The vortex of irrelevance


This time last week I was at the first meeting of Devon United in Newton Abbot.  The meeting was called primarily to gauge interest in a new approach to politics ahead of the 2017 County elections in Devon.

It was also an opportunity to refine the possible way in which this might work:  Devon United is seen not as a political party in itself, but as a grouping of citizens supporting candidates who commit to a new way of working.  Information was provided on the core values, ways of working and approaches of others.

All good so far and there was a great turnout in numbers (though not in age range!).  We heard great talks  from Pam Barret mayor of Buckfastleigh (a place in danger of overtaking Frome in its radical new council meetings);  Paul Hilder, founder of Open and Indra Adnan of Soft Power and Compass.  They offered us inspiring comments on why and how real alternative is both essential and possible.

Then a bit of warming up and we broke into tables for a range of discussions….. at which point something happened which I find intriguing, depressing and fascinating.  By far the largest group centred on existing local politicians, intent not on forging new paradigms of doing politics, but on stitching up deals for the next election in an anti-Tory pact.

I ask myself:  ‘Would a new bunch of non-Tories – operating in the same highly confrontational ways, without shared values or ways of working, be that much better than the current lot?’  And I answer myself ‘probably not’.  Until we realise that the current system is rotten from roots to branches and back again – not the political parties per se and certainly not the individuals – then we are trapped in a politics which few care about and which has little hope of taking the big decision we need.

What’s more, that vortex of irrelevance is a perfect place for someone to dive into and pick up on the anger and rejection of increasing numbers of people.  I see I am back to Mr Trump.

About the author

Peter Macfadyen

Social activist, ex Mayor and Leader of Frome Town Council, author, public speaker, undertaker, grandfather.


Leave a comment
    • I Went to a meeting of ‘Devon United – Doing Democracy Differently’ in Newton Abbot last night. About 80 people in attendance – nearly all from the A38 corridor (I was from the furthest north in Devon, I think). There were a significant number of local party activists, including parliamentary candidates. This was interesting because the suggestion at one point that we might break down the party-political system got a big cheer. I suppose you could say that there is an unresolved conflict there.
      Opening speeches by local activists and NGO (Avaaz?) officers from up-country. Ice-breaker exercise then ‘Open Space’ discussions.
      I attended the session on ‘Getting local people involved in politics’. I wouldn’t say we broke significant new ground with this thorny problem. Hopefully the written record of the sessions will be published somewhere somewhen.
      The biggest session was the one about selecting candidates and making political alliances. Apparently there was some interesting horse-trading going on between a couple of political parties at this session, though I have no idea whether the participants had any authority to do this. It certainly generated some excitement.
      The focus of the meeting was vaguely at the County Council level. I think this is because DCC is seen like a ‘rotten borough’ being run by a small group of people who don’t have a real mandate. Unfortunately it is very difficult for people to now work out what DCC actually does. Campaigning at county level doesn’t have the importance of national campaigning but it also doesn’t have the directness and relevance of campaigning at parish or town council level.
      I didn’t stay for the plenaries but did hear a report back that suggested that a good strategy would be to target a few obvious county seats next year. Seeems sensible to me. It’s difficult to work out whether this is going to turn into a real move for citizen-led democracy or whether it’s a simple anti-Tory alliance and I suppose that will continue as a conflict. There was an acceptance that the approach might need to be flexible. We might see candidates badged as ‘Devon United’ or ‘Devon United Labour’?
      There will be meetings held in other locations around the county. I’d suggest that they’d be worth attending.
      Dave Dann’s comment: This is certainly a very interesting, promising, well timed and well-organised initiative. It has been picked-up by party political activists and I think that there is a danger that the ‘citizen-led’ side of things will disappear. It’s hard work being at a table of people who have had fixed opinions for years and a lot of practice at selling them. It tends to close down the dialogue. Do they realise this? Fortunately I popped in at the Railway Inn, North Tawton on the tedious journey home. It’s still the best place for an open,lively political discussion at 10.30pm where you feel amongst friends, and only £2.50 per pint. So glad to see the place unchanged. Proper!

  • Couldn’t make the meeting; however I have to say “stitching up deals for the next election in an anti-Tory pact” (as you put it) was how Devon United was sold to me and others by one of the founders of Devon United. So a little disingenuous to complain about it. I’d like to know more about the shadowy “Scottish multi-millionaire” bankrolling the event.

    • David, thanks for this…… What I heard from the founders was more akin to “…… its all about supporting candidates chosen by the community as a grassroots movement as long as their priority could be shown to be the people they represent rather than their party…..” I got the feeling they were a bit taken aback by the enthusiastic bunfight of the old school politicians.
      If you google around Free Parliament it’s pretty clear what they are all about – is a starting point!

      • I think Devon United have been sending mixed messages here but I think that it will be independent grassroots candidates at parish/town level and political party alliances elsewhere.

        • Dave, I agree that seems the most likely (and pragmatic) way forward. Personally I think a building from the roots is the only sustainable model…..

          • I agree. I’ve been looking at some comments on the ‘Green Red’ FB page today, concerning the selected LibDem candidate for Richmond Park by-election. It made me realise how fragile any agreement between the political tribes would be.

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Copyright © Peter Macfadyen 2019