What happened at the Hertford Party Party?
At the end I was asked what I had hoped to achieve by the event? I gave a rather woffly answer at the time, but here is a more reflective response.
One problem for Independents is that they have no team to support them. Unless they are a nominee of a campaign group, neighbourhood watch, or some other organisation, they are individuals who have to persuade family and friends to help them get elected. They have no accountability group, so there is nobody to tell them when they are getting too big for their boots, too arrogant, or too out of touch.
One of those who came to the meeting strongly believed that Independents should be constituted as a political party so that they are entitled to party political broadcasts. But this assumes Independents hold common views and believe in the same policies, and this is simply not the case. More than that, it is part of being an Independent that you represent your constituency, and your objective is the wellbeing of the community and the common good. Since this will vary from place to place, it is impossible almost by definition for Independents to be a political party.
So without a party, where do you find a team to help you and to whom you can be accountable? So my first answer to what I hoped to achieve was to find some people who would be willing to be such a team to Sally and me if we were to be elected.
Generally my experience of a political party Ward Committee was one of boredom. When I was initially invited to join the Committee, I was excited because I thought I would have the opportunity to influence the making of policy. In fact once a Councillor was elected, they rarely came to meetings and would not take any sort of guidance or instruction from the Committee. So it became a round of fund raising strawberry teas, and foot slogging delivering leaflets and door knocking at elections, doing time at menial jobs in the hope of one day getting close to power.
My second objective therefore was to try and find a format for what would in effect be an Independents Ward Committee that would be fun, interesting and could influence policy.
The meeting itself was not quite what I expected, but then about half way through I realised that I not really worked out in my mind what I did expect. I had no idea how many would come, but although there were only about fifteen of us, it was a good mix of Councillors, ex-Councillors, Candidates, and voters from a wide range of social groups. We had a structured programme for an hour, and started with a discussion in small groups on whether or not Coalition Government was a good thing: definitely not, was the response. What if we are now in a four-party politics situation, what then? Uncertain.
I had said in the advertising flyer that there would be a stand-up comic, so I had to apologise that I had not been able to find one. Instead, I gave a short presentation on the Independent Network. I highlighted the three problems faced by Independents: (a) how do voters know what you believe? (b) how do you get a team to help you? (c) and how do we get a level playing field for an election?
We were then to move on to a discussion about what sort of Hertford we wanted to live in, but somehow we got sidetracked into a whole range of issues.
I came to a number of conclusions after the meeting:
(a) the venue was so different (a basement night club with bar, background music and low lighting) that this in itself sends out a good message
(b) I would do it again, but while giving out a general invitation, I would also ask certain core people to come and be the 'accountability group' that I believe a good Ward Committee with a good Ward Councillor ought to be. So even if nobody else comes, it would be a worthwhile event.
(c) I would change the name, as it was too clever by half, and gave the wrong messages
Which brings me to the third objective. I wanted to find a forum for people who enjoy talking about politics to be able to come and debate with each other and listen to alternative ideas. This is why I suggested that at other meetings we should invite other parties to come and make presentations. I had suggested inviting the Greens next time, but I think we should invite William Compton to come and talk about how he would act as a UKIP Councillor. William as an Independent nearly beat Mike Carver in Much Hadham, and so it would be interesting to hear his views.
What new name would I go for? It is a bit like a Politics Debating Club, but politics is about power, and so the new dimension on what would otherwise be a talking shop is that through support for Independents - in other words, good individuals who want to represent people, not force a party agenda - then through this there could be a new way of getting beyond confrontational politics at a local level.
Perhaps we stick with the Hertford Independents label as an over-arching brand name: Politics for All? How does that sound?