In Depth

Will this election mark the rise of the independent MP?

David Gauke joins growing number of high-profile politicians standing against their former parties

David Gauke is the latest high-profile MP to announce that he will be standing as an independent candidate in next month’s general election.

The former justice secretary was in the Conservative cabinet just four months ago, but had his whip removed in September for voting against the Government on leaving the EU.

Gauke told The Times this week that he believes he has the best chance of winning in his constituency and preventing Boris Johnson from delivering a “very hard Brexit”.

The i news site notes that “an unusually high number of well-known MPs are planning to fight the upcoming election as independent candidates”.

The site calculated last week - prior to Gauke’s announcement - that at least ten former Labour or Tory MPs were bidding to keep their seats by defeating their old parties.

“History shows it is extremely hard for independents to reach the House of Commons as they are nearly always outgunned by the money, manpower and name recognition of the major political parties,” says i news.

“This time is different, they now insist. The old political system has broken down, leaving millions of voters crying out for a different way of doing things. And recent events in Parliament show that independent MPs can have an outsized impact on events.”

Only one independent MP was elected at the general election in 2017 - Sylvia Hermon, MP for North Down in Northern Ireland - but by the time Parliament was dissolved last week, there were 24 independents in the Commons.

They include a handful of other Conservatives who in September voted to allow Parliament to take control of the order bill to help prevent a no-deal Brexit.

Gauke has held the South West Hertfordshire seat since 2005, building on his support base at every election and taking 57% of the vote two years ago. He has also said he would now back a second referendum, which has increased pressure on the Lib Dems to stand aside to help him beat Tory hopeful Gagan Mohindra.

Applauding Gauke’s decision to go it alone, fellow former Tory rebel Anne Milton, MP for Guildford, said: “Party politics has not served the country well over the last few years. People should have a choice of doing politics a different way.”

Milton will also be standing as an independent in the 12 December election, as will former attorney general Dominic Grieve, who has been MP for Beaconsfield for 22 years.

Last week, Grieve told the London Evening Standard that he had raised more than double his campaign target in just ten days and needed to ask his supporters to stop donating funds.

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On the opposition side, a few Labour MPs who have resigned or been suspended have also vowed to stand in the election.

“All the independent candidates think they can attract voters who are fed up with the Tories’ embrace of hard Brexit and Labour’s shift to the left,” says i news. “But experts warn that even in unusual times, there is no easy route to victory for independents, no matter how well known they are.”

The site notes that just six independents have been elected to Parliament since the 1970s.

Aside from helping with the significant cost of standing, big parties have access to voter data to better enable candidates to target constituents, along with party experts to ensure they don’t fall foul of the laws surrounding elections and data protection.

In addition, bigger parties have the support of grass-roots activists to act as “boots on the ground” and access to media, including television debates and campaigning.

“Miracles and upsets do happen,” writes Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, in an article for the Financial Times.

But he adds: “Our electoral system, and the laws that underpin it, has been fashioned by political parties for political parties. Without their support then, baby, it’s cold outside.”

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