Independents ‘can restore credibility’ to political life

27 May 2009

by Bill Bowder

Above it all: the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John Hall, takes high tea on the Abbey roof last week, as part of a tourism initiative by Visit London. Other tea venues included Kensington Palace, Monument, and the Roundhouse PA

Above it all: the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John Hall, takes high tea on the Abbey roof last week, as part of a tourism initiative by Visit L...

TERRY WAITE, the former special envoy to the Archbishop of Canter­bury, said this week that he would consider standing as an independent MP.

Writing in The Times on Wednes­day, he said that he had been asked to do so “frequently”, but had always so far refused. If he changed his mind, it would be to encourage reform.

Referring to the Archbishop of Can­­terbury’s warning on Saturday that MPs were being unduly humili­ated by the publicity over their ex­penses claims, Mr Waite said: “Much as I applaud the Archbishop of Can­ter­bury’s personal concern for indi­viduals, he must also be aware that this crisis, no matter how unpleas­ant, could be just the very thing the country needs.”

On Saturday, Dr Williams said that the issues raised by the con­troversy over MPs’ expenses were “as grave as could be for our parliament­ary democracy”. Writing in The Times, he asked whether the “con­tinu­­ing systematic humiliation of po­li­ti­cians” now threatened to ex­tract a heavy price by reducing public confidence in democracy.

Regulating MPs’ expenses, im­port­ant though it was, could not be the whole answer. Regulation took the place of virtue, and was an excuse for not encouraging intelligence and good will among the MPs (“or bankers or whoever”) in the first place, Dr Williams wrote.

“If we are to recover trust in our political class, we need to know some­thing about what they are glad to do for its own sake — because, though we often forget it, this is one of the surest tests of virtue.”

Jonathan Bartley, the co-director of the Christian think tank Ekklesia, said last week that independent poli­ticians could do much to restore cred­ibility to British politics. A survey commissioned by Ekklesia found that 78 per cent of the 1010 voters it questioned said that inde­pendent candidates should stand at the next General Election against MPs who had behaved unethically.

Nearly two-thirds of those who responded to the poll, which was conducted by ComRes last week, said that British democracy would be strengthen­ed if independent candi­d­ates stood. Nearly half of those questioned said that they would “ser­iously consider” voting for them.

“The fall-out from the expenses scandal has clearly brought hope of a new system and new ways of political engagement,” Mr Bartley said.

Paul Wesson, an independent can­did­ate in the county-council elec­tions next Thursday, who resigned the Conservative whip over coun­cillors’ expenses, said that county and district councillors could be the next ones to come under scrutiny over their spending. Mr Wesson, a retired RAF Flight Lieutenant, is standing in Burford and Carterton North East, in Oxfordshire.

“I resigned the whip over over­spending a pre-planned budget purely to line our own pockets,” he said on Wednesday. “We were meant to be guardians of the public purse, and should have cut our coat ac­cording to our cloth.”

Mr Wesson, an international elec­tion observer and a former Sunday-school teacher, said: “If you are greedy, you will be greedy, whatever you do. I know people who will claim for anything.”

Elections for the European Parlia­ment also take place next Thursday. The Christian Party and Christian Peoples Alliance were between them fielding candidates in 11 of the 12 electoral regions in the UK, the Alliance’s leader, Councillor Alan Craig, confirmed on Tuesday.

Gary Wilton, Giles Fraser

Gary Wilton, Giles Fraser

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