No, not a novel by Jane Austen, but the choice that faces voters when they consider Independent candidates.
At first sight, independence is a liberating idea. For example, the new group of Independents in Guildford are promising to be free of party policy and to work just for electors. That gives them a great deal of latitude, does it not? And few demands to clarify what policies they are for?
I’m not trying to embarrass the Conservatives, from whom these Independents have taken flight: we have them, too. Independents are refugees from the complexity of modern politics. They hark back to an earlier time of friction-free politics when people were deferential to the elected chaps who could get their roofs fixed and mend the ruts in the cart-tracks.
But voters should hesitate about voting for people who know only what they are against, and are in flight from complexity. Independents are often good at critique, but weak on political vision, and can’t scale up their ideas. They trust themselves too much. They have to: they have no party to challenge them.
Are Independents offering anything better other than their own ex-Conservative selves? Have they changed their world views? Have they had a change of heart about taxation, urban sprawl, the primacy of profit? I suspect not. Don’t trust politicians who believe only in what is popular and expedient.
Independents have little to fall back when it comes to delivering their dreams. Their ambitions are curbed by measly budgets, national priorities that lie elsewhere and the priorities of the ruling clique that is the cabinet. They are not independent but ultra-dependent.
So why is it any different for us in the Labour Party? Are we not, too, a tiny presence in Guildford Council? Not quite.
- We have a national party that is openly sworn to return money and responsibility to local government for local people. There is more potential in this fact than any individual can promise. The Tories won’t promise it, because the Tories don’t believe in it. Only Labour is in a position to deliver the resources that can make it better for local people.
- We work to a coherent set of policies and beliefs that guide our work. We don’t wing it with your locality. We do what we say on the tin. In this, we accept that the Conservatives have a coherent set of views: it’s we just that don’t agree with them because we find them greedy and lacking in compassion.
- Being in a political party empowers and challenges councillors. There’s nothing flabby about working within a collective. Our councillors are more accountable and less pretentious than lone wolf politicians