The rise of Independents

31 Jan 18

Last week ended with the shock announcement that all the councillor’s representing Thurrock UKIP have joined a new political party called the Thurrock Independents.

No doubt this was a savvy political move given the internal struggles the party is currently facing and their poor performance at the General Election back in June. But, what does this suggest for local politics outside of UKIP?

Since 2014 (and potentially earlier), UKIP has been the definitive alternative party. Although a polarising party, they have undoubtedly filled a space in politics for those who could not identify with Labour or Conservative, and would never dream of being a Liberal Democrat. With UKIP in decline, we may see a move towards independent parties, not entirely dissimilar to residents associations and amenity societies which have traditionally campaigned for local government seats.

It is not unheard of for non-party political groups to be active in  local authorities – Uttlesford, Elmbridge and Castle Point are all testament to this, with vocal and influential resident / independent groups forming large parts of their respective councils. Unfortunately, traditional independent parties are often seen as the NIMBY’s best friend, either opposed to development (especially green field) or forming a minority government that are too polarised to make influential changes.

However, with housing increasingly becoming a central topic of debate (other than Brexit, of course) are we about to see a change in direction for local parties? Perhaps we could even see a political party that is supportive of, rather than opposed to, housebuilding – the so called YIMBY’s.

The YIMBY campaign is gaining popularity in the most unaffordable places in the country, with London, Oxford and Cambridge all having recognised groups. In San Francisco similar YIMBY groups have formed political parties whose sole aim is to enable and campaign for building affordable homes. If YIMBY groups in the UK took a similar approach we could see a radically different approach to housebuilding, one that would enable political support beyond that seen in most mainstream councils.

However, before we see (or dream of) pro-housing political groups we’ll have to see if there is a change in direction following the London and local elections this May. Yes, we could see a rise in independent parties, but equally possible, it could be a return to the traditional two-party battles between Labour and Conservative.

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