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Election season ripe for a new movement

Is this the season for an independent MPs movement? This seems to be a question widely circulating in these weeks coming up to July 18, and clearly there is a diversity of opinion about whether this is the time, or not, and whether, or not, it would be a good or productive thing to see more independent candidates run and be elected.

On a purely practical note, it is remarkably easy to register to be an independent candidate on the ballot for any given constituency. One needs to have proposer and seconder from the constituency supporting the candidate, a deposit of $250 and the ability to deliver it and the paperwork at the correct time and correct place on July 4. Details are on the parliamentary website. If a candidate captures a minimum of one eighth of the votes cast, the $250 is returned. If not, it’s lost. Simple.

Less simple is the answer to the question: have we moved far enough away in time and culture from the pre-1960s era that the idea, symbolism and reality of independent MPs are enough emptied of historical baggage as to be ready to retool for a properly post-colonial purpose?

Could the return of independent MPs signal a perhaps long-overdue move away from the zero-sum structure of a two-party Westminster model, where there is always a rancorous losing side? (Alongside an often gloating victorious one?)

Could, in fact, a cluster of independent MPs guarantee that the country and her various fractured communities graduate from some wholesale imitation of a system designed for the “Mother Country” to one that is non-zero-sum and by definition requires dynamic coalitions and consensus to be built within the House, and thus within the civic society at large?

There is not space here to go into the reasons why a system, both evolved and designed, to administer and govern a country the size and complexity of Britain should be appropriate or most beneficial to a microscopic-sized country such as Bermuda in any real depth. It is sufficient to point out that Bermuda’s size and population density amplify divisions and discord, and that harmony — economic and social — is and always has been better produced through consensus and neighbourly compromise, whether in daily life or civic life. It is worth remembering at this point that compromise is only that, a compromise, if all parties feel a little discomfort.

Beyond the potential positive impact that independent MPs may have on the functioning of the House, and thus government as it may be formed, in terms of forcing greater cross-party co-operation, there are a couple of other advantages that non-party MPs may offer.

A primary advantage is that an independent can offer their loyalty to the constituents, rather than to a party or a particular platform; or, indeed, some politicised “historical” narrative or rhetorical identity.

Why might this be an advantage?

One core function of an MP in a representational democracy is to know the views and concerns of all of the constituents — not simply the ones that voted in favour of the MP — and in turn to explain and discuss the legislative and budgetary decision processes. To do this the MP must interact with the bulk of their constituents on a regular basis, in a continuing two-way flow of information, discussion and analysis. In the absence of an already worked-out programme that a party MP takes as fully endorsed, if elected, and thus can feel justified in disappearing off to Parliament not to be seen again until the next election, an independent MP must remain in conversation with constituents as laws are developed and budgets constructed.

Without a party or predetermined platform, an independent can consider legislation Act by Act and budgetary priorities year by year, and in continuous consultation with their constituents. By not signing off and staying submissive to a predetermined plan, an independent MP can offer to constituents the capacity to evolve with both them and the ever-changing future contexts for any given issue or spending.

A second great advantage to constituents therefore flows from what may be seen at first pass as a weakness: the lack of a fixed platform and fully worked-out manifesto. The absence of party affiliation or a fully articulated platform does not have to mean that an independent MP lacks core and guiding values. Rather, an independent MP can offer a commitment to a consistent set of values, such as transparency, sustainability, equality and a deliverable promise to consistently consider any given element of the business of good representational government within a framework of such values.

Of course, any independent MP can choose framing value for their own selves. One advantage of committing to a framework of sustainability and equality is that we may be able to recast conversations, or shouting matches, that we have at present regarding race, class and nationality, in the equally robust but more productive language of sustainability and equality.

Our society, and our politics, let alone our social and economic futures, depend on finding more productive ways to frame our debates and a greater capacity to find grounds of compromise and agreement. Without this, we will continue to drift, do little but complain and truly be at the passive mercy of outside fates.

Christina Storey, PhD is the founder of Eureka! Academic Services, a guest lecturer and curator for the Bermuda National Gallery, and an intern at Canterbury Law