The number of Independents who won in last week’s election was, in many ways, an indictment of British party politics. The PCC elections and Bristol Mayoralty created the perfect storm of political resentment – low turnout, a new and unclear role and an anti-politics message pushed by “Independent” candidates (who are often far less independent than they seem).
Inevitably that means some Labour people will be placed in a difficult and uncomfortable position – being offered positions in an independent administration, perhaps alongside Tories, Lib Dems and others. In a way it’s understandable if some consider taking roles working alongside independents. Four years in opposition is a long time, and the need to help those who only Labour can stand up for is great.
And yet by working for an “Independent” – those Labour people could end up doing a great deal of harm to Labour voters, and the party.
In Bristol this is a particular concern. George Ferguson (the Independent Mayor who was until recently a Lib Dem) stood on an avowedly anti-politics ticket, bashing political parties en masse but surely knowing that the main target of such abuse in Bristol was Labour. A Tory collapse in the city (with many switching to an “Independent” when they knew the Tories had no chance of beating Labour themselves) was largely responsible for helping Ferguson win.
Labour politicians helping a politician push his anti-Labour agenda would leave a bad taste in the mouth for sure, but it would also damage the party in Bristol (a party that had less than 200 members out on election day, which is already considerably damaged). It would be a betrayal of the party that got them elected to advance their careers – that would be unforgivable ahead of crucial parliamentary elections in the City in 2015.
Bristol is the kind of place where Labour needs to maintain and extend its support, and this task will be made harder if local Labour councillors are acting as apologists for a non-Labour Mayor who will (like everyone else in local government) be forced to make unpopular cuts. It also won’t help Labour beat Ferguson next time around if the party is seen as part of his cross-party coalition of lackeys – just ask Nick Clegg how hard such “differentiation” is.
Local party chair Darren Lewis put it best, when he wrote on his blog:
“For my part I think that the mayor elect ran an unashamedly anti-Labour campaign. Many of those who voted heard that message and voted for it. The Tory and Lib Dem vote collapsed to him where as our vote did not. We should respect the mayor’s campaign victory and the will of the voters both Mr Ferguson’s and ours. We should not sit in his cabinet but remain a constructive opposition.
“This is something a democracy needs. Both elements are just as important. We must not unnecessarily oppose for the sake of opposition. If the Mayor elect has a Damascene conversion on living wage, childcare, building affordable homes, we should welcome it and work with him on making it a reality. We must work together on a whole number of issues for the good of Bristol.”
Constructive opposition to the untested and vague promises of George Ferguson is what the people of Bristol will need in the months and years ahead. Those who would consider putting the short term priority of their careers first might want to think on that today.