Independents are in the news more than ever at the moment.
Amid the increasingly partisan environment in parliament spawning The Independent Group of MPs, along with social media making it easier than ever before to have your voice heard, politicians and public alike seem to be waking up to the idea of political independence in office.
But will May 2 be Leeds’s very own “Independents Day”?
Various independent groups will be contesting seats at wards across the city, hoping to add to the current total of eight seats over three wards. These seats are currently shared out between two groups: The Morley Borough Independents (MBIs) with five seats, and the Garforth and Swillington Independents with three seats.
Garforth and Swillington group leader Mark Dobson knows more than most about how the council works. He was elected as a Labour councillor in 2007, before being elevated to a decision-making executive role in 2011. He left the party in 2017 and has remained unaffiliated with a major party ever since.
So is it realistic to expect councillors to be able to make changes in small numbers?
He said: “It has given us the freedom to talk about issues that are important and put pressure on the council.
“Some might argue that, as a small party, we are no more than a noise but in reality the issues in our wards meant we could bring real change.”
He also revealed that his party was keen to help other like-minded independents campaign in other parts of Leeds.
“We wanted to focus on local issues for our relevant areas,” he added. “We are leafleting for East Leeds independents too. We also wish the MBIs well in Morley – they have done good things for that area.”
He also referred to the composition of the council, suggesting the current large Labour majority means there is no reason for councillors of differing parties to come to a consensus on issues.
He added: “When I first became a councillor, Labour only had 42 seats and the administration was run by a Lib Dem/Conservative/MBI/Green coalition.
“I would not say we would want to be involved with anything as formal as that, but Labour now has numbers in the 60s, meaning they can enact anything they want.”
When it comes to independent groups, however, the MBIs are the daddies.
Formed following the birth of Morley Town Council, the Morley Borough Independents soon made waves in the local elections, walking away with all six seats in Morley’s two wards on Leeds City Council.
They’re still going strong in five of those seats, and MBI group leader Coun Judith Elliott says they have no plans to stop.
“We have reached dizzy heights,” she said. “On Morley Town Council we now have 24 of the 26 elected members. We also hold five of the six seats in Leeds City Council – it is obvious that the Morley voters know we are doing things for them.”
So can the independents have a say on the big council-level decisions?
“It depends what you see as the big council-level decisions,” she replied. “The council is made up of what was nine small councils – and all council decisions appertain to every ward.
“We can have things like park and ride schemes, but even that comes down to ward level – every decision the council makes affects communities.”
Coun Elliott also echoed Coun Dobson’s calls for more joined up working between independent groups on the council.
She added: “We meet people in the street, in surgeries and at events in Morley – when they turn up in their droves, they always collar us because they all have something to say – it is brilliant.”