Liberal Democrats have a tendency to sympathise with independent election candidates. I think it’s a mixture of the rebellious streak and the community campaigning instincts of Liberal Democrats. But I worry when Liberal Democrats actively support independent candidates either by encouraging them to stand or by standing aside to give them a free run at an election. That is why I am concerned by a posting made by Stewart Arnold on his blog.
The argument that Stewart makes is that the only way to make the issue of Humber Bridge tolls and the bridge’s debt a major national issue is for some single-issue independents to stand against the Labour MPs who represent the constituencies on the south side of the Humber Bridge. Whilst I understand his logic, I do not agree that independents are the answer, and I certainly do not agree with promoting independents without at least first working out if they are liberals, and secondly without seeing if we could do the job more effectively instead.
Many single-issue independents tend to be very focused on one issue, and once that issue is removed they either have no idea what to do (which is why so many independent-run councils are really run by council officers) or they turn out to have some quite unpleasant views on other subjects. It is also quite difficult for one independent to make a difference, whereas one Lib Dem as a part of a bigger group is a lot more effective. By stepping aside, we are also of course putting the election campaign entirely in the hands of that independent, who may be personally sound but their campaigning skills might not be. At least with a Liberal Democrat there is the professional support to help get the person elected.
There are of course some very different precedents to these sorts of campaigns. Electing Richard Taylor in Wyre Forest has not saved Kidderminster Hospital, but at least when the Lib Dems decided not to stand against him it was with the knowledge that he was also supportive of the Liberal Democrats in some other areas as well. In Dunfermline we have fought hard against raising Forth Road Bridge tolls, and as a result Willie Rennie won the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election, thereby giving the campaign more clout than it would have had otherwise.
So surely instead of pushing for some random independents, the better strategy would be to promote the election of more Liberal Democrats who can make it a key part of their campaigning. It shouldn’t be that difficult either. The Lib Dems run the councils in North East Lincolnshire and Hull, the party has just elected its first councillor in North Lincolnshire, Hull North is a key Lib Dem/Labour marginal seat at the next General Election, and perhaps even more significantly Stewart Arnold is the partner/husband of the local Liberal Democrat MEP Diana Wallis and is her “Policy and Communications Advisor”.