My analysis for Health Election Data on how party memberships feature in NHS Foundation Trust elections. I considered it inappropriate that memberships be declared even when candidates are not official nominees, but also found party status has little impact on electoral performance.
Most people elected to public office in the UK are members of a political party, even though only a small minority of the public are party members. Individuals are chosen by their parties – often after tough selection battles – to stand under the party label and enjoy the support and resources that come with representing a party.
NHS Foundation Trust elections are different, in that parties do not formally nominate candidates. Essentially, would-be governors stand as independents. Nobody is referred to as the official candidate for a particular party on the ballot paper.
However, it seems that most trusts have decided that their members need to know if candidates at governor elections are political party members. Of the recent elections included in the Health Election Centre database, in over three-quarters of cases the trust has asked candidates to declare their affiliations, and then publishes a ‘statement of candidates’ that lists these (see example). Only a small minority of candidates declare any party memberships.
Proportion of elections in which the trust published the political affiliations of candidates
Proportion of candidates that declared themselves a member of a political party
It is hard to see how this is necessary or appropriate. It may be argued that voters deserve to know what the political loyalties of potential governors is, and that this helps inform their choice. But it is telling that candidates must declare their party membership at the same time as they must declare any financial interests they have in the trust. The implication seems to be that a member of a political party member must have an ‘agenda’ that needs exposing, in the same way as someone who might benefit financially from being a governor.
Why stop at parties? Why are candidates not asked to declare their membership of other types of organisation? Some candidates might be members of groups that have campaign goals relevant to the election, for instance those part of campaigns against spending cuts or privatisation – these are not declared. Some may be members of health charities campaigning in the interests of a particular group of patients, raising the possibility of bias in their decision-making. Of course, I would argue that all such candidates are welcome to stand – but we shouldn’t be differentiating political party members as being different.
Even if we consider that declaring a political affiliation might be advantageous to a candidates, this practice is still surely inappropriate. We have to question what right these candidates have to use a party’s name in the election, when that party has not chosen them as a candidate, and has not endorsed them in any sense. The person concerned has simply joined the organisation, which anyone is able to do.
How do party members perform?
A large majority of governor candidates are not members of a party. (At least, they do not declare themselves as such in their nomination papers). Over 80% of candidates declare no party affiliation – this figure excludes candidates for trusts which do not request and/or publish the information.
Of these candidates that are party members, which parties do they belong to? Analysing elections held in our database, there is an even split between Labour and Conservative, with several others also featuring.
Declared party membership of candidates of Foundation Trust governor candidates (%)
Are party members more or less likely to be elected as governors? The data collected so far suggests that party membership has little, if any impact on a candidates’ electoral chance, with affiliated and unaffiliated candidates equally likely to be elected.
Party membership among Foundation Trust governor candidates, all and elected
All charts based on a sample of 127 governor elections from late 2013 to mid 2014. Excludes candidates for whom party membership status is not known. ‘Elected’ does not include candidates elected unopposed.
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