THE call for more independence of mind and spirit among Members of Parliament following the expenses scandals has not yet produced many names of people willing to go it alone at the general election next year. An exception is Esther Rantzen who has said she will probably stand as an independent in Luton South. On the whole the British electorate does not seem to like non-party candidates these days but until 1950 the problem was partly solved by having a number of seats in Parliament allocated to Universities. The novelist, playwright and humourist A P Herbert represented Oxford University for 15 years and succeeded in bringing divorce and matrimonial reform bills into law during that time.

The only successful independent since A P Herbert has been Martin Bell, the TV reporter, who stood against Neil Hamilton on a sleaze issue in 1997 and brought a fresh point of view to Commons debates on several occasions. It is therefore good news that Bell has teamed up with Terry Waite, the former Beirut hostage, to create a loose network of perhaps 25 potential independent candidates. Bell recently spelt out the requirements for an independent: “well-known either nationally or locally, a good cause and a vulnerable sitting MP”. With those criteria in mind he has been looking at Hazel Blears' seat in Salford but says he has not yet decided whether to run there. A network of the kind Bell has in mind could encourage more independents to take a chance.


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