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A silhouetted hand places an election ballot into a box. Student Politics Blog looking ahead to the West Lancashire by-election to replace Rosie Cooper

News opinion

Student politics blog: Do independent candidates have a chance of success in today’s politics?

December 14, 2022

Since local MP Rosie Cooper announced that she would be standing down from Parliament, parties have been gearing up for the forthcoming by-election.

In this article, in the run up to polling day, student Jack Firmstone looks at the prospects for independent candidates.

Until nominations close, we won’t know who is standing in this by-election. Any would-be candidates will have to collect signatures and find money for a deposit to appear on the ballot paper. But Paul Greenall, a former Conservative turned independent, appears to be waving the flag of independence, separating himself from the usual party politics. He has positioned himself as a candidate for change.  

In a country that is trapped in what appears to be a two-party state where even minor parties struggle to gain seats, is it even possible for an independent candidate to enter the Commons? To answer that question this article will ask three questions. How electorally successful are independent candidates in today’s politics? Who is Paul Greenall? And how likely is he to run in the by-election?

How electorally successful are independent candidates in today’s politics?

It cannot be said that independents have the power to overthrow the party dominance of Westminster. There are currently 14 MPs in the House of Commons described as independent. This may seem impressive, but in reality many of these MPs achieved election as a member of a political party, and have either been suspended from the party, or have declared themselves independent whilst in office – a disparate group.

There is however a clear example of independents having an impact in the Commons with the short-lived The Independent Group being set up in Spring 2019. At its height the group, part of which became Change UK, was made up of eight former Labour and three former Conservative MPs.  The group aimed to work together to encourage more cross-party cooperation within Parliament but dissolved itself less than a year after forming. Some members joined the Liberal Democrats.  Others stayed but the political party registered by the group failed to notch up any gains and all MPs lost their seats. This surely shows that independents have little chance of success in UK politics and major, established political parties still dominate when it comes to electoral success.

Who is Paul Greenall?

Paul Greenall served West Lancashire for 20 years as a Conservative Party councillor and was Mayor 10 years ago. In 2017 though Greenall became an independent after his attempt to reduce councillor allowances at county level was blocked.  

Since then, he has become a prominent opponent of what he sees as the unjust threats of sacking, faced by NHS and care workers who refused to get vaccinated against the Covid-19 pandemic. He has campaigned on this and on other health-related issues, focusing specifically on the idea that the politicians partied while sacking NHS staff.

Greenall is currently crowdfunding in order to run for the position of MP for West Lancashire.

How likely is he to run in the by-election?

While there is time for Mr Greenall to enter the race to succeed Rosie Cooper MP, it is unlikely that he will be successful. At the time of writing, crowdfunding had stalled, and he still requires a surge in donations if he has any hope of reaching the £2,500 target for entering the race.  

He needs this money to pay his by-election deposit and to pay for some campaign materials. Even if he does raise the money, it is unlikely that he will have much impact on the election with the Labour candidate the clear favourite to win. The seat has been held by Labour since 1992, with Rosie Cooper serving since 2005. Labour are also the odds on favourites with betting on the election strongly favouring the idea that West Lancashire will remain red. Even so, with the Conservatives at an all-time low in popularity ratings, it might allow a new independent such as Mr Greenall to gain the support of many unsatisfied voters who would normally vote Conservative.

Only time will tell, but you can guarantee the Politics Lab group at Edge Hill University will be keeping an eye on the race. In the run up to the poll, members of the lab will be interviewing and writing about as many candidates as possible.

Jack Firmstone is a second year BA History and Politics student and a member of the Politics Lab.  He was awarded a University Scholarship to recognise his work with the Politics Lab.

December 14, 2022


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