Ex-Tory candidates will add another layer of unpredictability to what was already going to be a chaotic electionby Rachel Sylvester / October 30, 2019 / Leave a comment
Ed Vaizey, the moderate former arts minister, was asked on the Today programme this morning whether he was comfortable fighting an election on behalf of a Conservative Party that had no room for Ken Clarke, Philip Hammond, David Gauke or Dominic Grieve. When Nick Robinson put it to him that the Tories were now a “narrow, ideological, factional” party he replied simply: “Yes.”
Vaizey—one of the 21 Conservatives who lost the whip for voting against the government to try and prevent a no-deal Brexit—has now been allowed back into the party by Boris Johnson on the eve of a general election in which the prime minister needs to win every seat he can. But 11 of the rebel MPs have not been reinstated. Some have announced their intention to stand down—Rory Stewart is running for London Mayor and yesterday Amber Rudd, who resigned in support of the 21, said she would not be a candidate at the election. Sam Gyimah has joined other former Conservatives in defecting to the Liberal Democrats. But several of the moderate Tories who only a few months ago were sitting around the cabinet table intend to stand as independents. There are also former Labour MPs who are likely to stand without a party rosette. It adds yet another layer of unpredictability to an already chaotic poll.
The history of independent parliamentary candidates is not good. Only a handful have been elected in the last 50 years. In 1997, the former BBC journalist Martin Bell beat Neil Hamilton, the Tory MP for Tatton who had been embroiled in the “cash for questions” scandal. Bell stood on an anti-corruption ticket, and won after Labour and the Liberal Democrats stood aside to give him a clear run. In 2001 a local doctor Richard Taylor fought and won Wyre Forest to save a local hospital, and was re-elected in 2005.
These are, however, the exceptions in an electoral system that has, as Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, puts it “been fashioned by political parties for political parties.” He points out that independent candidates do not, for example, have voter databases to target their messages or armies of local foot soldiers to put leaflets through letterboxes. Nor will they…