LONDON (Reuters) - An eclectic group ranging from a former MEP to a bus driver and a tabloid newspaper columnist will fight as independent candidates in the upcoming election, aiming to win support from Britons fed up with the main parties.
Almost 50 independent candidates have received the backing of Britain’s most high-profile independent MP of recent times, the former BBC correspondent Martin Bell, who hopes they will emulate his success in the 1997 election.
Bell said it was a “unique” chance for people with real world experience to change the face of politics, not least because of public anger with mainstream politicians over the MPs’ expenses scandal .
“This is an unusual opportunity for independents for obvious reasons,” said Bell, wearing his trademark white suit at a press conference hosted by the Independent Network, a loose association which provides backing to the candidates.
“Such an opportunity. I think that people are in a mood to take it.”
In the last parliament, there were two independent MPs — Richard Taylor in Wyre Forest in Worcestershire and Dai Davies in the Welsh seat of Blaenau Gwent.
That was more than the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the British National Party or the Greens, none of which has ever won a seat, the Network’s organisers pointed out.
Bell told Reuters there were three criteria for a successful independent: they had to be well-known, at least locally, have a good cause and be up against an unpopular sitting MP.
He said the unexpected and dramatic swing in recent polls in support for the Liberal Democrats on the back of Nick Clegg’s strong performance in the first ever televised leaders debate showed voters were in a mood to do the unexpected.
“Sometimes it just takes off,” he said. “I think the electorate is so volatile, as you see in the polls surge for Lib Dems and we are seeing a very positive response on doorsteps.
“My worry is that people are so disillusioned they won’t vote for anybody.”
All those endorsed by the Independent Network have agreed to adhere to “Bell Principles,” which guarantees they will listen to constituents and resist abuses of power.
Bell predicted a high vote for independents fighting some constituencies where “sitting MPs should have been de-selected” over the expenses scandal.
He pinpointed Dewsbury, where a local independent councillor is standing against Shahid Malik who stepped down as a Justice Minister over revelations about his expenses before returning to the government after being cleared by an inquiry.
The other constituency he highlighted was Mansfield where there is already a large independent presence on the council.
“I’m not saying a huge number are going to be elected. I’m hoping for about half a dozen,” Bell said. “If all was well with the two-party system we would not be seeing the extraordinary events we are seeing.”
He said there were big obstacles, financial, organisational and the risk of being squeezed out of any media coverage, a factor he said which had been exacerbated by the “presidential”-style televised leaders debates.
Some of those standing were motivated by the expenses scandal while others had been planning to stand for some time.
Business owner Sarah Flannery who is taking on Shadow Chancellor George Osborne in Tatton, the seat Bell famously won, said she decided to stand because she did not want to vote for any of the established parties.
The political landscape never changed, she added.
“Every five years it’s like groundhog day,” she said, explaining she had a budget of just 3,000 pounds to take on her high-profile rival.
“I can’t believe the reaction I have had.”
Editing by Steve Addison