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    Local elections 2023: Candidates hope 4 May can be independents’ day

    • By Simon Dedman and Nic Rigby
    • BBC Politics East

    Image source, Martin Giles/BBC

    Image caption,

    This year’s local elections in Essex include candidates standing for the Canvey Island Independent Party

    Candidates not connected to the main political parties have been making major gains across the East of England over the last few local elections. As we gear up for another year of votes being cast, what is their appeal?

    The political parties make all the noise at elections.

    But quietly behind the scenes there has been a shift in power in recent years, with the growth of independents and residents’ parties.

    In 2019 the independent Residents for Uttlesford group took control of Uttlesford District Council in Essex from the Conservatives.

    Image caption,

    Professor of government at Essex University, Paul Whiteley, said independent councillors play an important role

    An independent group helped oust the Conservatives from Castle Point District Council last year and independents also played a key role in the Tories losing control of Huntingdonshire District Council in Cambridgeshire.

    Across the 1,360 seats up for election across the East of England, more than 200 are residents or independent candidates – more than the number of Labour candidates.

    Prof Paul Whiteley, of Essex University, said: “Independents, you know, are rather unsung heroes. They are actually under the radar a little bit across the country in local government.”

    The professor of government said there were three main types of independent councillors.

    Image caption,

    Elections are taking place on 4 May 2023

    “There’s the first type, which usually means a councillor representing a local community and has got elected because of local grievances,” he said.

    “The second type are people who have fallen out with their party who they were elected as part of. This has happened both with former members of the Conservative and Labour parties.

    “The third one, which I think is the most unrecognised, are people who have decided they want to help out in local communities, but they don’t want to be involved in party politics.

    “This is very common at the parish council level of local government. And they do a lot of work for the community often unrecognised, and this is an important component of our democracy.”

    Image caption,

    Kerry Smith is an independent councillor on Basildon Council

    Kerry Smith, leader of the independent group on Basildon Council, said the advantage of independent councillors was they did not have to follow any party line.

    “It stops that party whip rubbish. We have to rely on our reputations. If we get something wrong, we pay for it,” he said.

    “You have got to work harder because you live or die by your reputation. It’s hard won and easily lost.”

    Image caption,

    Tendring Council leader Neil Stock believes in party politics

    However, Neil Stock, Conservative leader of Tendring Council, said being a member of a party, rather than independent, was “definitely a help”.

    “People know what you stand for and where you are coming from,” he said.

    “Everyone who is standing for a local council is doing so because they love where they live and they want to make it a better place”.

    Yasmin Gregory, from the Green Party in Harlow, said: “We in the Green Party don’t have a whip, so I am not told how I have to vote when I get to become a councillor.

    “I am very proud to be Green Party. People are waking up to the fact we have to be responsible for our environment.”

    Carole Mulroney, Lib Dem cabinet member of the environment on Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, said: “In local democracy we have a council of 51 councillors, and 51 individuals would not be a good way forward as there is no cohesion and there has to be leadership.

    “From the point of view of officers, they have to have certainty to plan and formulate decisions.”

    Labour’s Colchester City Council cabinet member, Julie Young, said she felt being in a political party was important.

    “It defines who I am,” she said.

    “It’s important to be the person who people know and have trust in, but also to have the party label that actually tells people a bit about you.

    “You know what you are going to get from the main political parties.”

    Image caption,

    Labour Colchester councillor Julie Young said she felt being in a political party was important

    You can see more on this story on Politics East on BBC One on Sunday, 30 April at 10:00 BST, with it also available on BBC iPlayer afterwards.



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