w ^hile much of the attention around England’s local elections will focus on the fortunes of the main parties, across the country an independent force is quietly gathering pace, with the potential to upset the biggest beasts in council politics.
There are now at least 167 political parties registered with the Electoral Commission in the UK whose focus is on a county-sized area or smaller, according to Stuart Orford, a researcher and volunteer with Democracy Club, which tracks local elections via a heroic crowd-sourcing effort.
多于 100 of those are hoping to win some of 5,000 council seats up for grabs on 6 可能. They range from the one-man-bands – such as the Heavy Woollen District Independents in West Yorkshire, formed by the former chair of Ukip in Dewsbury – to the ultra-ambitious: the Hampshire Independents are contesting 46 seats, more than any other hyperlocal party, despite only forming in 2018.
经过 the Democracy Club’s calculations, the number of minor party candidates has risen substantially since the last local elections, 从 1,015 在 2019 到 1,787 this year.
At first glance, voters may assume these hopefuls are just local people fed up with tribal politics, wanting to improve where they live. And many are. But others are standing under folksy party names that disguise the fact that they have been founded by refugees from Ukip and/or the Brexit party – or, less frequently, from Labour, the Greens and Liberal Democrats.
Take the Rotherham Democratic party (RDP), founded in February, which is fielding 40 candidates. It already has 12 councillors, all of whom were once elected on a Ukip or Brexit party ticket.
Describing themselves as “an inclusive party” made up of “real Rotherham people”, the RDP promises to “focus on local issues, not national ones” but seems most obsessed with immigration.
One leaflet implies that Labour politicians in the city invited its 5,000 Roma residents to move there because they would support the party. It also claims that a previous Labour leader applied for Rotherham to be a “reception centre for immigrants”. The Labour-run council was one of 99 local authorities to volunteer to be an asylum dispersal area 20 几年前.
Asked why the party seemed so fixated on immigrants, the RDP leader, Allen Cowles, who was originally elected in 2014 for Ukip but then switched to the Brexit party, said that the leaflet in question was put out independently by two older councillors who were “a bit of a law unto themselves”. They are “of a different generation and different culture and remember Rotherham as it was”, 他说, 添加: “It’s not what we are about.”
Currently, 30 councils in England and Wales are controlled by independents or locally-focused parties, with a further 30 in coalition, according to Clive Woodbridge, deputy leader of the Local Government Association’s independent group. He is a councillor in Epsom and Ewell in Surrey, which has been ruled by his Residents Association party since the local authority was formed in 1937.
“At the moment there are about 2,300 councillors that are independent or small party representatives, which is about 11.3% of the number of councillors in total, just behind the Lib Dems. Ten years ago that figure was only about 7%,” he said. “It reflects a trend for people locally to turn against the big parties and concentrate on local issues which matter to them. Independents are able to put people before politics better than parties. Most of them don’t have a whip, 例如, so can always vote according to their conscience and what matters to their residents.”
Many of the micro-parties are focused on satellite towns that feel overshadowed by their district centres, said Andrew Teale, 谁的 Local Elections Archive has tracked every result since 2002. He cites Radcliffe First, a party set up in an outlying area of Bury in Greater Manchester, whose slogan is: “Welcome to Radcliffe, the forgotten town.” Some of these grievances are understandable, 他说, “because we seem to have much larger municipalities that we see in most of Europe”.
A lot of these places – like Leigh, in Wigan, Greater Manchester, where six candidates are standing for Leigh, Atherton & Tyldesley Together – “are big enough to be their own municipality and until the 1970s, they were”, said Teale, referencing 这 1972 Local Government Act, a complete overhaul of local authority structures.
Not all of the hyperlocal parties are on the right. In Cannock Chase in Staffordshire the Chase Community Independents Group formed last June as a coalition of former Green, Labour and Lib Dem councillors. Paul Woodhead, who was elected in 2016 as the district’s first Green councillor, said the group was inspired by the mutual support networks that have blossomed during Covid.
“We saw that if you strip away the politics, people just get on. They do things and achieve things and the neighbourliness comes through,“ 他说. “We had a conversation as a group of how to make the most of this going forward and how to make the area as good as it can be and we felt the best way to do this was to take national politics out of the equation.”