When to come out and when to slag off?

I’ve been involved in some great discussions and meetings in the last few weeks, as groups of people fed up with dysfunctional democracy, move towards doing something about it. For all plotters there is a tricky decision as to when to ‘come out’. This may mean some less discrete conversations or it may be a fully blown public call for action. At a certain point it means there is no turning back and from then on things start to move in ways not always under control! For each group the answer will be different – the first movers are moving, but risk peaking too soon, while the casual tortoises may trundle to victory – or not get their act together!

We have a slightly different challenge here in Frome as we face the prospect of engineering re-election. Personally I had hoped that the massive success of non-party ‘rule’ over the last few years would mean that no one would stand with a Party political alliance at this level again – how naive! Each week the local papers are starting to see more articles and letters claiming great success, influence and impact, or slagging off the opposition, from Party politicians whose name we have not seen since the last election. While this is undoubtedly a successful technique, it increases the cynicism and disillusionment of the electorate. This is why we said we’d never do this. But my goodness it is hard not to hit the send button (especially of easy to use social media) as the false claims and deliberate confusion starts to emerge.

Personally, I remain clear with five months left to actually do something useful for the people who elected us, it would be tragic to divert energy to activity which reduces the chance of building the active democracy we seek.

About the author

Peter Macfadyen

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


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  • Thanks so much for coming to Langport on Tuesday 28th Oct, where 20 people from our local community came together at Eli’s pub to meet Mel and Peter to find out more about Flatpack Democracy and to hear about the story of Frome – how a local revolution in their community-lead and engaging Town Council has had a positive impact on Frome and its community.
    This is a great story of out time, how community members of Frome came together with a desire to change the way their Town Council was being run. They wanted more positive engagement with the people of the town and to create a sustainable community for the benefit of the people of Frome.
    Now isn’t this how its supposed to be? People wanting to represent their community to make it the best place for everyone to live? How great that Mel, Peter and their comrades have made many positive changes to the way the council engages with the community during meetings and engaging with the community and groups around the area finding out what their community needs are and how solutions can be achieved. Showing interest and care in their community and council has been improving effectiveness and moral. By investing in their community building and setting up a community PV renewable energy project, they have turned the building into a thriving community centre with a return on the investment for further community projects. They have employed an Energy and Waste Officer, purchased land for 100 new allotments plus a meadow in the centre of the town to create more community green spaces. By proactively engaging in lottery funding bids and securing 106 funding that was underspent or unclaimed in their area, has enabled more funding for community projects. This month they are installing Electric Car Charging Stations at their community building and setting up a community electric car club being shared with the health centre to enable low cost local transport to health workers in their area.
    It was inspiring to meet these two people who, along with other actively engaging community members, have become councillors with a modern outward looking 21st Century ethos, to work together creating a sustainable community for Frome.
    Flatpack Democracy is a great guide for other communities to learn about their experiences in Frome, to be empowered to stand in local elections and create more accessible and engaging, 21st Century local councils that are for the people by the people working together for the benefit of the community now and into the future. And demonstrates too that local democracy can be fun!
    I hope too that in five months time we all realise that we can do something positive for our community and create more connected caring councils that are lead by the people for the people. Old school politics is dead, its time for a rebirth – to reconnect and care for the places and communities we live in. Well done Frome! I hope this is the start of the revolution we need to see us safely and happily into the future.

  • Many thanks to Mel & Peter who came to XXXXX recently to inspire the group here who are all keen to inject more pro-activity into local government (understatement!). We have not ‘come out’ yet but inevitably there are leaks, so this is another factor to consider in the timing of going public. We risk loosing the advantage if too much ‘gossip’ circulates. We’re meeting tonight – so watch this space.

  • ELECTIONS and the political process

    I have got to hand it to you Peter for putting the spotlight on Politics. I am inspired by the story of Frome and I hope IFF keeps going. No wonder we are cynical about politics. You have 4 years to DO something; the first is finding your feet and the last is limited by Purdah so that ‘s nearer two or three. And then the public accountability regulations and the Sir Humphrey machinery of government which sets a framework within which DOing something different can seem an uphill struggle.

    Then it seems most politicians expend their frustrations on each other in the mistaken understanding this is actually engaging the public interest. No it is NOT.

    If we want inspiration look to Europe where local councils have the courage and mandate to engage directly in development rather than just trying to control excesses through a failed planning system.

    Is there an independent or Green standing for Parliament in May?

  • There will be a Green candidate standing in our constituency as MP. (At a local level I am convinced that any party allegiance is unhelpful if people operate with the discredited paradigm – which the Greens do).

  • I’ve just launched my campaign to stand as an independent against Nick Clegg in Sheffield Hallam (http://crowdfunder.co.uk/carltonreeve).

    My disillusionment with party politics has been coupled with a growing conviction that I need actually stand up and do something about it if I want it change. I’ve been concerned enough to consider campaigning for the past 18 months or more (inspired by Frome’s example) but have always been conscious that it’s not going to be an easy task.

    I’m not a career politician and I don’t have the backing of one of the Westminster parties so my grassroots campaign has to reflect the reality of the effort required to run it effectively.

    The tipping point for me was last week’s Guardian piece “Sheffield’s swing-vote students will elect nearly anyone except Nick Clegg” (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/05/sheffield-swing-vote-students-election-nick-clegg-lib-dems).

    That, along with increasingly encouraging conversations I’ve been having with my fellow Hallam residents, convinced my supporters that this was the time to launch.

    It’s a relief to have my intentions out in public and the response has been amazing already. Now 5 months of campaigning to look forward to!

    It’s great to be able to draw on the expertise of Flatpack Democracy! Thanks Peter!

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