Wales

Why independent politicians are a rare breed

Image caption Trish Law succeeded her late husband Peter as independent assembly member

Party political machines are useful tools when it comes to winning elections.

With a ready list of supporters and a campaign war chest built up over years, it's little wonder they've managed to see off most challenges from independent candidates over the decades.

It hasn't always been the case; up until the end of World War II, independent MPs were not uncommon. And councils in large parts of Wales remain surprisingly fertile ground for those not attached to one of the big four political parties.

Few have managed to fight their way into parliament or the assembly though.

Trish Law and her husband Peter Law are two notable exceptions.

'Chances of winning'

Peter Law was the Labour assembly member for Blaenau Gwent who intended to stand as the constituency's member of parliament. The party decided the candidate would be chosen from an all-women shortlist.

That decision resulted in Mr Law leaving Labour and successfully standing as an independent in the 2005 general election taking the party's safest seat in Wales. He represented the constituency as MP and AM until his death from a brain tumour a year later.

In the strongly contested double by-election that followed, Labour failed to regain the seat.

Mr Law was succeeded by his widow Trish in the assembly and by his friend and election agent Dai Davies in parliament.

Trish Law beat off another Labour challenge, holding the seat at the Assembly election in 2007 but Dai Davies stint as an MP was to be short lived. He lost in May's general election when Labour regained the constituency.

The news that Mrs Law wouldn't be standing again leaked over the weekend.

It was greeted with the words, "POP!! POP!! POP!! goes the cork!!" by Labour's assembly candidate in Blaenau Gwent, Alun Davies, on Twitter.

Clearly the party thinks its chances of winning there in next May's election have had a boost by her decision.

Peter Law is one of only a few politicians to win the same constituency both for a party and as an independent.

Image caption SO Davies won Merthyr as an independent socialist with a 7,400 majority

In the neighbouring Labour heartland seat of Merthyr Tydfil, S.O. Davies scored a famous victory when he was elected as an independent MP at the age of 84.

He'd represented the constituency since 1934 but the party decided he was too old to stand in the 1970 election.

Voters disagreed: he stood against Labour and won. He died two years later.

Dr John Marek was another politician to take on his former party and win. He was the Labour MP for Wrexham before representing the constituency as an AM. In 2003 assembly election, he took on his former colleagues and won after he'd been deselected as a candidate by Labour. He only held the seat for one term.

Some AMs have stood down from their parties and remained as independents in the Assembly without being elected again.

Wales isn't alone in its occasional rebellion against party politics.

An independent with a powerful message can be successful anywhere; Ken Livingstone's first victory as Mayor of London, Martin Bell's election in 1997 as the one-term MP for Tatton, on an anti-sleaze ticket, and George Galloway's win in Bethnal Green and Bow are evidence of that.

The independents' victories usually come on the back of a cause or, just as commonly, a sense of grievance. And winning the seats back usually becomes a matter of principle for the party machines.

Dr Richard Taylor is probably one of the most successful of recent years. He became the independent MP for the Wyre Forest in 2001 on the back of a campaign to save local NHS services.

He held the seat until May's general election when it was won by the Conservatives.

Whether through choice, like Trish Law, or through the ballot box, like Dai Davies, those who do buck the party system rarely do it for too long.

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