The political system is not conducive to Independent candidates winning elections. The party “machines”, together with the a widespread tradition of consistently voting for the same political colour, makes it an uphill battle for individuals who have no specific allegiance, other than to serve the residents of their ward. The 2 Independent Cllrs currently on Derby City Council both resigned from their respective parties, mid-term.
Phil Ingall, who was a Conservative Cllr for the Chellaston ward prior to the 2018 elections, stood as an Independent candidate last year, and, despite securing 1800 votes, lost by just 32. Alex Dann, who has stood on 2 previous occasions for the Oakwood ward is determined to make it “third time lucky” as an Independent Cllr.
Alex and Phil are supporting each other in their efforts whilst running quite separate election campaigns. I met up with Alex and Phil to find out more about how they were approaching this year’s election, why they wish to be Independent and what their priorities are.
DN: How do you view on being Independent on Derby City Council?
Alex: There are currently 2 Independent Cllrs on the Council which has some bearing on where we stand in terms of our ability to persuade and influence whole Council decisions. In terms of us being Independent then we are just supporting each other, however we have an agreement that we still maintain our independent views, and we respect each other for that. And we would collaborate and compromise where there was a mutual agreement. I think Oakwood and Chellaston are very similar in their demographics and their issues.
The reason why I first stood in 2016 has not changed – I want to see active Councillors who are representing the residents of Oakwood and are out and about and getting to know people’s views and meeting people and making a case for Oakwood on the Council. I think it goes a bit deeper than brown bins, and the Assembly rooms which might be vote winners. However I want to get the devolved money back which I believe is happening but which I haven’t seen in Oakwood yet.
I don’t know when the last Neighbourhood board meeting was in Oakwood. They seem to happening elsewhere but not in our ward.
Phil: They’ve just re-started the Neighbourhood board in Chellaston just in time for the election, although it wasn’t well-attended – unfortunately I was not able to attend.
DN: Phil, you’ve seen the workings of the Council from the inside, how do you think an Independent person can make a difference?
Phil: You’re free from all of the party politics, you haven’t got whipped decisions. I remember when I was in the Labour Party and they wanted me to vote in a particular way on congestion charging. I didn’t want to support it and I was told that if I didn’t they would discipline me or throw me out the party. It’s better if you can just look at something and decide for yourself what you think should be done.
It’s difficult for many of the Cllrs to make a difference in the Council as it works through the Cabinet system, but people do vote for Cllrs because of what you do for them in the ward. People want you to be visible, so they come to you and then you can sort things out. And that’s what people want from a local Cllr. I do think some local Cllrs think that they run the City and they don’t. They need to go back to “brass tacks” of what a local Cllr is and that is someone who will help with individual problems.
People go the Council House and think they’re the Prime Minister, and they’re not – they need to get down off their high-horse and be seen in the ward, and be doing stuff.
Alex: I think there are a few other issues with party politics. For example a Labour Cllr may not even want to consider an idea put forward by a Conservative Cllr, regardless of whether it’s a good idea or not. As an Independent, I can build relationships with all parties and be that voice of reason. We shouldn’t be in a system where different parties see each as enemies – we should be working for the good of Derby City in whatever way we can – we’re adults at the end of the day and working for the common good.
From a residents point of view it is very difficult to keep up to date with decisions being made in the Council and residents don’t understand what is happening, and why decisions have been taken. People want to know. We need to think of ways reaching people through different forms of media, or just going to community events and talking to them and appeasing some of their frustrations.
I want to build relationships with people across all parties – that’s an important aim of mine. So I would want to be working with Cllrs Jon Smale and Rob Cooper in Chaddesden and Cllrs Richard Hudson and Steve Willoughby in Derwent as they are all neighbouring Oakwood and so we can work as a group.
Phil: Most of mine is on-line which is where most of the people spend a lot of their time. I’m not sure whether I’ll put a leaflet out or not. The statistics are that if you deliver them from Monday-Saturday, then about 10% will read it; this increases on Sunday but it means that you have a huge amount of work on 1 day which is difficult to arrange – so I’m still on the fence. So we’ll probably concentrate on facebook advertising. We’ll do the postal vote letter directly – a leaflet drop is a huge undertaking.
Alex: It’s difficult to know, as I’m comparing myself with what I did last year. So, last year I sent letters to all community groups, and didn’t get any responses, so I haven’t done that yet, but possibly people voted for me because I did send the letter out – so what if I lose those votes – it’s tricky. I’ve got my postal vote letters to go out now. I’m fortunate as my team has grown considerably since last year.
DN: Are there any major issues on a City-wide basis that you would major on outside of representing the residents of your wards?
Alex: I have 2 key things for me. The support for Special Needs children which I have experience in and have a lot to offer to make sure provisions are in place. My other one is homelessness and vulnerable people. There have been some positive steps in the City to improve the situation.
Phil: Mine is also homelessness which I have a lot of first hand of experience in. The other, is Regeneration – Duckworth Square – how long it that going to go on for? I think there are things going on in the City which positively encourage homelessness. I know that Safe Space is starting up and I have some concerns about that. When it was first discussed in the Liaison forum one of the first comments from the people working on this was “we’re working on our exclusion policy” – I was absolutely gobsmacked; they should have been focussed on their admissions policy.
DN: What do you think your chances are of winning?
Alex: I think it’s going to be a hard battle. I’m encouraged that my vote went up from 2016 to 2018 – to 469 votes – a 50% increase! Beating UKIP and Lib Dem and not far behind Labour. It will be a big task to overcome the Conservative majority in Oakwood but I am determined. If people look at the national situation – it is a clear example of how party politics does not get anything done, and gets in the way. I just want them to know that there is that alternative to party politics and I will work as hard as I can and be a good representative for them.
Phil: I wouldn’t like to say. Last time I got around 1800 votes which should have been a landslide – previously I won on 1217. Whether I still have them, who knows? Last time I lost by 32 votes. People don’t realise how important each vote is.
The few occasions when Cllrs have voted away from whipped party decisions has given rise to some interesting moments in the Chamber – moments which favour the residents rather than party dogma. Having more Independent Cllrs in the Council will improve democracy in the City. Candidates from the larger parties have the advantage of a “party machine” behind them ; trying to be elected as an Independent takes determination and stamina.
I wonder how many of the existing Cllrs would have stood for election if they knew that they had to depend solely on their own initiative and efforts?
Categories: Derby City Council