Page last updated at 09:30 GMT, Tuesday, 27 April 2010 10:30 UK

Expenses aftermath sees independents double

By Kerry McDermott
BBC News

Almost twice as many independent candidates are standing in England in the upcoming general election as stood in 2005.

At the last election, 151 independent parliamentary hopefuls stood in English constituencies. Of those, just one was returned to Westminster.

Independent candidate Steven Ford
Dr Steven Ford said it was "now or never" for independent candidates

Five years on, 296 independents are campaigning for votes in England and some candidates believe their surge in numbers will be mirrored by a surge in support.

"It's now or never," said Dr Steven Ford, a former GP who is standing as an independent in Hexham, Newcastle.

"The opportunity has never been greater. If we can't get a few independents in this time then it's absolutely hopeless."

Dr Ford was referring to public anger towards the main political parties in the wake of the expenses scandal, which he is hoping will result in more votes for independent candidates on 6 May.

Dr Ford said the fall-out from the expenses row was a factor in his own decision to stand.

"I'm 56 years old and I've run out of people to vote for," he said.

"I couldn't in conscience vote for any of the established political parties. My only option was to stand myself."

Members of parliament are held in incredibly low regard
Professor Paul Heywood
Nottingham University

Tales of MPs "flipping" second homes and claiming for everything from televisions to garlic peelers also set Gordon Kennedy on the path to becoming a parliamentary hopeful.

"The more I looked into the political parties the more I felt robbed, conned and abused," said Mr Kennedy, who is standing in Dagenham and Rainham.

"I reached the conclusion that I had no alternative but to stand for election as an independent."

Scott Pickles, who is campaigning in Doncaster Central, said it was local people's reaction to the scandal that encouraged him to stand.

"It was talking to people on the street and realising how absolutely fed up of the political parties they are," said Mr Pickles, who is a member of the parish council in Armthorpe, Doncaster.

"They have very strong opinions around here. People wanted an alternative and I felt I could give them that."

'Disgusted by scandal'

Mr Pickles said he believed independent candidates had a "huge chance" of success in the poll on 6 May.

"Whether it be in my constituency or others across the country, I think people are just disgusted by the MPs' expenses scandal," he said.

Independent candidate Scott Pickles
Scott Pickles said independent candidates could "shake things up"

"We need to shake things up a bit."

But Professor Paul Heywood, head of the School of Politics and International Relations at Nottingham University, said the expenses scandal had come as less of a shock to the public than media outrage at the time might suggest.

"I think people were disgusted, certainly," he said.

"But probably not particularly surprised."

"It basically just confirmed what our polls have been telling us for a long time, which is that members of parliament are held in incredibly low regard."

Prof Heywood said the row might have had more impact had it not been preceded by earlier scandals like the cash for questions incident.

The political expert said the success of independent candidates would depend on local factors, rather than any general hostility towards incumbent MPs following the revelations of last summer.

"Where independents have been successful it has tended to be around particular local issues - the closure of hospitals and that sort of thing.

Martin Bell
Martin Bell was famously elected as independent MP for Tatton in 1997

"Martin Bell was a bit of an exception," he said, referring to the former BBC correspondent who famously ousted Conservative Neil Hamilton from his safe Tatton seat in 1997.

Mr Bell, who stood on an anti-corruption ticket in response to perceived sleaze in the governing Conservative Party, became the first independent MP to be elected since 1951.

Prof Heywood said votes for independent candidates amounted to "pretty marginal figures".

"We are unlikely to see any significant change," he added.

'Detrimental effect'

But Brian Ahearne from the Independent Network, which supports politicians who are not aligned to any party, disagreed.

The Independent Network is endorsing 44 of the independent candidates standing in England on 6 May.

"We are expecting the candidates to do extremely well," he said.

Mr Ahearne admitted the introduction of live televised debates between the leaders of the three main parties could have a detrimental effect on independent candidates' chances.

"All the focus is on the three main parties, which is why we have to really battle to make sure people know they're voting for a constituency MP."

But he added that he was still confident of some success for independent candidates.

"They are the only ones that offer a credible alternative to the party politics people are so fed up with."

Other candidates for Hexham are: Liberal Democrat: Andrew Duffield; British National Party: Quentin Hawkins; Independent: Colin Moss; Conservative: Guy Opperman; Labour: Antoine Tinnion

Other candidates for Dagenham and Rainham are: British National Party: Michael Barnbrook; Liberal Democrat: Joseph Bourke; Labour: Jon Cruddas; Conservative: Simon Jones; UK Independence Party: Craig Litwin; Green Party: Debbie Rosaman; Christian Party: Paula Watson

Other candidates for Doncaster Central are: UK Independence Party: Michael Andrews; British National Party: John Bettney; Conservative: Gareth Davies; English Democrats: Lawrence Parramore; Citizens for Undead Rights and Equality: Derek Williams; Liberal Democrat: Patrick Wilson; Labour: Rosie Winterton

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