“Members of Parliament are not thinking outside of the parameters of how they have been trained.” Dawn Parry, the Independents for Bristol candidate in Bristol West, lamented at the end of our interview. During the preceding 20 minute conversation, it was clear that Parry’s proposed solutions for many local and national issues were not based on the orthodox way of doing things.
From fundraising ideas for a community centre in Clifton East, promoting “Wallace and Gromit” style zebra crossings to increase road safety, supporting neighbourhood art projects, and advocating for the City Council to dispense “free terracotta pot heaters and tea lights” to families as a way of tackling the immediate consequences of fuel poverty, Parry’s ideas buzzed throughout the interview, sometimes stopping one answer to inform me of an idea for another local issue.
I asked her whether her independent candidacy meant that she’d be focusing on local policies. “No” she emphatically responded, “I have some strong views on national issues as well because ultimately, the national issues matter to all of us.”
Parry is standing under the banner of Independents for Bristol, a group dedicated to help independent candidates win representation in the city. The group formed in 2013 as a response to Bristol having no independent councillors on the City Council and drew inspiration from neighbouring Frome, where 10 of 17 councillors were independent.
Anyone can stand under the Independents for Bristol banner, as long as they adhere to ‘Bell’s Principles,’ which include adhering to the ‘Seven Principles of Public Life’ set out by Lord Nolan: resist power and patronage, and treat political opponents with respect. And of course, you must remember to pay the £12 pounds annual membership fee.
There is no further ideological commitment necessary, and as Parry commented: “We all agree to disagree. The fact is we are free to embrace whoever’s policies work for people.”
“If you’re a genuine person with a conscience, and a social conscience at that, then it’s the perfect party; for a non-party party.”
Independents for Bristol help with the logistics of Parry’s campaign, such as the production of leaflets – “where we can get them printed for the best prices.” Parry explained further: “Independents for Bristol is not a political party per se. It’s a facilitator, it’s a mechanism for people like me – ordinary people – all sorts of people across all ideological views. Without the party cogs behind you, you can’t just fight a general election, or even a Council election. There are so many rules and regulations you’ve got to follow, that you can fall down at the very first hurdle.”
It was anger against what she saw as Westminster “tribal politics” which prompted her to stand. “I think MPs are doing what their leaders and parties want, rather than their electorates… It’s frustrating when you are in a situation with all these different political parties and they are always against each other. Personally, I decided that I couldn’t stand for any a political group anymore, I don’t like being dictated to by a leader or told what to do or how to vote.”
“I feel as though, certainly in Bristol West, we don’t seem to have Members of Parliament that do things for us. They always seem ineffectual, and have done for years.”
“I’m not a political groupie… but I have been around the block,” she added, referring to a period when she served as a Conservative Councillor on North Somerset District Council. She brushes off any aspersions that being previously linked to a party will damage her credentials an independent. “People will try and trash me for having been with another party before. Well, I have had another husband before. People change their minds. Life changes with all of us.”
She left the Conservatives after the party legislated to increase university tuition fees, saying that the policy decision “beggars belief” and concluding that “education should be free.”
“I don’t like to see people struggling when it is possible to make improvements to their lives.”
But even if Independents for Bristol can help with her campaign, I asked her if she honestly believed she can win in Bristol West, a seat where the Liberal Democrats had a healthy majority of over 11,000 in 2010, and both Labour and the Green Party are also in strong contention in 2015. Parry, true to character, remains upbeat.
“Politically, the ground is shifting. People want to own part of the decisions which are made for them… There are five serious candidates and I think we each have an even chance. In the local elections, Independents for Bristol got 11% of the vote in wards in the constituency. But that tally is actually very high in a seat which could be won on 20%.”