many didn’t consider beforehand – that there is an alternative.

One thing we can be certain of, the genie has been let out of the bottle and whatever your political persuasion there’s no putting it back in.

Tom Stanger is editor The Pilgrim magazine.


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