My name is Kate Bielby and I have a confession to make. I am an Independents for Frome town councillor and I have views on national politics. That’s right – I have strong opinions about the NHS, I am passionate about social care and seriously, do not get me started on our education system.
How can I claim to be ‘independent’ when every five years I choose a candidate from a major political party (albeit different ones each time) and give them my vote? I have seen this question posed a few times in recent weeks, as well as the suggestion that Independents for Frome all agree on everything – that we have a ‘party line’ and are secretly all members of the same major political party. I thought it might be useful to share my experience of how a group of 17 people can put party politics to one side and work together, solely for the benefit of the town in which they live.
Firstly, party politics is not just irrelevant but actively unhelpful at town council level. We do not make decisions about health, education or policing and my views on nuclear disarmament do not come into play when discussing whether we should acquire the Old Showfield or replace the toilets in Victoria Park. I don’t see eye to eye with all my fellow councillors about national issues, but that doesn’t stop us having constructive discussions about things that matter to us locally.
Discussion does not have to be adversarial when we are considering what will help make Frome a better place in which to live and work. We can respect the views of other councillors, take heed of consultation with residents, listen to experts and community groups. Our council meetings are not about scoring points or winning a debate, they are about making decisions based on the best information available.
As a group of councillors we can and do disagree. We never discuss how we will vote on a particular issue and I have personally voted against a number of proposals, some of which were agreed by majority and have turned out to be successful initiatives. In those cases I can accept my reservations were wrong and democracy did its job. Turns out I’m not always right.
So why are we registered as a ‘minor political party’ if we don’t all adhere to a ‘party line’? The Electoral Commission rules that we must do this in order to have an ‘IfF’ logo on the ballot paper. The only thing any Independents for Frome candidate has signed up to is a way of working to get the best for Frome. We agree to work with respect for others, be positive, creative and look for solutions not moan about problems and that we will make up our own minds.