In response to this:
by Paul Millar, in his personal capacity and as a former parliamentary aide to an MP:
One of the most common questions I’ve been getting on the doorstep and seeing on social media from voters who are interested in politics is, ‘What can an independent MP achieve in Parliament?’.
Some are curious; others present this question with a tone of cynicism, as though they’ve been told already by Claire’s rivals that an MP can achieve nothing without a party. There is no evidence to suggest you can’t and no elected independent MP who has been ineffective.
There is a difference of course when a party MP gets kicked out of their party for bringing their party into disrepute; often this is against their will and they lose credibility.
But elected independent MPs tend to be refreshing free thinkers, who vote on issues, rather than party loyalty. To be in the position of beating well-funded political parties requires a high level of political astuteness and endeavour.
The people of Tatton begged the elected independent MP to be elected in England, Martin Bell, to return after one term in 2001 because he did such an amazing job. Richard Taylor was the last elected independent MP in Kidderminster, he served in Kidderminster between 2001 and 2010.
Some of the most important laws this country has passed – decriminalising homosexuality, for example – happened because political parties put aside their differences and worked together.
I found this when I worked on a Bill for two years to create an opt-out situation for organ donation in England. This was a moment which saw genuine respect and mutual understanding shared between Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, Health Secretary and Shadow Health Secretary – not something you’d see at Prime Minister’s Question Time!
Here are five ways in which Claire Wright has an equal chance to any other MP in the House of Commons:
1. The Speaker gives an equal opportunity to all constituency MPs. Speaker Hoyle won an election on the promise he would stop the convention of calling senior MPs before junior MPs.
2. If the Tories are elected to government, they won’t deliberately neglect East Devon because Claire isn’t a member of their party – they’ll want to win the seat next time (and claim credit for any investment put in). So, there is little merit in the argument that Claire would not be influential. Hugo Swire could’ve been influential; he chose not to be.
3. All MPs are treated equally with regard to putting questions to the Prime Minister. Claire would be treated exactly the same as any other MP. She would also be treated equally in terms of putting forward her own Bills, Oral Questions to any Minister on any subject (which are decided by Clerks putting MPs’ names into a raffle and drawing them out – every MP has 1/650 chance – the probable reason Hugo rarely spoke in Parliament was because he rarely put in for questions because he couldn’t be bothered to raise constituency issues in Parliament).
They can also serve on Select Committees, as the last elected independent MP Richard Taylor did for many years in the two terms he served between 2001 and 2010.
4. As the only elected Independent MP in the House of Commons, and the only independent MP elected in post-war British political history on a broad manifesto rather than a single issue with no candidates standing down in her favour, Claire would evoke a considerable amount of curiosity and attract a huge amount of publicity which she would use to promote the interests of East Devon.
Caroline Lucas is a lone voice for the Green Party but, having lived in her constituency of Brighton Pavilion when I attended university, I saw at first hand the massive amount of work she managed to get done for her constituents. MPs are often the last resort for people in crisis in terms of assisting them with appeals for disability benefits; these interventions as I learned were crucial; it could genuinely be the difference between a life of comfort or misery, or in rare cases, life or death.
As I found when I tried to contact him to help with a desperate housing and benefits case of a young family in Exmouth shortly after being elected, Sir Hugo did not see intervening as part of his role, it appeared to be beneath him, and there is no reason to suggest Simon Jupp will consider this part of his role either given his clear ambitions for high office and lack of local roots.
5. Major issues like the NHS have become a political football, with Labour and Conservatives simply resorting to tribal attack lines on each other, on who is funding the NHS the most, without offering the mature, genuine analysis of how to fix the crisis.
It’s not just how much is being spent; it is how that money is being spent. Claire will be looking for these solutions and will be fighting to prevent any further reductions in hospital beds in East Devon, which Hugo never did. In fact, Simon Jupp is claiming that his party saved Ottery hospital – they didn’t, the beds have gone, and now it’s a mere community health hub which does not offer the hospital beds East Devon needs. Not the same as a community hospital.
In conclusion, it is not only the fact that Claire Wright will be free to speak and free to act which should inspire us into voting for her this Thursday. On the contrary, it is that in addition to being free, she would also have genuine power and have a perfect vantage point to bring about meaningful, positive change – to be that much-needed honest broker between the two tribes of Labour and Conservatives in Parliament on issues ranging from how we properly fund, plan and manage the health service and social care, to how we fund, plan and manage our schools, university and economy.
Claire didn’t need any help from a political party to come up with the excellent manifesto she has. She makes pledges to work across party to achieve realistic goals which will improve this area, from reforming business rates, to bringing back student maintenance grants.
Claire is by far the most serious candidate East Devon has. Let’s get her over the line.