Integrity UK is Launched
Our readers know that counterbalance moves in a wide range of civic and political circles. But it's not every week that we get
a personal visit from the leader of a national political party.
That's just what happened last Friday though.
To be fair, it wasn't Gordon or Dave, or even Nick from the Lib Dems - although we continually (if forlornly), live in the hope they will seek some of the common sense they can find in these pages.
No, it wasn't the Tories or Labour, and it wasn't the BNP or UKIP although there are connections with the latter, it was the leader of a brand new party called the Integrity UK Party.
Its leader is local man Bill Whitehead who rose to prominence when St Annes pool was under threat of closure. He and his daughter Robyne spearheaded the campaign to publicise the need to keep it open.
He researched ways to do that and came up with the idea of a parish poll which was duly instituted and gave an overwhelming result which, in turn, put the plight of the pool at centre stage on the regional news on both the BBC and Granada and in
the national media.
We think he's a bit like a cannon. Wherever he goes, you can be sure of big bangs, and it's not always safe to stand too close because the recoil can be unpredictable. But we have followed his progress since the pool issue, and watched as his exposure
to the wider ways of local politics engendered a sense of anger and injustice in him, and a desire to make changes to the system. We have kept in touch on and off as he experimented with how to get involved.
He told us that whilst he valued, and was attracted to, the freedom of decision making that accompanies independent councillors and politicians, he believes they all suffer from not being organised like the political parties are, and consequently they
are at a disadvantage, both in campaigning, and post election, where closer co-operation is needed to counteract the block votes of the major parties.
He was looking for a way to combine the freedom of an independent view with a party organisation, and he thought he had found it when he joined the north west unit of UKIP and quickly became Chairman of a previously dormant Fylde branch. He stood for
election to the County Council last year and achieved a creditable but not sufficient, 614 votes.
Subsequently, he was invited to speak at the UKIP party conference and was later selected as prospective parliamentary candidate for UKIP at Lancaster in the forthcoming election.
But then trouble set in.
As we reported in 'No Smoke Without Fire' UKIP's choice of parliamentary candidate for Blackpool South caused some ructions with the local UKIP membership.
From initially being a disagreement about the suitability of Hamish Howitt as a candidate for UKIP this disagreement rapidly escalated into a 'who's in charge' row between local grassroots activists and what, so far as we could see, was a regional
officer who was intent on enforcing centrally dictated policy, and was prepared to construct and deconstruct branches at will to give him (and possibly the national party) sufficient control of events locally. This produced resignations, calls for
resignations and a lot of bad feeling locally.
Cue the conflict between independence of mind and the need of an organisation to control what is said and done in its name.
We'll return to this question shortly, but first we'll conclude the news of the new party being formed.
Another ex-UKIP parliamentary candidate - Peter Ball from Wesham - is also one of the founding members of Integrity UK. He has business
interests in Poulton le Fylde and is acting as Treasurer for the new party.
They have a website at www.integrityuk.info and that sets out what they're about, so you can read all the details for yourself.
To be honest, we find it something of a confusing (or at least contradictory) set-up in that it is a membership based organisation, so you pay a subscription to become a member, but it promises those that join there will be no whip or policy to "require
individual members to follow any particular path or policy other than to support the independence of each individual member to act in the best interest of those who have elected them to office and in accordance with the individual members own
It is looking to build a membership that is, in effect, part political party, and part an association that aims "to support and encourage independently minded individuals in their quest to become elected Councillors or members of
the British Parliament."
Whilst superficially, this is a novel and interesting take on how you might get independent people working together, we have some doubts about the underlying principles.
The most obvious one being that in the medium to longer term, we can't see how you can have a registered political party that doesn't want to control what is said and done in its name by having centralised rules and some sort of agreed policy that
all representatives have to sign up to.
And in our view, when you get that, you cannot call yourself an independent councillor or MP.
True, the degree of control exercised by different parties will vary, and this will affect people's perception of how 'controlled' any particular party is.
For example, the Fylde Ratepayers Association (Who are technically a registered political party) don't have much by way of diktat, whereas the (reported) need for Conservative parliamentary candidates to clear potential blog postings with
Conservative HQ in the run up to the spring election seems to be at the other end of the scale.
Some might say the degree of independence should be judged on degree of control that is exercised, and we can see how seductive that argument might be.
But when you have 3 or 4 elected people in your party, control probably doesn't matter very much. It's mostly self policing and you don't
need it. However, when you're fielding dozens of candidates over a wide geographic area, the need for control changes quite dramatically. So we think it can only be a 'black and white' decision. You're either independent or you're not.
As our readers will know, so far as elections at parish and borough level are concerned, we come down firmly in the non-party camp. We believe you should pick a person because of their personal qualities, not because of party dogma. We understand this
doesn't work well at the parliamentary level, because there is less chance of enough people knowing all of the candidates as individuals, so we regard the party system is a necessary evil at that level.
So how will the new Integrity UK party do?, and what will the implications be locally?
Well, we're not expecting it to cause a political tsunami. And we don't think Integrity UK expects to do that either.
From what we can see it will be a slow build, probably beginning by attracting a core of disaffected, former UKIP, supporters. We understand they're not planning to contest the parliamentary election this time, and at present, their horizon is
probably, though not exclusively, the wider Fylde coast, so there might be an impact on any by-elections that come up, and on the parish and borough elections in 2011.
So far as Fylde Borough is concerned, we can't see the existing independent councillors rushing to embrace the new organisation.
In recent times, there have been several failed attempts to bring the non-conservative elements of the council together to work as a cohesive unit. None has worked.
They fail partly because as the election draws near, alliances break down when the
fever of getting candidates elected exceeds the well-intentioned plans of working together. This applies especially when, as at Fylde, part of the 'cohesive unit' is already one or more separate registered political parties in their own right.
But mostly they fail because it is an incontrovertible fact that those who are independent are what it says on the tin. They are independent precisely because they DON'T want to be part of a party.
So, if it survives to the 2011 election, what the new Integrity UK party might do is make life harder for the existing independent councillors - because it will risk splitting the non-conservative vote amongst two or more people in wards where
Integrity UK field a candidate. And a split independent vote is likely to increase the prospect of conservative victory.
So there we have it. Whether or not it is welcomed by existing independents, Integrity UK has announced its intention to try and make a difference. We can't tell whether it will manage to do that at the present time. But what it does show is that there are still
people who are prepared to get off their backsides, to put some of their own money on the line, and try to make a difference when they have a sense that something is wrong. And in that, whether they're right or wrong, whether we agree or disagree, we'll do nothing but salute those
willing to have a go.
We'll keep readers updated on this matter from time to time.
Dated: 1 March 2010