helenic: (sachiko: pensive)
[personal profile] helenic

Someone (probably [personal profile] denny) sent me a link to this list of independent candidates running in the next election on Your Next MP. 28 so far - one the ex-leader of the BNP - including only two women. Which is interesting in itself - why so few female Independent candidates?

Anyway, I idly scanned the list to see if there's an Independent standing in my constituency. And - what are the odds? - there is! Disappointingly, there's no information about him on the website (in fact, there doesn't seem to be any information about any of them on the website, which somewhat limits its usefulness). So I'm doing a bit of investigating.

Neville Watson is apparently an executive member of the Independent Network. His campaign page seems very community-focussed, which is good, I think, but doesn't tell me much about his more general policies. He talks about mental health support, alternative education, working with young people to reduce crime, providing farmer's markets for people to sell locally-grown organic produce, affordable low cost housing and energy conservation projects. He seems to be an active social worker with youth groups, managing the local football club, doing volunteer work prisoners and psychiatric patients. Which are all good things. He seems to be passionate, engaged and inspired on a local level.

But an MP isn't just a local leader - they're also an elected representative. And his campaign says nothing about his wider politics - nothing on how he's likely to vote in Parliament. One page of his site says both "he believes in equality and justice for all" and "a strong family unit is imperative for the development of our children", which leaves an amibiguous impression - does he favour the conservative idea of the family, or feminism and LGBT rights? Race politics are arguably more of an issue in Tottenham, and he addresses that to some extent, but there are a lot of gaps. How does he feel about civil liberties? The war on terror? Democratic reform? When you're voting for a member of a party, you can (to some extent) look to the policies of their party for anything they don't specifically mention. With an Independent, there are no such guidelines.

The current MP in Tottenham is David Lammy - a Labour minister whom I am inclined to distrust. His voting record goes against many of my principles, and he seems to tow the party line most of the time. On the other hand, I remember hearing from [livejournal.com profile] steerpikelet that he spoke very well at the Labour party conference, and the left seems to generally approve of him, although I'm not clear on exactly why. He's never responded satisfactorily to any of my letters - he leaves it late enough to reply that I have marked my letter "unanswered" on writetothem before I heard back from him, and I've only ever got form letters vaguely related to my question. (For instance, when I wrote to him expressing my concerns about police brutality and strategy during protests, I got a form letter six weeks later about Ian Tomlinson, which completely ignored my actual question.)

This election is the biggest opportunity Independents are likely to get for some time. (If the Tories get in, the current democratic system is rigged to keep them in for two or three terms - the yo-yo effect between the two big parties is well-established. Democratic reform is necessary to undermine that, and what are the chances of the Tories voting for something that will decrease their chance of staying in power?) The MPs expenses scandal combined with general disillusionment with the two-party system is going to give Independent candidates a better chance than they've had in years. Neville Watson, like David Lammy¹, is an Afro-Caribbean (important in a constituency with the racial demographic of Tottenham) family man (Tottenham is very Christian, and the last six MPs have been male). Lammy's expenses record isn't too bad, but it seems to me that Watson has a reasonable chance.

Locally, he may be as good a bet as the LibDem or Green candidates (or better - David Schmitz doesn't have much of interest to say). But in Parliament? I have no way of telling. Of course, I may well not be here anyway - even if we move in March, I might well be voting here as I'm not sure there'll be time to get on the electoral register of our new constituency before the election. So in some ways it's in my interest to vote for a national representative rather than a good local MP. But I'm not sure if that's missing the point.

1. And, apparently, the 2010 UKIP candidate, although he's not listed on Your Next MP so I'm not sure what's going on there.

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