Over the next fortnight, in 10 of Britain's most marginal constituencies, 50 candidates for Parliament will be called on to mount a soapbox bearing their name and explain how the relationship between Britain's politicians and its people has broken down – and how we can fix it.
They will include Greens, Christians, Welsh and Scottish nationalists, Monster Raving Loonies and representatives from the three biggest Westminster parties. Those challenged to directly address the public include Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary and close ally of the Prime Minister, in the Tory-targeted seat of Morley and Outwood, West Yorkshire.
A democracy battlebus, operated by The Independent, will tour the UK's key marginal seats, hosting these soapbox hustings as well as three "Independent Live!" debates. And as part of this newspaper's campaign, hundreds of thousands of copies of a reduced, special edition of The Independent will be given away in selected areas. In an age when politicians too often hide behind press releases and leaflet mailshots, we think that the public want to hear what their parliamentary candidates have to say first-hand, to be able to question them and to hold them to account. We hope that both voter and candidate will enjoy the theatre of public debate.
Indeed, in times past, such have been the passions sparked by soapbox oratory that speaker and listener have occasionally come to violence – although we trust this will not be necessary in the run-up to 6 May.
Yesterday, on a gloriously sunny evening on the South Coast of England, The Independent's bus began its national tour on Brighton seafront, where an audience of 400 questioned the candidates for the seat of Brighton Pavilion, whose electors may soon give the House of Commons its first Green MP.
Unsurprisingly after a year that has seen Westminster dragged through the mud, there was a pervasive distrust of politicians among those walking along the bright, if windswept, beach. "Your bus says 'The Truth'," remarked one disgruntled non-voter, gesturing towards The Independent's white double-decker.
"But that's not what politics seems to be about now. There is general disillusionment. I had enough when there was so much spin, you just didn't know what was true any more."
Chris Larkin, 53, a garage owner from Bedfordshire, had also lost his patience with the political elite. "I think they're all tarred with the same brush," he said. "It's not just the expenses. It's also the Tory sleaze from a few years ago. I don't know if I'll vote – I won't go out of my way. There's only one person who seems to be worth listening to – Vince Cable. He's the only one who can give an honest answer to a straight question."
His daughter, Sam Larkin, 24, similarly thinks the Liberal Democrats could offer something new. "I like Nick Clegg," she said. "He seems a bit different to the others."Reuse content